Recently I stopped at a Christmas card display in one of our large department stores, looking for a holiday card that would be suitable for some recently bereaved friends.
One young woman lost her mother and another lost her husband. Many of my older friends are struggling with serious illnesses. Down the street, a family is mourning a son killed in Iraq.
I couldn't find a card suitable for any of these people. There were special cards for mothers-in-law, second cousins, great-nieces — even for family pets. There were traditional cards, comical cards, jolly Santas, Christmas angels, poinsettias and snow-covered farmhouses, but none for a grieving heart.
For many, Christmas will not be happy this year. "Broken baubles, like broken dreams," said a young friend of mine as she swept up the shattered Christmas tree ornament she had dropped. Recently divorced, she was trying to make Christmas a happy time for her children.
"I'll be exchanging a lot of stuff next week for cash," remarked another cynical friend. "But don't these gifts look beautiful under the tree!" Both she and her husband are out of work.
Another acquaintance confided to me, "Last year my husband made a big show and bought me an expensive microwave oven for Christmas. After all the neighbors had seen it, I took it back. He had charged it to my credit card. We had unpaid bills all over the city, and besides, he was cheating on me."
Depression, stress, sickness, sadness and death — all these things are around us as we celebrate the birthday of Jesus this year. People are hurting. Your Christmas and mine may be filled with peace and love, but chances are that many of our friends and neighbors are having a hard time of it.
Yet the season of Christmas has a lot to say to those who are in mourning or are going through especially difficult times. These people can't be "ho! ho! ho!" jolly, and we shouldn't expect them to be.
Jesus came to Earth to bring peace and joy, to lift the loads of those who are overburdened and to heal aching hearts. Somehow we must share in reminding these suffering people that God loves them and we care.
We probably won't find suitable cards in the store, but we can write our own. We can visit friends and really listen when they tell us about their problems. We can hug those who are near us and telephone those who are far away. God help us to have understanding hearts when some of our friends can't smile, and to figure out ways to be helpful to the sorrowful and depressed this Christmas.
Our own celebration of this precious time of year will be happier when we try to bring comfort and strength to those who can't be jolly. A truly merry Christmas to all of us who try!
Miriam Snow Priebe lives in Gulfport.