Why We Struggle to Feel Joyful and New in the New Year

Over the past few years (since COVID honestly), I’ve noticed how many of my friends and family members share how they are struggling during the holidays. People aren’t feeling “the holiday spirit.” They do the activities, they take the pictures, they buy the gifts, they send out the Christmas cards, but deep down they are struggling to feel the "magic" many of us felt as children, teens, and young adults. Even my husband and I sat and had a tearful discussion one evening about how much our feelings around the holidays had changed over the past few years. We were so grateful for our time together, but something just felt…off. We know the reason for these seasons. We celebrate the joy of Christ, but still we struggled to get into the holiday spirit.

As my husband and I entered the New Year, I noticed we didn’t discuss resolutions, new goals, or buy any calendars or planners. To be honest, on New Years Eve, we were in quarantine. After dinner, we put our son to bed, pulled the guest bedroom mattress out into the living room, watched a couple of movies, and gave each other a quick kiss before we fell asleep. We didn’t watch any of the celebrations on TV. We didn’t do a countdown. We just entered into the New Year as we had many other nights before. That was weird. Peaceful in a way, but weird.

I began to think that maybe my New Years spirit wasn’t quite up to par. Was something wrong with me? I feared that I was just being lazy, but I’ve been struggling to feel “new” and “refreshed.” Perhaps some of you have felt the same way…

So why are so many of us struggling in this season to feel joy or new or refreshed the way we once did or the way others seem to be? I've reflected on a few possible reasons over the past few weeks, as well as some ways I feel called to approach and cope...

COMPARISON

Social media has its perks. After years of building friendships (and ultimately what some close friends have called a ministry) on various social media platforms, I’ve seen the beauty of the connections. However, social media has made the comparison game more destructive than ever before, because we don’t turn it off. We go to bed with our eyes glued to a screen and check the notifications as soon as we wake up. Seeing the holiday gatherings, gifts, and experiences of others has many of us feeling as though our own experiences and place in this life are somehow “lesser than.” We feel pressured to create goals, resolutions, and changes in habits based on the people we compare ourselves to, rather than what our hearts and spirits actually need. Comparison steals our joy and causes us to forget that God’s purpose for us is (and always has been) enough.

So how do we release ourselves from this comparison game? By seeking the Lord’s presence, discernment, and guidance. Rather than starting the day scrolling on social media, we can spend time intentionally in His presence. Spend time in prayer. Spend time in His Word. Spend time in silent reflection. Spend time allowing Him to pour into our spirits. Another person’s life is none of our business. It is not for us to worry about and it has its own mess to account for. Our space in life in this moment is not less significant than anyone else’s, and the Lord’s purpose for us is more than enough because of who HE is and always will be.

IDOLIZATION OF BUSYNESS

Yes, busyness, not business, or a constant need to “do.” It doesn’t take much observation to see that the “boss babe” mentality has many of us in a chokehold. On the surface, the phrase seems harmless, even something that society would encourage. A “boss babe” is in charge of her life, she’s her “full authentic self,” and she “holds her future.” It all sounds great to our flesh until our hearts realize a humbling truth:

We aren’t actually the ones in control.

There are aspects of life we CAN control, choices we have to make, and responsibilities we carry. However, the “boss babe” mentality thrives off the need to constantly be in control, to do more, to BE more, and to achieve more for the sake of fulfillment and “empowerment.”

This results in a constant feeling that our productivity and worth are measured by how full our calendar is, how many projects we check off, and/or how much money we make. We avoid rest and periods of quiet (physically, mentally, and spiritually), either because it makes us uncomfortable or because we genuinely have forgotten how to rest. In this idolization of busyness, we arrogantly rely on ourselves, craving control, yet ironically living with a constant fear that what we have to contribute in this season simply isn’t enough.

Rather than idolizing busyness and seeking more and more control, we need to learn when to say no. We need to learn when to stop and when to rest. Even when we are not physically resting, we need to learn how to spiritually rest in His faithfulness and His goodness. Ultimately, this occurs when we release a desire to control - I prefer this phrase over “lay it at His feet” or “give it to God” because most of what we try to control in this life was not ours to take in the first place. We don’t give God permission to have sovereignty…He IS sovereign. Our job is not to allow Him to have control, it is to humbly recognize when we need to let go and how to rest in His power and His peace.

GRIEVING

The holiday season and shortly after is often a time when feelings of grief resurface or perhaps are felt more strongly. Many of us are grieving the loss of a loved one through death or difficult parting. Many of us are grieving what once was for what is suddenly a new reality. While the holiday season is meant to be a season of joy, many of us are silently battling our grief, aching for some of that “holiday spirit” to fill the void, forgetting that no amount of Christmas cookies, gifts, winter outings, blank planners, or even the love we lost can fulfill us the way that Jesus does.

Despite grief being an ever present reality of life, many of us don’t allow adequate space for grief. We allow it to consume us from the inside and plant seeds of resentment or bitterness. We lock away our grief - ashamed and fearful that embracing it and processing it will dim the light of others or of this season that “should be” something other than what we are currently experiencing. We forget that grief is necessary and our hearts deserve the space we need to grieve fully. We forget that even in our grief (or perhaps especially), God is an ever present comfort.

Grief serves a purpose and sets a stage for healing. It has no timeline, no expectations. And God deeply cares for the grief His people feel. Do not conceal your grief, my friend. Heal the way you need to heal.

CHASING “NEWNESS”…AND DOPAMINE

There’s a reason we rush to buy planners and calendars we never fully complete. There’s a reason we flood our minds and task lists with projects, ideas, and activities. We are dopamine chasers, and while the drive to try new things is not inherently bad, the assumption that we need these to feel “new,” “refreshed,” or “whole” will always leave us wanting. Even without a never ending list of new projects, goal lists, or planners, God’s mercies are new each morning and He is graciously renewing us day by day.

We should celebrate successes. We should celebrate tasks and projects accomplished. We should work hard and honor God with use of our talents. I’m not discouraging that here. This is about resisting at all costs the urge to base our worth and identity on these things. We need to resist the urge to allow the constant desire to perform to distract us from the Creator who desires for us to draw close to Him. We need to resist the urge to seek affirmation in a world rooted in identifying us by that which is temporary when we’ve already been chosen and called by a God who is eternal. We must stop chasing the dopamine, and be fulfilled and joyful in Christ alone.

THE BOTTOM LINE…

You might not feel “new” or “refreshed” or full of resolutions. But we were never meant to rest or find peace in these things were we? Your season is not inferior to those around you. Your season simply…IS…and it is deserving of your presence. The God who created all things created you and each of these seasons you experience with great intention for HIS glory, will, and purpose. His goodness and the goodness of His purpose are not dependent upon our feelings and attitudes (however justified from our human perspective) in these seasons. His faithfulness is where we find peace no matter how dull the season my seem.

VERSES FOR REFLECTION

  • “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians‬ ‭1:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬
  • ““Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?” Isaiah‬ ‭45:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬
  • “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭34:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬
  • “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭1:3-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬
  • “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭46:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬
  • “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew‬ ‭11:28‬ ‭ESV‬‬
  • “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:16-18‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

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