Dealing with the Holiday Blues

Songs like, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Home for the Holidays” along with Christmas specials depicting the warmth of home, family, and friends may be true for some; for others, it just doesn’t fit.  Consider some of these real-life situations:

  • The divorced parent who’s alone in the holidays because their children are with their ex-spouse
  • The adult whose parents have divorced and who has to split their time between their parents’ new homes knowing that they are going to be asked questions—questions they don’t want to answer—about the other parent
  • The war veteran, now a civilian, dealing with the memories of close friends who died in Iraq or Afghanistan
  • The person who has had both parents pass away, sometimes both within the last year
  • The unemployed middle-aged man or woman who lost a job and who feels like a failure, anticipating a very lean Christmas
  • The young adult who reluctantly heads home for Christmas, knowing conflicts in the family abound during the holidays
  • The man, woman, or child who lives with the anticipation of spouses or parents drinking themselves drunk as they “celebrate” Christmas

All of these are common scenarios lived out every year during the holiday season. These stories aren’t the basis of overly dramatized, bad movies. They are the real stuff of life for those all around us.

For many, the holidays, are difficult. This season of the year can be a time of deep loneliness, sadness, isolation, depression, and even suicide. Often, those who suffer drink too much either in an effort to belong or to take away their pain. The result is often more pain or at times, deeper tragedy.  What can we do to help those who suffer? What can those in pain do to minimize the difficulties the holidays can bring?

If you know of someone who suffers in this way, you can have a significant impact by doing a few simple things. Isolation is a killer; efforts to diminish it can really help.  So, consider any of the following.

  • Call more than once over the course of the holidays. Don’t be satisfied with just trying. Keep calling until you get an answer. Once you reach your friend, family member, or acquaintance, set a time to talk again before you hang up.
  • Offer to meet with your friend for coffee; take them out for a meal.  Make it your goal to talk about them and listen. Many people have no one to listen to them and they suffer deeply for it.
  • If possible, invite this person to your home. Let them help you cook dinner, make cookies, or help you decorate your Christmas tree.  Give them a family experience in which there’s no strings attached.
  • Give an anonymous gift to someone in need.  Ask a third party to deliver the gift. An anonymous gift lets the suffering know that someone cares about them enough to provide for them. The anonymity reduces the need to reciprocate or the feeling of not wanting to accept charity. If necessary, limit what your family gives and gets so that you can give to someone else who is really in need.

If you are the one who suffers during holidays, here are a few things important for you.

  • First and foremost, limit the alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant and too much of it can turn a normal sadness into a dark, brooding depression.
  • If you know you’re going into a situation that is difficult for you (for example, an angry family), stay for a while and then leave. Make other plans so that you have an honest reason for leaving. If you are visiting from out of state, consider getting a motel so that you have a place to go to get away from the difficult environment.
  • If you’re unable to leave or stay elsewhere, then make it a habit to go out for walks and have some time to yourself. You can choose to take a break from the chaos, noise or fighting. You don’t have to be a part of it.
  • Call someone, perhaps an old friend or someone you used to know and suggest you get together. Initiate a meeting. All too often, those who suffer with holiday blues wait for others to make the first contact.  Be proactive; take the lead. You may have to swallow your pride to do so, but that in and of itself may be good for you in the long haul.
  • Find a place to serve others less fortunate than yourself. Most cities have shelters for the homeless or other non-profit organizations where you can help. Churches often have outreaches to the poor in their community.  Serving and helping give us a sense of purpose and belonging that can help us during the holidays. Serving helps us fight isolation and the despair that comes from it.

So on whichever side of the problem you may find yourself, take action.  Don’t sit back and let the problem get worse. Look out for yourself and those around you and find a way to make a difference in someone’s life this holiday season.

Another Counseling Center?

When hearing that Redwood Counseling Services is opening, many might ask: “Why? Why another counseling center?” I get it. I sometimes ask the same question about new pizza places, steak houses, or sub-sandwich spots. New businesses open because their owners believe they have something unique to offer, not just to their clientele but also to those who work at the new business. We at Redwood Counseling Services feel the same.

Let me explain. I’ve been working in the Denver area both as a pastor and as a counselor since 1980. This experience has provided me with a pretty good idea of what’s out there. There are counselors doing good work with people and representing the Kingdom of God in an honorable way. At the same time, there are some out there claiming to represent God’s Kingdom but saying things utterly contrary to the mind and heart of God.

Sadly, I’ve seen many counseling “refugees” who tried to get help but who ran into harmful counselors. During the years of my work with people, too many times I’ve heard that “The last Christian counselor I went to told me to divorce my spouse. Will you tell me to do that?” or, “The last Christian counselor we went to said it was okay if my husband looked at pornography and that I am old-fashioned for not being okay with it. Is that how you think?” or “What’s most important is that you’re happy. You deserve better than him (or her).” All of this came from those claiming to be Christ-followers. Not everyone working in a Christian clinic or who claims to be a follower of Jesus thinks biblically.

I am all for good therapy based on good research—I believe that good research will validate the truths of the Kingdom. One example stands out to me. Years ago the secular world fought strongly against the notion of forgiveness, saying it was foolish to forgive those who have harmed you. However, in the 1980’s and 1990’s major universities began doing research on the nature of and health benefits of forgiveness. In fact, one major secular university even created a “forgiveness institute.” Their findings on the medical and emotional benefits of forgiveness and the long-term impact of unforgiveness were consistent with Biblical truth.

This said, we come to the driving force behind Redwood Counseling Services. At Redwood, we don’t want to be Christian in name only. We want, to the best of our abilities, to represent our King and His Kingdom to those He brings to us. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to get preachy with those who don’t think or believe as we do.  We hope people of all backgrounds and faiths will come to Redwood.  At the same time, we want our clients to know that those of us who work at Redwood Counseling Services are grounded in the truths of the Bible and that this drives us and our work. Over the years, I’ve worked with atheists, New Agers, nominal churchgoers, Jews, and others who, though we disagreed on theology, shared my values of change, restoring a marriage, or being good parents. They came because, despite our faith differences, they knew we shared the same core values about life and relationships. And so the atheists came to me, a Christian, because they trusted my values and belief in the possibility of marital restoration. When the atheistic man who wanted to save his marriage asked me to pray for him at the end of one session, I asked, “To whom would you like me to pray?” We laughed as he said, “Oh I didn’t think of that.” An Israeli Jew worked with me, despite our differences, because he saw that I cared for his broken heart after an ugly divorce. Everyone else told him, “Move on and get over it. You’re better without her.” He knew he couldn’t just move on; he needed someone to walk with him through his pain. A man struggling with his sexual identity came to work with me because he knew my views on sexuality. He didn’t want someone to simply tell him, “Go and do what you want and have fun.” He wanted a place where he could be gut honest about his battle, knowing that he had a counselor who thought biblically. It was a privilege to work with him.

So this leads us to the core values of Redwood Counseling Services: the ideas that drive us as we work with those He brings our way. Those core values are seen in the three words that grace our literature: Truth, Hope, and Transformation.

The first of our core values is truth. We have a truth crisis in our world. People have bought into the lie that says, “There is no truth, only opinions: My truth and your truth. It’s all how you see it.” At Redwood, we believe there are absolutes, that there is “true truth” and that there are values that reside deep in the soul of every human being, regardless of ethnicity or culture. We believe that God had His truth, His mind and heart, written down by people in what is called the Bible and that when people follow the precepts written in that ancient book, life is better than when they try to do it their own way. We believe that these principles impact our lives for good when followed because they are true for all human beings. Thus, our truth and the truths we espouse come from the Bible. How we conduct our lives and our work is driven by its contents.

Second, we believe in giving people a realistic hope. Too many counselors either offer no hope (“You’re stuck with this for the rest of your life”) or offer a hope that is too easy (“Just do these four things and life will be good again”). The reality is that life is hard and is at times really messy as we hurt and are hurt by others. Change is usually a struggle—old ways of thinking and doing life die hard. In the midst of this struggle, however, there is hope, a hope that we can hold onto as we grow into something new. At Redwood Counseling Services we want you to understand the work you will have to do; however, we also want you to see the possibilities of a new way of living. That’s what I mean by a realistic hope.

Finally, at Redwood, we talk about transformation. We don’t think it’s all about surviving or just gutting it out. We think people can truly be changed deep within so that how they live, think, and have relationship is very different from how they were before. We don’t believe in simply “rearranging the furniture: We believe in a deep cleaning where the result is “like new.”

Over the years, people have asked me, “Chris, how do you do what you do?” I tell them, “In His strength I do what I do because I see lives changed, marriages restored, and hope and joy renewed.” This is what we’re about at Redwood. Are we perfect? Far from it. We continue to grow and be transformed. However, we are committed to truly representing our King, His Kingdom, and His truth to all who come to us wanting change, restoration, and renewal.