Month: December 2011

The Christmas Carol of My Heart: Darkness to Dawn

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

I don’t know about you, but this season often feels like the least peaceful time of the year. Amid the swirl of the busyness the holidays bring, peace feels as far off as the little town of Bethlehem itself. Darkness crowds out the daylight hours on both ends of the day. To do lists expand exponentially; schedules overflow. And for many of us, the holiday season also brings with it turmoil amongst the emotional complexities of spending time with family, or without loved ones.

While beautiful, the twinkling of Christmas lights can seem more akin to the dim glow of hope for peace in this often dark life, too faint to adequately guide our path. Rather than out of adoration, we fall on our knees under the weight of all the sins and sorrows that grow, we know that there is no guarantee that next year all our troubles will be out of sight. We hear the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols playing, words repeating: “Peace on earth, good will to men.” In despair, we bow our heads and say, “There is no peace on earth or in me.”

But then dawn breaks on our darkness. In the dark corners of our lives and hearts, shines the Everlasting Light. Jesus, Lord, at his birth. He disperses the gloomy clouds of night and puts death’s dark shadows to flight. The dark night of our soul is transformed with the dawn of redeeming grace. All our hopes and fears are met in him tonight. Every hope we have harbored is met in Christ. Every fear that has plagued us is met in Christ. What could exist in our hearts outside of these two categories?

The gift of Christmas is Hope. God imparts to human hearts the blessing of his heaven. With the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel (which means God with us), a gap is closed, an intimate God establishes relationship with his people, the Hope of redemption comes to earth, the Grace that changes everything. He comes to make His blessings flow. Let our hearts prepare him room. Let us receive our King. He born in our hearts today; he abides with us. Darkness is cast out in the blinding light of hope.

Let nothing you dismay take the peace and rest in your soul this Christmas season. As you struggle with the darkness, remember, Christ, our Savior, was born on Christmas day to save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray. Christ is the Hope of all hopes.


“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”


Tidings of comfort and joy; the Light of the World has come!




(I sprinkled this post with Christmas Carol lyrics. Can you find them and name the songs from which they come?)

Guilt or Shame?

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

Guilt and shame are powerful feelings.  Many people experience them on a daily basis.  For some, they are feelings to be avoided as “inappropriate” in our current society. For some, they are tools or weapons used consciously or unconsciously to get children or adults to behave the way we want them to. For some, they are  ever-present and smothering.

I distinguish between guilt and shame.  Guilt, when internally experienced and heeded, is a productive emotion that leads to a change in negative behavior patterns. It is the “Godly grief” that 2 Corinthians 7:10 describes as leading to the genuine understanding that I have done wrong and hurt myself and others, and that I need to behave differently. Guilt says, “I have done wrong.”

Shame is a feeling that says, “Something is wrong with me”.  It is a statement describing identity rather than behavior.  It cannot lead to a change in behavior because the problem is “all of me”, as the character Hiccup says in the wonderful movie, “How to Train Your Dragon”.  The language of shame says, “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I …”, “I’m always/never…”, “I am (a screw up, a goof ball, a fool, fill in the blank…)”.

Shame speaks with the language of identity (“I am…”) rather than the language of deeds (“I did…”). As such, it makes change nearly impossible to conceive, much less execute. If the problem is who I am rather than what I did, there is no hope for change.

Think about the language you use on yourself.  Think about the language you use on others, or on your kids.  If you say things like “What’s the matter with you?!”, or “You are such a …” as you correct your child, you are very likely shaming them rather than reproving them productively.  Rather speak to their deeds: “That was inappropriate to do.”, or “You hurt your sister. That was wrong.”  In this way, you help train the child’s moral compass and help them to learn how to define right and wrong accurately.  You also make the problem a fixable one rather than a permanent one; the problem is outside the individual rather than the individual themselves.

We can do this for ourselves as well.  When you hear, “Agh!  Why can’t I ever get this done?”, or “I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I …”, you are using shame language.  Try shifting from statements of identity to statements of action: “I made a mess of that situation.  I will try to do it differently next time.”, or “I’m sorry I hurt you.”, or  “I see what I did, and I don’t want to do it again.”

Shift your language into language of hope rather than hopelessness.  When you describe genuine wrongdoing, make sure you use the language that describes it as wrong-doing, not wrong-being. It can take work to set the oppressive and impossible weight of shame aside, but it is worth the effort.

Merry Christmas? Or just Christmas?

By: Katy Martin, LPC
As a parent you suddenly realize you have this responsibility of teaching your kid(s) things.  Important things.  Things concerning faith, forgiveness, how to love/care for other people, manners, etc.  These little people who have been entrusted to us are looking for guidance as they grow and learn.  Yikes.
This time of year is no different: the holidays.  For most, it’s probably the busiest, craziest time of year.  We get to decide to prepare for Santa, celebrate Jesus’ birth, or both.  We decorate, go to parties, sit on Santa’s lap, bake Jesus a birthday cake, look at Christmas lights, and visit with family.  (Just to name a few things.)
These decisions are based on our own convictions and desires.  But where do they come from?  Have you stopped to really think about that?  How does faith, family, and your experience affect how you approach this time of year?  
Are the holidays a letdown to you?  Or are they everything you want them to be?
As we approach this influential time with our kids, we also have the opportunity to engage in the traditions we deem important and create the memories we desire for ourselves.  How can you truly make this a MERRY Christmas, and not just Christmas?