By Dr. Penny Freeman

I am still full and none of my pants fit. The table was lovely and the food came out perfectly. We drank eggnog, consumed food we only see once a year, and everyone was in a good mood and on time (except for a two-year old who can’t help being two right now).

Leftovers were abundant, and people went home to sleep off the food coma. My weary body crawled towards bed. But my heart nudged me silently, “something is missing.” Eventually, I reflect on feelings bouncing around the cavern inside me creating loneliness, disappointment, and melancholy. If I stop cleaning up and making new lists for Christmas long enough to listen, my noisy interior monologue reminds me of Madame Clavel in the Madeline books, who shouts, “Something is not right!”

Holidays are hard for many. Holidays assume we will gather around a table of food with people we are related to, using “special” manners, napkins and china we haven’t used the other 364 days of the year. Holidays require us to act happy even if we are hurt, angry or not in the mood to be there. We eat food that is mostly brown, and create polite conversation with family we have not seen for months or have just seen last week. Dishes will magically fit into a standard dishwasher and the pots needed to create a feast will somehow disappear. Kids who have played with cousins or siblings and are now tired of sharing will ask politely to please go home so they can get some sleep so parents can make an honorable exit.

Holidays bring high bars. We long for a feast that invites us to feel both full and at home. To enter a house feeling the welcome of belonging. To hope for laughter, warmth, joy and delicious food. The commercials televised during breaks in the holiday parades speak of this intimacy—an intimacy we were created for in Paradise. But no matter how good your family is, no family or food can live up to the expectations our souls crave.

Add that this year holidays began on the heals of a contentious presidential campaign that gave everyone PTSD symptoms. Turn on the TV or scroll through Facebook to discover how fractured we feel. Our nation is at war with itself, having learned nothing from the history we teach to fifth graders. Not only can we feel restless with our families, we can’t find rest in our divided nation.

The holidays also come right after Daylights Savings Time changes. It is dark at 4:40p.m., and those of us who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) just want to get into our jammies and go to bed. The light of summer is past and the color of autumn is behind us. I have three months to tolerate this darkness that descends on my psyche. To obey the command to “be thankful always,” I sing songs that lift my spirit. They focus me on the Creator of seasons, but they don’t do anything to make the winter shorter.

Finally, the holidays remind many of us of missing loved ones who have gone on to Glory. For eight years, my husband and I have been patriarch and matriarch. We lost precious ones who gave us a sense of extended family, especially during holidays. Now no parental figures buffer us or our grown children from the reality that time will part us from each other.

Fullness, joy, family, laughter, warmth, peacefulness, and belonging. These are huge expectations to place on a long weekend in November and a few days in December.

Am I just a Scrooge? Depressed? Blathering a downer blog? Perhaps. My husband is listening to Christmas music happily in the next room. I am snuggled in bed wanting to sift the contrasting feelings: that although I love my family deeply, and enjoyed the food and festivities (and yes, I will again cook another “mostly brown meal” next year) I have the courage to admit I yearn for more… so much more than any holiday can ever deliver.  I will enjoy my grandchildren playing with the Christmas ribbons. The delight of a two-year old seeing the tree lit up will make me shed tears, but not sad ones. Still, when the holidays are done, something will be missing.

And with that admission a gentling calmness comes to my heart that may take me through the next few weeks. Like a laboring mother, I breathe through the contractions of winter and wait for the birth of a Savior and the joy of Spring.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death…” ~ C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)