8 Tips for Christmas When Life is Hard

 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.
Psalm 94:19

It seems it should be time for a cheery Christmas post. But I was reminded this morning that, while it may be nearly Christmas, people we love are hurting and suffering. Anxiety may be great within them.

Two weeks ago this was my story. Anxiety was so great within me I could hardly hold myself together as I flew across the country in search of my son. This morning, my heart is tempted toward anxiety and worry about the future, but I’m not so consumed that I can’t speak without crying.

All around me friends are coping with medical crises, attachment and trauma challenges with their children, financial burden, broken marriages, grief, and questions of faith. As Christmas approaches, these burdens don’t magically ease, in fact, knowing we should be preparing for a joyous holiday in the midst of it all adds to our sense of failure.

As the words of the Christmas carol say, “Christ was born for this.”* He was born for all of this – our fears, grief, struggle, doubt.

He was born to “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.”*

I love Advent and Christmas, unless I am weighed down by sorrow, then I add the celebration to the heavy load on my shoulders. Do you feel the same?

How do we think about buying gifts when all we really want to do is stay home and hope nobody shows up on our doorstep – except maybe the FedEx driver who we hide from until his truck pulls away?

My words of advice are simple, give yourself grace knowing that Christ came for you and is looking upon you with love. He is not disappointed in you. He is not surprised by the struggles in your life – He is with you in them.

My practical advice is this, keep the holiday as simple as possible.

Tips for a Simple Christmas When Life is Hard

1| Christmas dinner: Serve ham; it doesn’t get much easier. Sparkling cider in “fancy” glasses (read, anything with a stem) and candles on the table make the meal festive even with simple food.

2| Cookies: If you want to bake them, choose two recipes your family loves most. If not, buy some at a store with a good bakery.

3| Gifts: Order gifts online (Amazon is helpful!) so you don’t have to brave the stores (and you can still hide from the FedEx truck). Alternately, shop at small local businesses limiting your choices to what they have.  This may not be the year to spend hours looking for the best bargain if you have wiggle room in your finances. If you want a unique, handcrafted gift, there are still a few more days to order from my Etsy shop.

4| Gift wrap: Just don’t. Buy gift bags at the dollar store. Wrap large items in a big gift bag or, if you really want to keep it simple, wrap them in a quilt or large blanket.

5| Christmas card: If you feel compelled, send a card electronically, or if you are like me and it is a way you remain connected to people all around the country, send a New Year’s card or even Valentine’s Day. My favorite so far this year is from a friend who sent her 2017 cards with the 2016 card tucked in the envelope too.

6| Candles: Light them every day to bring warmth and fragrance (if you like) to your home.

7| Be generous: Giving increases our joy. A struggling family would love a gift card for pizza. A single mom with limited finances would be thrilled with a gift card to a local store. Consider donating funds to Uberpastor who I follow on Instagram (you should too) – his ministry to the homeless of Seattle is inspiring. He is also an adoptive dad!

8| Ask for help: If you are in a bad place, don’t sink lower. The holidays are notorious for depression and even suicide. You are precious; don’t hide in the darkness; call a friend, call your church, call a crisis hotline. If you live a distance from your family and close friends, let them into your story and tell them you need them. I only shared Psalm 94 verse 17 above, but read 17-19:

  17 Unless the Lord had given me help,
    I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
18 When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
    your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
19 When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.

You are not alone. 

I send you my love on this December morning. Christ was born for you.

With hope and courage for the journey,



*Good Christian Men Rejoice

*O Come, O Come Emmanuel

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Alli
    December 11, 2017

    Thanks for this Lisa! Love you friend ❤️

  2. Emily
    December 11, 2017

    “He knows our need / our weakness is no stranger.”

  3. Chris
    December 16, 2017

    Wise words that hit the mark. Each year I think it will get easier to do Christmas the way we used to. But my expectations and reality don’t usually agree. Thanks for sharing your heart. I always glean wisdom.

  4. Barb
    December 16, 2017

    Great article, Lisa! I needed to read this tonight after being hit right smack in the face with our kids’ high anxiety levels and the triggering effect of Christmas. We’ve been expecting it since placement was years ago during the Holidays: they want Christmas to be like their friends are having, yet the tolerance level is not there. We simply must pull back and slow down.


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