FAITH MATTERS: Here come the holidays

The Rev. Brian Bodt

The Rev. Brian Bodt

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media file

Here they come. “The holidays.”

The time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s can be a time of great joy for families reunited, meals shared, memories created.

Or it’s a whirlwind of expectations from which we emerge with the exhaled exhortation, “Thank God THAT’S over.”

Or it’s a time when loss is magnified, creating unbearable weight, turning melodious sounds to discordant cacophony.

It is all three for me this year with my first grandchild born on July 5, a “new-to-me” congregation and my brother’s death on Aug. 4.

While there is no single perfect recipe for holiday happiness, here are “starters” to which we can add our own seasoning.

Give and share thanks. It is familiar and wise. Giving thanks is easy to do in good times but essential in all times. An “attitude of gratitude” helps us count our blessings. For the spiritually robust, sharing gives hope and encouragement and enriches lives by making a difference to others. Many organizations welcome seasonal volunteers. Find one. Make a difference. We are especially blessed to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Recognize chance and choice. We may want to hide from the holidays because we have not distinguished between “chance” and “choice.” Life throws curveballs at us all. That’s “chance.” Our response is “choice.” Ask this: “What do I want to feel/think/be when January 2 arrives?” Some seasonal choices are not worth it. If Cousin Bob is drunk every year at the holiday party he hosts, you don’t have to go. Some say, “It’s not that easy.” I say, “It absolutely is.” Be clear about expectations for yourself and choose wisely.

Take care of your heart. With other faiths, Christians link the spiritual life with the heart, with feelings, with deeply meaningful times that are obviously or mysteriously linked to the Divine. If we live in our heads we ignore our hearts at our peril. When our heart is “broken,” joy gets sucked out of us. I’m currently reading “Blue Christmas: Devotions of Light in a Season of Darkness” by Todd Outcalt, lead pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church in Brownsburg, Ind. It takes only a few minutes each day, yet grounds me in “The Reason for the Season.” Other faiths have similar resources. Consider attending a “Blue Christmas” service, designed especially for those experiencing loss. Our church, with other congregations, will host one on Sunday, Dec. 22, at 6 p.m. with a light supper following. All are welcome. All means all.

Here the holidays come. Give and share thanks, choose wisely and be gentle with your heart, and on Jan. 2 you will indeed find “the peace which passes all understanding” from a loving and gracious God.

The Rev. Dr. Brian R. Bodt is pastor of Hamden Plains United Methodist Church, 15 Church St. in Hamden.