“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
I was dreading Christmas.
I had no idea how we would celebrate. My husband had left our family months earlier and my daughters, ages 10 and 13, were struggling to make sense of it all. Trying to hold our lives together, reassuring them (and myself) that we’d be fine, felt hollow. How could we be? It was hard to imagine celebrating Christmas. It was hard to imagine celebrating anything. Christmas was going to be something to get through and endure, certainly not a time to rejoice.
Our once-close family seemed awkward and cold. Each of us lived in our own silos—touching each other seemed risky. I kept trying to reach out to my daughters, but they were usually hostile or silent in response. I wanted to be sympathetic, to understand, to love them as Christ loves us, but there were many days I was angry more than sympathetic. I wanted to be understood more than to understand; I wanted to be appreciated more than to be loving.
Just the prior year, when my husband and I parented together, our daughters’ criticism rarely bothered me. But now, with no one else to affirm me, the girls’ disapproval cut deeply.
God was convicting me that I needed to rest in Christ and find my strength in him, but it seemed so theoretical. I needed something tangible. I was lonely and longed for affirmation. So I cried out to God to make his presence and his love real. I didn’t want to be dependent on others for my sense of worth.
I opened the Bible one Advent morning to Isaiah 62, exhausted from failed expectations and ashamed I had them in the first place. I wanted to be joyful. As I read the Lord’s beautiful promises, I slowly realized that I could indeed be joyful, even in this hard season. It felt like God had written this passage just for me that day. It said, “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you … As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (v. 3–5).
I could scarcely take those words in. Could God possibly be saying that to me? The Lord delights in me. He loves me like a bridegroom. He rejoices over me though I feel unwanted and unloved by the people around me. I let the enormity of God’s affirmation sink in and envelop me.
The most remarkable part of this approval and delight from God was that it wasn’t dependent on me. God rejoices over me with gladness and sings songs over me (Zeph. 3:17) just because I am his. Because of Christ, I have God’s unconditional approval. I will never face God’s wrath. He will never abandon me. He is always for me. The real source of my life is Christ.
When I had my family’s approval, I didn’t long for approval from God. I was satisfied. But when I was rejected and criticized by those closest to me, I finally looked to God for my sense of worth. And I discovered that his love and approval were stronger and more lasting and more life-giving than anyone else’s.
I left this time with the Lord overflowing with joy. I was no longer consumed with wanting the love of my children or the love of a husband. They couldn’t meet my deepest needs anyway. That joy was my real gift that Christmas, as Christ became more precious to me than he had ever been.
I am occasionally still discouraged over the Christmas season, missing the ways we used to celebrate. I long for affirmation from my family. Yet at the same time, I have a deeper and richer joy in our Savior than I’ve ever had. Christmas is no longer about keeping traditions. Or feeling family closeness. Or laughing around the table. It is about Jesus. Our traditions are not what make Christmas special. Christmas is worth celebrating because of Christ himself, who alone gives us worth.
Perhaps you are in a season of feeling constantly criticized; maybe you too have been abandoned by your husband, or mistreated by your children. Wherever you may be, the coming of Christ meets your longing to be loved, accepted, and delighted in. You are lovely because he loves you. God rejoices over you with singing because you are hidden in Christ. You are precious in the sight of your Savior.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION:
How do you respond when you feel unappreciated and criticized and even mistreated by those you love?
How can looking to Christ for your worth change your attitude towards others’ criticism of you?
Do you feel loved by Christ? How do you feel after reading the verses from Isaiah 62? Have you ever thought about God cherishing you that way?
Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer, a regular contributor to Desiring God, and the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering. She blogs at danceintherain.com, although she doesn’t like rain and has no sense of rhythm. Vaneetha is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi.