Christmas isn’t always a happy occasion. I didn’t know Christmas could bring such grief. All I knew was that by noon that Christmas day I wanted to be done with it all; put Christmas and the entire year behind me. It was the first and last Christmas that I had all my decorations put away by 3:00pm Christmas day. I was ready for a better year.

That was the year my mother died. That was the year my husband went through treatment for cancer. That was the year I miscarried our baby. That was the year I assumed the unwanted role of the matriarch of our family. That was the year of the greatest sadness for me, the year I wanted to forget. That was the year I lost my focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

That Christmas brought such pain, such grief, and such loss. I could hardly stand seeing everyone else enjoy the merriment of Christmas. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling-sadness, despair, anger-anything but joy.

I wouldn’t ever want to go through such despair again, but truly God does use all things and work them out for good. No pain is wasted. That year gave me a personal insight into the pain that so many others endure during what for most of the world is a happy holiday.

What a difference a year makes.

The Christmas following my year of great sadness, I still missed my mother, but God gave me fresh perspective. The year of the great sadness, my son was two years old, and largely unaware of Christmas aside from bright lights, decorations around the house, and a tree blocking his easy passage to the toy box.

The following Christmas, he was much more aware of every aspect of Christmas from the decorations to the gifts and most especially to the Biblical story of Christmas. I still missed my mother and my husband had not yet returned to full health, but my grief was fading and in its place I began to understand why Jesus said to “come as a little child.”

As my son increased in awareness and excitement of the most special holiday of the year, I began to notice how it was no effort for him to believe. He had complete faith that what we told him about the meaning of Christmas and Jesus’ birth was true. He never questioned it. And because he didn’t doubt, he was entirely present and filled with awe and wonder.

During the Christmas of the year of my great sadness, my focus was on myself…my pain, my grief, my loss. It was anywhere but on the reason for celebrating Christmas. Within a year, however, I came to a clearer understanding that God deserves our celebration every day, but especially for the gift He gave us on Christmas.

Our appreciation for that incredible gift shouldn’t be dimmed when life is hard and pain washes over us, threatening to take us under like a riptide. On the contrary, that is perhaps when we should most celebrate God’s incredible gift. It is because of that gift that we have hope! It is because of that gift that we have joy and can be merry.

It is my prayer for you, that if you are going through a difficult time, that you will ask God to increase your awareness of how His Christmas gift will meet whatever need you are currently facing.