By Anthony Casperson

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for some. For others, this time of the year is a reminder of loneliness, rejection, and failure. For these people, the holiday season is a time when darkness not only literally invades the light of day, but also invades their mind, heart, and soul. It’s during this period of supposed happiness that depression, anxiety, and suicidal attempts increase in the general population.

This time when some people are happily buying presents for the coming holiday, singing happy songs, and putting up strings of lights around their homes, others are wishing the season would just get over with already. “Shut up and go away while I go hide in my dark cave for the next month and a half.”

Truth be told, the holiday season is not my favorite time of the year. But this past week has made me realize something interesting. This past Thursday was the first time in years that I’ve been able to rejoice in thankfulness for a long time.

At first, I thought it had to do with the fact that I no longer work in retail. The past six years, I was one of those people who had to be inundated with “holiday cheer” for months on end. From layaway starting in September, to decorations put up before the Halloween costumes were taken down, to late-night Black Friday (Thursday?) sales, to the increase of sales in the electronics department, it was too much. I had been ready for this season to be over with by the time November started.

And while that might be part of the reason why I’ve experienced a difference this year, I think the reason is deeper than just a change of occupation. This year, Thanksgiving and the beginning of the holiday season had snuck up on me. No one had been shoving “holiday cheer” down my throat for the past month and a half. No one had been telling me to be happy for the holidays. No one was expecting me to fake happiness because “that’s what we do during the holidays.”

And I realized in this happi-less-ness, I could rejoice with God in the place that he has led me, shadows of darkness and all. Without anyone telling me that the way that I feel is wrong, I was able to rejoice. I could do as the bible speaks in Romans 12:15 and “rejoice with those who rejoice.”

Without happiness being demanded of me, joy came more easily. And while this might sound counter-intuitive, it really portrays the rest of Romans 12:15, “weep with those who weep.” It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to dwell in the depths. As long as we rejoice in the hope of God’s working in our lives (Rom. 12:12), happiness shouldn’t be expected of us.

But the command of weeping with those who weep is directed toward those who are not currently weeping. That means that if you’re not currently in the depths of darkness, you should come along side of those who are, without judgement, and support them. Not telling them they should be happy, or making them put on a brave face. When you tell someone to fake it till they make it, what you make it is more difficult for that person to experience the joy available to them from God even in the valley of death-like shadow.

Rather, this support comes in the form of letting the person weep, giving them the freedom to experience the emotional state that they are in right now. What those who weep need is a safe place to weep, not someone telling them that they are wrong to feel that way.

Those who are experiencing the darker side of the holiday season don’t need happiness forced upon them. We can rejoice in happi-less-ness because Jesus didn’t come to force us to feel a certain way. He came to meet us where we are and lovingly lead us to become where he has called us to be.

So, if you love this time of the year, rejoice, but don’t force others to live up to your happiness. And if this time of the year isn’t your favorite, rejoice in hope. Rejoice in God. Rejoice in happi-less-ness.