The Christmas Funk

First responders, soldiers, and ER docs train for this. In high-stress, emergency, life threatening situations (it doesn’t matter whose life is threatened), they shut down their emotional response to the situation at hand and become coldly analytical. This is a learned skill although some people are unable to do it. You want the ER doctor to get that way when your blood pressure is crashing, and your eyes start to roll up like a slot machine. Soldiers must do this on the battlefield to stay alive. Emotional detachment can be a good thing in some situations.

So why do I feel like I am a walking zombie these days? Why do so many people say that they feel like they are cut off from the usual sense of Christmas cheer? Is it because of our isolation? Is it existential fear? Or has this year been so “off” that most folks are just unable to get back “on” right now?

My theory is that the global population is undergoing a low-grade existential crisis. When we learn of perfectly healthy 30-year-olds succumbing to the virus while (statistically far fewer) 70-year-olds survive after two weeks of discomfort, there is no logic to this disease. It is a game of roulette with potentially deadly odds. Yes, we can greatly reduce the odds to ourselves and others by simply wearing masks. AND WE SHOULD. But that is not a perfect solution and the politicization of practical, effective, affordable public health protection will go down as an historical travesty.

Back to the theory – Anyone who listens to the news will have some sense that every trip to the grocery store, even while wearing a mask, might be your last trip. This is the very definition of an existential crisis. The constant, low-grade fear can lead to emotional shut-down. At some level, each person weighs every potential action as a risk-benefit calculation. “Should I” or “shouldn’t I”?

For me, even the little things in life that would help me smile seem to have lost their pleasure-ability. Every action that might yield a positive emotional response seems muted as if a wet blanket were thrown over it. A few people have shared similar things with me, so it is possible many others feel the same way. What to do about it?

My suggestion is to really pay extra attention to the little things. Does a particular food dish make you smile, any music, a friend? Find a couple of things or people that make you smile and work with that. There is a little bit of the divine spark in everything. Your job is to find those sparks. Treasure them. Make them come alive.

Once you have recovered even a little bit of that thing that makes the corners of your mouth turn upward, keep exercising those emotional muscles by doing things to make you smile. You may not be able to completely banish the 2020 Christmas funk, but you can get pretty far with it.

The reason why this recovery is so important now, is that we need to recognize the singular intervention of God in human history. This is a huge, celebratory, praise-worthy event that we cannot celebrate unless we can cast off some of that 2020 Christmas funk. As the familiar hymn advises, “Let every heart, prepare Him room.”

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