Garry Barber , PhD – Director of Counseling Center

“‘…and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Matthew 1:23 ESV

Object Permanence is a term used in developmental psychology to describe what happens in games of peekaboo like those I play with my one-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth. It is thought that young children believe that what cannot be perceived does not exist but when the person or object can be perceived again existence is reestablished. Another way to express this understanding would be to say, “If I can’t see it, hear it, feel it, smell it, or taste it – it isn’t there.” One of the indicators of progress toward maturity is observed when a child begins to understand, “Just because I can’t see something does not mean it isn’t there.” Or even more so, “Just because I can’t see you doesn’t mean that you can’t see me.” (Picture here a three-year-old covering her eyes and thinking that makes her invisible.) I believe we can make a helpful application of the theory of Object Permanence to the painful reality of many people’s lives, especially during the Christmas season.

During this season many are caroling, gathering, worshipping, and exchanging gifts while others are experiencing loneliness, anxiety, grief, and sadness. Even for those whom the Christmas season is a positive experience for, there can often be the sense of being exhausted by the activity and of being disappointed by the results. There is also the experience of holiday grief which can be overwhelming to those who are painfully struggling with the loss of a loved one. The holidays can, in fact, prove to be an emotional/spiritual rollercoaster leaving people worn out from the ride and wondering “where was Jesus in all of this?”

A few words of advice I would offer to those who might struggle with holiday depression would be: (1) Set realistic holiday goals, (2) Make Plans, (3) Refuse to live in the past.  Setting realistic goals is important to the many who suffer from the Clark Griswold complex (from the film Christmas Vacation). Expectations are set so high that no matter what happens it will be a disappointment. So, instead of expecting that this year will be different because all of your family members will behave themselves as light snow whitens the ground mimicking a Norman Rockwell painting, perhaps this year you could have the goal of being a blessing to someone else. Set your highest goals as giving goals and you might be surprised at how giving can feel like receiving.

It is interesting how many of us will say things like, “Wow, Christmas really snuck up on me this year!” Really? I have experienced over 50 Christmases and each one of them has been spaced 12 months apart – EVERY ONE OF THEM! (Please excuse the sarcasm.) My point is that when we fail to plan, we plan to fail. If you haven’t planned yet, then plan now. Waiting for the invitation or opportunity that never comes can be very painful.

Enjoying precious holiday memories can be an important part of the season. However, even these precious memories can become haunting ones depending upon how one looks at them. Memories are memories because those specific times and experiences have passed. Those precious experiences added to our sense of security, our joy, our happiness. Leave the past in the past, enjoy the past as memory but refuse to be held back from enjoying the present.

In all of these holiday struggles and others, we may be left again with the question, “Where is Jesus in all of this?  I just don’t see Him.” Well, just because you don’t see Him doesn’t mean He isn’t there. Just because He seems hidden to you does not mean He has disappeared. Just because your pain or fear has caused you to close your eyes does not mean that He has vanished. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be known as “Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). My hope and wish for you this Christmas season is that you will know the joy and peace of Immanuel. May you know, regardless of your situation, the comfort and strength of knowing God is with you.

A big THANK YOU to all who give generously to see that we can continue to offer the hope and help of Immanuel to those who need to be offered His healing presence. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Garry Barber is a Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor (NCCA) who holds Masters and Doctoral degrees in both biblical studies and family counseling. For nearly 3 decades he has sought to guide individuals and families to a healthier, more functional life. The Joy House Counseling Center exists for the purpose of providing a faith-based option for residents of the Highway 575/ 515 corridor who seek guidance with life’s problems. We have locations in Pickens, Gilmer, and Cherokee Counties with fees based on income and ability to pay. We offer counseling to all ages with professional services to a wide variety of individuals, families and their needs. Contact our Counseling Center via phone at 678-452-2037 for more information.