Comparison is the thief of joy. --Theodore Roosevelt
It’s perfectly natural to feel a let-down after the holidays. We don’t realize how much mental and emotional energy we are spending in the month of December until we reach the end. Fatigue and physical illness often hit us at this time. In addition to everything we have tried to accomplish this month, we’ve carried a load of expectations and wishes. This is the dark side of Merry and Bright. Even though the season gives us much to savor, we still tend to compare ourselves and our families, homes, and holidays with everyone else’s……or with an ideal picture we have in our heads. That opens the door to disappointment, resentment, and unhappiness. The thief of joy crosses our threshold.
Seeing all the happy family pictures on Facebook and Christmas cards can be a trap. Matching outfits or pajamas, festive décor, glorious Christmas trees surrounded by presents, and in some cases tropical vacation pictures! How to avoid comparisons?! Even if we are genuinely happy for those families, it is easy to notice what is missing in our own lives. Tiredness makes us especially vulnerable. We may be going through a season of drought, loss, or struggle. Disappointment and regret show up at the door and the thief of joy steps in.
This year I have been keenly aware of the families who are grieving a loss. Our family lost a dear friend and an aunt, both to cancer. One of our friends lost her husband to COVID, and she posted on Facebook that seeing all the happy family photos just made her cry. There are countless others who are alone or have lost their homes, health, or livelihood this year. This awareness puts my expectations and disappointments into perspective.
When I reflect on the first Christmas story, I can imagine that Mary wasn’t expecting to give birth in a barn after their long journey. I’m sure she was anxious and exhausted. Traveling across the desert on a donkey when you’re nine months pregnant and then having to make your bed in a pile of hay surrounded by cows would put any woman in a bad mood. However, that was a night of unexpected gifts. That stable turned into holy ground. Even though we don’t know what actually happened, it is a timeless story about trust, humility, courage, wonder, and hope. It’s about a joy that no thief can steal.
As you pack up the Christmas wrapping and anticipate what’s ahead, focus on what gives you joy here and now. Turn from disappointment, release resentment, and realize that comparisons are irrelevant. You have traveled your own desert and rocky trails to get where you are, and you are amazing. No one else has walked in your sandals, so celebrate the distance you’ve come and the holy ground on which you stand. Your brave and beautiful soul knows the way forward. Step into the new year unencumbered by doubt, fear, and disappointment. Replace expectations with glad anticipation and know that you are both held and free. Joy is your birthright, so send that thief away.
Happy New Year!
Elisa J. Juarez