Dr. Everett Bartholf, a Christian
counselor in St. Louis, Mo., is also an Assemblies of God minister with
22 years of ministerial experience. He spoke recently with Scott Harrup,
associate editor, about some of the emotional challenges of the holiday
Evangel: During the holidays,
many people experience difficult emotions. What are some common life
circumstances that create these feelings?
Around the holidays four basic issues arise. First, the holidays
create busy schedules. People feel pulled to attend family, business
and church functions and this creates stress and tension. Second, financial
stress arises when one feels obligated to buy gifts or attend functions
where people can easily spend more money than they have. Third, family
interaction may not be pleasant. Around the holidays people expect family
differences to somehow be set aside. The truth is that the family functions
no better during the holidays than they do during the rest of the year,
and often the family functions less well than at other times. Fourth,
personal loss creates holiday anxiety, particularly when a loved one
has died. The holidays are especially difficult the first time you go
through them without that person.
Evangel: What counsel do you
offer to someone struggling to get through the holidays?
Bartholf: I focus on three
primary issues. First, what is the holiday season really about? Its
about Gods gift of life to us. Christ came that we could have
life and have it more abundantly. We need to recognize that the holidays
are not just times to think about family or gifts or social functions,
but are times to reflect on Gods intervention in human history.
Second, are our expectations unrealistic? As I mentioned, particularly
in regard to family interaction, expectations can be too high. Third,
are you setting limits during the holiday season? This can be in regard
to time commitments and, even more critically, money.
Evangel: So there is definitely
Bartholf: One of the things
I stress is that depression, anxiety or grief some of the typical
yet unexpected emotions of the holidays really are treatable
situations. Whether were talking about something we might dub
the "holiday blues," or were really talking about a
clinical depression, people need to know they can get beyond those negative
Stress redirects and reshapes our
thinking so that we come up with a lot of perceptions that simply arent
true. So, the first step to move beyond the problem is to come back
and focus on what is true. As we focus on what the truth is, we begin
to experience freedom from depression. The situation is not hopeless.
There are always other alternatives. We need to recognize the truth
about ourselves, seeing ourselves as God sees us. We need to recognize
the truth about our circumstances and look at them as God looks at them.
As we focus on and exercise the truth, we begin to experience freedom
Evangel: How is the deeper meaning
of Christmas connected to lifes pain?
Bartholf: Christmas causes
us to look at the difference between what Gods ideal is and what
our real situation is. The distance we perceive between Gods ideal
and our real situation has everything to do with the amount of negative
emotions we experience. Christmas is the good news. Christmas is the
celebration of Gods intervention in history. Yet, our real experience
can look very different. If we focus on our perspective, we tend to
focus in a much more negative way. We need to look at Christmas from
Gods perspective, as a celebration of Christs coming that
we might have more abundant life. Jesus Christ promised that He would
never leave us or forsake us. He promised that nothing would come our
way that He would not give us the strength to bear up under.
Evangel: Anything else?
Bartholf: If people experience
depression, anxiety or grief during the holidays, there is help available.
I would encourage someone struggling with negative emotions to do one
of three things: talk with a pastor, confide in a trusted friend, or
talk with a professional counselor.