The Trap of Joylessness

The Trap of Joylessness

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a Saturday Night Live skit called, “The Girl You Wished You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party.” Cecily Strong acts the role of the girl who is characteristically drunk and ditzy, with know-it-all opinions in a pseudo-activist kind of way. She’s looking for a fight. The “straight man” is played by Seth Meyers.

“So are you excited about the holidays?” He asks.

“Excited. I’m repulsed. All this ‘mercialism around Christmas is an outrage. It’s a trajesty. It’s like ‘What are we even doing?’ …” She scoffs.

“You really seem like you’re in the Christmas spirit,” he teases. What does one say to a contentious soul?

“You mean the Christ-mas spirit? Oh right, you don’t care about Jesus because you worship Hallmark.”

“Oh boy!” He looks away.

Later she asks him what he wants for Christmas.

“I don’t wanna tell you,” he says.

“Would you just relax? I’m just asking you what you want for Christmas.”

“Okay, well, I was hoping to get the new iPad.”

She responds with staged timing. “I asked for an end to genocide.”

“Oh, c’mon.” He rolls his eyes.

She slams him further. “Okay, so maybe the next time you’re on your new iPad…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” He feels it coming.

“…Look up ‘How to be a decent human being.’”

And so it goes. Though she doesn’t really portray a Christian, her contrary nature is something I’ve seen in Internet exchanges and Facebook arguments by all kinds of people, including believers.

I stopped to reflect. Some have said that Christians would be called “the haters,” in the last days. In a culture that often reverses right and wrong, standing up for what’s right can be polarizing. Still it doesn’t have to be hateful.

Big stack of colorful Christmas presentsAs I watched the skit, I felt a twinge in my chest. Something else was stirring inside me. The girl’s comments reminded me of a time where I resisted celebrating Christmas—for all kinds of reasons. Many in the world or even in my little town were hurting, in need, grieving or depressed. Eat, drink, and be merry? I felt sick inside when there were too many gifts under the tree. Maybe you know the feeling.

What does it mean when you can’t have joy because somewhere, someone is suffering. It’s the same kind of gripping thing that says you can’t rest until all the work is done. Why does that mindset dictate?

Holiday DepressionI asked the Lord for discernment about enemy schemes over melancholy types like me. The word SEVERITY came to mind—the condition of being severe. I usually look up definitions when a word like that surfaces. Sometimes it’s not odd—it’s God, and He wants to reveal more…


1 Something bad or undesirable, very intense, demanding

2 Strict or harsh.

3 Very plain in style or appearance.

This term describes a Puritan-type believer:

1 Life is serious and hard.

2 We must be strict with our time, denying ourselves to help others.

3 Never draw attention to oneself in the glittery ways of the world.

If you’ve ever seen the movie, Babette’s Feast, the religious people in that story were the epitome of severe. They refused any form of pleasure—barely even salting their soup! Their attire was completely modest and unadorned. With age, they became cranky and harsh. And so God had to woo them out of their false religious narrative with a great outpouring of extravagant love through an amazing feast.

If  joyless, cynical, cranky people represent the Kingdom of God—seriously, who would sign up?

Festive brunette feeling sad at christmasSo one Christmas, years ago, I woke up feeling guilty about presents and special food as usual. I compensated by reading my Bible—Well at least you’re spending some time in the Word. You really should be serving a Christmas meal to the homeless.

Do you recognize that voice? 

Yet as I read in Nehemiah, the Spirit of the Lord spoke—loud and clear.

This book recounts the return of God’s people from captivity to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem under great opposition. It’s a story of restoration. But when the laws of God were read publicly, the people mourned and wept over their failures. Here’s what Nehemiah said in response…

“‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, ‘Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.’ All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.”   Nehemiah 8:9-12

It doesn’t negate sharing a portion with others. But eat, drink and be merry? In the Bible? Yes.

boy jumping in the snowAnd the living God said to me—“Celebrate the birth of My Son! Throw off this religious yoke that keeps you from joy, for joy is the essence of My Kingdom.”

And in that very moment, I let go of SEVERITY. Warmth and delight came like a balmy breeze, sweeping me head to toe. And I learned to be present in the joy of Christmas.

Have you been tormented by a spirit of SEVERITY? The enemy has place in your life only if you agree with him.




  1. Hi, SPOT ON! This is like reading about me! Pharisaical, Judgemental and non merciful. Scorning those who would enjoy because I think its wrong! I LOVE Christmas! I LOVE presents. Actually, the truth is I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE gifts! I get so excited. And I also get so excited about giving! I choose the gifts with such care to give delight to those that open them. It delights me to see it!

    I think God IS so like that! As Solomon said there is a time to be merry and a time to grieve. Jesus showed that. Hw grieved over the death of Lazarus. He grieved over knowing His time of suffering was upon Him. BUT, He rejoiced over going to weddings, over Mathew and Zacchaeus choosing to change, over the giving of the widows mite.

    In fact it seems to me that in Gods world there is SO much more joy! But as we are surrounded by death, suffering and ourselves full of sin, we cannot comprehend this. So we get muddled over when to grieve and when to rejoice. The world twists it into its own version of righteousness and so does wrong religion.

    Jesus said ‘I pray you all become one, so the world will see who I am!’ And may we do just that! I recently watched The Hobbit. The Elves are ONE!! In battle, totally one. And we as the church MUST learn this! So this Christmas, regardless, lets celebrate the birth of the ONE who gives the only reason for ANY Joy! He IS Joy! When He comes suffering will end, death and satan will be destroyed for EVER.

    I until recently thought when He came I would be on my knees with fear and trembling. But I have come to realize that actually, when the last battle comes I will STAND tall beside Him, with the Sword of Righteousness in my hand to FIGHT and WIN and you know what? I look forward to that moment with JOY! My suffering will be over forever and I will see the defeat of my enemy and be satisfied.

    It is hard to understand that Jesus saw the cross as both Joy and grief. BUT the grief was because it HAD to be. The Joy was because IT SAVED, EVERYTHING. The joy was the result of the grief. As in the word of Paul.’ Death – where is thy sting? You have been swallowed up in victory!’ I still fear, I fear alot. But, I pray for myself that I will come to believe with my whole heart this. Death where is your sting? You have been swallowed up in Victory. Once and Forever. This Christmas I will celebrate the only One who could do this. And He did it JUST for me(and JUST for you too!)! That is something TO celebrate!


    i pray this plays like a broken record in my spirit.

    JUST what god wanted me to know on this day, thanks for letting him OUT!!! you are often mightily used by him

  3. So much truth is carefully woven into your post … life-changing truth! God’s presence is the source of my joy!

  4. Susan, thank you for your quickening! In our little town we have lost three young Christian boys in separate accidents since Thanksgiving. The grieving of mothers is unimaginable and the community is paralyzed and is having trouble moving forward with celebrating the true Joy of Christmas, myself included. Your words cut through and I’m moving into towards the Joy. Sharing with others. Blessings from the Dirty Dog Ranch, Norcal