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CHRISTMAS: When family is far away

SARALAND, Ala. (BP) — My late husband Rick Ferguson received a letter from a noted leader in Denver in November 1990 urging him to consider moving from our home state of Missouri to Colorado. In the letter he used this phrase from Acts 16, language from the apostle Paul’s vision, “Come over to Macedonia to help us.” And we like Paul concluded “that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” and we went.

If you are in Chicago and your family is in Tulsa, or you live in Oakland and your family is in Fort Worth, or you are in India and two of your kids are students at Liberty University, you get this.

God calls us sometimes to leave comfort of family and friends for the sake of the Gospel. There may be a true personal cost to obeying God, a cost that many will refuse to pay or will not be asked to pay.

The holidays can exacerbate that loss.

And let me warn you. Satan will fire his darts right at that vulnerable place.

I am a sports fan and it’s football season. Sports announcers are quick to point out that one team is more than willing to take advantage of another team’s weakness. If a defensive player has a slight knee injury, the quarterback will throw toward him, expecting the player to be weakened. He intends to capitalize on the other’s vulnerability.

Satan is exponentially craftier and exponentially more evil than the NFL. His goal: to stop the advance of the Gospel as it brings complete glory to God. Though the Christ of Christmas dwells in each believer (after all, “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” Colossians 1:27, is the heart of the Christmas message), the “earthen vessel” dimension of our lives (see 2 Corinthians 4:7) creates vulnerabilities that Satan targets. If he sniffs out vulnerability in spiritual leaders, he will fully exploit it.

If you have been called to a far-flung place, the holidays may be a very vulnerable place. Deep longings for family and precious traditions will emerge. Nostalgia will arise from the familiar tunes of Christmas or recipes for homemade treats. A simple smell can stir a deep memory that may illicit tears.

If you are feeling vulnerable, consider these things:

Grieve the loss

Admit your sense of loss to the Lord. For some, that may mean giving yourself permission to sit down and have a big blubbering cry. Yes, that’s my advice. We all want to be “brave little soldiers” but truly, it’s okay to grieve. Hand those losses over to Jesus. Create a private sacred place to mourn. He will enter into that moment. Pouring out these tears and releasing the grief can create space for joy to replace that sadness.

Build a fresh holiday history

So grandma’s house and homemade donuts are out of the question? Then do something else. Your children are making their own holiday tradition under your watch. Make their memories powerful and joy-filled. Find a unique if not a crazy substitute for old traditions. “Yes, we always went bowling on Christmas Eve mornings,” can you hear your kids saying that to their kids?

Embrace others who are vulnerable

Others are in similar positions for different reasons. Gather with them. Easter was always a meal at the Ferguson home where a large collection of disconnected lives would gather for the required ham. We needed them and they needed us. If the truth be told, we needed them more.

Satan will be telling you, “EVERYONE is in front of picturesque cozy fireplaces with five generations in one room opening elaborate presents, with the most amazing pumpkin pie and praying together while simultaneously having outrageously fun snowball fights.”

Not true.

Countless others will be without loved ones. Find them. Serve someone else. Your newfound pain will create a missional platform of understanding and insight. God wants to use our losses for good.

Be aware of Satan’s schemes

Rick and I began to identify a pattern during the holidays. Rick would battle guilt as the leader of our household. He would feel guilty for his calling that removed us from our comfort near family. Eventually we saw this for what it was — hand-to-hand combat with a deceptive enemy of the Gospel.

Please recognize his tactics. Battle them in prayer. Don’t take them personally because his ultimate goal is to thwart the Gospel.

Don’t let your holiday vulnerabilities ambush you. And don’t let Satan “steal, kill and destroy” your joy and celebrations. Get with Jesus. He can give us peace that passes understanding.

    About the Author

  • Kathy Ferguson Litton