“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (Matt. 1:23).

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:30b).

Christmas season is now in full swing and life just ramped up even more. I had hoped to write this blog before Thanksgiving, but unfortunately the first week of December is already in the rear view mirror! I love the Christmas season and most everything about it. When I reflect on past Christmases I have lots of good memories. I remember fun times with family and friends, the ‘perfect gifts’ given and received and sweet memories stored away to fondly reminisce on later. But as a mom of a child who lives with chronic mental illness, I also have many not so fond memories. I remember holidays filled with painful challenges and intense frustrations; hopeful expectations dashed (maybe this year will be different). For children who live with a mental or emotional health disorder, the holidays can be very difficult and often-times just too much. The lights are too bright, the music too loud, the food too different, the schedules too messed up, the crowds too large, the gifts too enticing, the wait too long. As senses are pushed into overdrive, emotions boil over and angry rages erupt. Once again, dreams of a fun and enjoyable Christmas gathering are shattered and painful memories override the pleasant ones.

Parents who have an older son or daughter with a mental health disorder are often faced with distressing challenges of a different sort. Many families grieve the absence of their child at holiday gatherings because their son or daughter has chosen to cut off all ties with the family and has no desire to come home. Others grieve because their child is no longer living—having taken their own life by suicide; still other parents struggle because they have no idea where their adult child is living (or even if they’re living). Many parents experience pain because their child is serving time in prison, has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital, or lives in a residential facility. Other parents find themselves dreading family gatherings for just the opposite reason. They walk on eggshells worried that their child will act out and cause an ugly scene, ruining the gathering for everyone. And still other parents experience intense sadness as they watch their adult child grapple with his/her crippling mental illness, aware of how life-altering it has been.

Regardless of the reason, many families experience less-than-Hallmark Christmases year after year, not just those who have a family member with a severe mental health disorder. Joy, delight and peace seem elusive.

In this season of Advent, we celebrate the first coming of Jesus and eagerly anticipate His second coming. But it’s also important to focus on His third coming—the remembrance that Jesus is always coming to us. The prophet Isaiah foretold this coming One and shared His name with us: Immanuel. Matthew reminded his readers of this ancient prophecy when writing his gospel. He began his book by quoting Isaiah 7:14. “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (Matt. 1:23).

Matthew ended his gospel by emphasizing the words of Jesus to His disciples as He prepared to leave this earth: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b). As believers, Jesus comes to us and lives with us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. He is truly Immanuel, God with us.

In his book, The Gift of Being Yourself, David Benner wrote: “The God who is Immanuel is equally in those moments we would never choose as in those we would always gladly choose.” There is never a time when we are not totally in the presence of God. What is often absent is our awareness.

How do we become more aware of the presence of Immanuel, God with us, especially when we find ourselves in those “moments we’d never choose”?

We start by being with Him. Be with Jesus. Be with the One who is always with you. Watch for His daily coming to you, even in those painful places. Allow His light to penetrate and pierce the darkness of your situation.

How do we “be with Jesus” practically? How do we become more aware of His presence and work in our lives? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Search for, write out and collect God’s promises to you. Keep a list of verses on trust, fear, love, hope, waiting, direction, guidance, peace, forgiveness, endurance, etc. A good resource to find these verses is
  2. Ask God to lead you to a Scripture verse to pray daily for your child(ren) or spouse.
  3. If you’re confused or disquieted in your spirit about a situation or circumstance, pray about it. Journal it out. Ask God to bring clarity. Look for His answers and write them down as they come.
  4. Pray about all things at all times in all situations. Constantly release and relinquish circumstances and loved ones to the Lord.
  5. Start a prayer box. Write down your requests and put them in the box. Give them to Jesus for Him to deal with. Leave them in the box and trust Jesus to do what’s best.
  6. When you pray ask God to change you, not only your circumstances. Press in to that desire and see what He will do. Allow the Holy Spirit to grow deep roots in you.

Perhaps this Christmas season God is offering to you the gift of awareness. Awareness that He comes to you daily. Awareness of His light shining in the darkness. Awareness of His deep love for you. Awareness that Immanuel is equally in those moments we would never choose as in those we would always gladly choose.

Photo by Anton Scherbakov on Unsplash

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