101: Christmas: Recovering Joy
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It’s the most wonderful time of year! Wait … is it really? We want Christmas to feel magical. But too often, we feel disappointment, stress, sadness, & loneliness. Listen to Ron Deal’s conversation with Bob Lepine on how to find lasting joy this season.
101: Christmas: Recovering Joy
Bob: In our childhood, Christmas is this special time. I mean, when else do you get up and go downstairs and there are presents waiting for you to open up and everybody/there's a stocking hung. You grow up going “This is a really special day. This is something wonderful. I wish it could be like this every day.”
That's a childhood response. Well, we carry that in and so our expectation as we grow into young adulthood/into adulthood is this season has to deliver that. Then as adults, we start to realize, “Oh, this takes work and execution on our part,” and we don't always get it right, so it's a tricky season.
Ron: Well, welcome to the FamilyLife Blended podcast. I'm Ron Deal. I'm so glad that you're with us today. We help blended families, and those who love them, to pursue the relationships that matter most.
If you missed our last Women and Blended Families livestream, the Holiday Edition, oh my goodness, you've got to check that out. Go to YouTube®; watch it. It's also available on Facebook®. It's so practical, so helpful and encouraging. Ladies, don't miss it. Guys, if you're listening, help your lady in order not to miss that. The show notes will tell you how you can link right to it.
This is our last podcast episode of 2022—I can hardly believe 2022 is ending—and it is a really special one. Joining me in the studio; Bob Lepine is back with us. Welcome, Bob.
Bob: It is great to be here.
Ron: My goodness; it's fun—
Bob: This is fun.
Ron: —having you here. Some people may not realize who you are, so I'm going to tell them who you are in just a minute; but let me just say, Merry Christmas and thanks for joining me.
Bob: Merry Christmas to you as well. I hope you have everything done.
Ron: Um, no, I don't . [Laughter]
Bob: Neither do I.
Ron: Thanks for that reminder.
Well, for anybody who follows FamilyLife® and you're familiar with FamilyLife Today—that's the National Radio broadcast of FamilyLife—then you know Bob's voice. You heard him speak just a second ago and you went, “Oh my goodness. I know who that is.
That's Bob Lepine. He's the voice of FamilyLife Today and for many, many years he was—actually, when did you guys start?—you and Dennis Rainey?
Bob: Dennis Rainey and I started in 1992. We went on the air November of 1992, and then Dennis made the transition in 2019. I continued for another couple of years with Dave and Ann Wilson, and back in the spring of 2021, that's when I handed the baton squarely to them and said, “Run.”
Ron: I’m done. [Laughter]
Bob: “Run, Forest, run” is what I said.
Ron: And they've been running ever since.
Bob: —been doing great.
Ron: Every once in a while, on this podcast, we will go back and capture one of those interviews that you and Dennis did with me. We'll repurpose that and we've shared that with some of our listeners. So again, even if they've never heard FamilyLife Today, they've heard your voice at least once or twice.
Bob: We had our first conversation when your first book came out, so that goes back 15 years.
Ron: You know, I did the research knowing you were coming in today, and you're going to be amazed. We actually had our first conversation on FamilyLife Today together before The Smart Stepfamily. The original edition came out it was in 2001.
Bob: Really? Wow.
Ron: The book came out in 2002, which by the way means it's 20 years old.
Ron: Thank you very much. Still selling well and still influencing people and to God be the glory for that. But in 2001, we met here in Little Rock, and you and I and Dennis sat down, and we did a whole series of conversations on material that would eventually be told in the Smart Stepfamily and other things that we've done here at Family Life Blended.
Bob: Well, Dennis and I walked out of that and said, “Here's a gold mine of somebody who understands these issues in a way that very few people do, understands how the Bible interacts with them, has a view on marriage and family that's a high view of marriage and family, and yet desperately wants to help people who have stumbled to get back up and get in the race. Or who have been hurt because it's not all stumbling. Sometimes, it's just people through loss; they've had loss and grief.
I've learned so much from you. I've recommended your resources to so many people. Anytime Mary Ann and I are with somebody, and we learn they’re in a blended family, she goes “Do they have Ron's book?” [Laughter] “They need Ron's book. Tell them about Ron's book.” I've been a cheerleader for decades.
Ron: Well, I appreciate that very much; that means a lot. Listeners may not realize that you can kind of blame Bob for FamilyLife Blended being out here—being this thing that we created together. In 2001, we did our first conversation.
Ron: And then when I started writing books—The Smart Stepfamily, then The Smart Stepmom, Smart Stepdad—you guys would have me back. Over a period of 10 years, I've often told people we just sort of got to know each other and then came that fateful day in 2011/fall of 2011, I get a phone call from you, and you say, “Dennis and I have been talking and we think it's time for FamilyLife to start a stepfamily initiative.” You asked if I would be willing to have that conversation with you. I said, “Of course. Why have you waited this long?”
Bob: —waited this long? [Laughter]
Ron: I remember thinking, “Where have you been all my life?” [Laughter]
Bob: You were in Amarillo, Texas at the time, right?
Ron: That's right.
Bob: We had that initial conversation, and I was thrilled that you were interested. I remember early days sitting down and brainstorming with you and talking about media, talking about events, talking about “How do we fuel a movement?”
Bob: And “How do we ignite what we felt like was—the need was clear. It seemed like nobody had a good bead on how to address the need in a way that would catch fire. Over the last decade plus, we've watched you do that and watched people come to the events, subscribe to the podcast—so many people have been helped. It's one of those privileges to have had a small part in being catalytic to help get this launched and off the ground.
Ron: Well, I am deeply indebted to you for all of that, and when I came to FamilyLife, you were my boss. I mean, nothing happened without you saying, “Okay, let's do that.” I remember coming to you saying, “We think we ought to do a one-minute feature.”—just air that; it was something FamilyLife was really good at. “Can we do this?” And you said, “Yes, let's make it happen.” Now, by the way, that's on over a thousand stations.
Bob: That's great.
Ron: It's in Ghana; it's in Jamaica; it's in South Africa; it's in—like, who knew—Armed Forces Network. Yes, touching lots of people. Just so many examples of things that you said, “Yes, thumbs up; let's do that,” and you jumped in and made it happen, and I appreciate that so very, very much.
Bob: It's a privilege and an honor, so appreciate that.
Ron: You retired a couple years ago, but you didn't retire.
Bob: [Laughter] Retire. You should call my wife and say, “Tell me about Bob's retirement.” She'd go, “I haven't seen him. I can't talk about him.”
Ron: Not even close. Listen to this listener: teaching pastor at Redeemer Community Church here in Little Rock, which you helped to found, by the way.
Ron: You serve on the board of directors of two ministries, and you've authored three books since you retired.
Ron: Three books have come out. Love Like You Mean It: The Heart of a Marriage that Honors God, Build a Stronger Marriage, which you just gave me a copy of, and the book we're going to be talking about today, The Four Emotions of Christmas.
I cannot believe I get to turn the tables on Bob Lepine. [Laughter] I get to interview you today.
Bob: —about emotions; that's what's scary here. It's like, Ron Deal is going to ask me questions about emotions and the emotional makeup of something? What I know about me, Ron—
Ron: [Laughter] Okay, good. I love it.
Bob: —is that I should ask you the questions about emotions.
Ron: Yes; this is going to be a fun conversation. Really, seriously, thank you. I'm glad that you're here. So, assuming people actually listen to this when it first releases—it's mid-December 2022—what do you think somebody listening to us right now is feeling in the midst of the Christmas season?
Bob: I think most of us start the season—so a few weeks ago when Thanksgiving was over and we'd put everything away and we'd put up a tree and started decorations, and maybe the church had the first Sunday in Advent and we went, “Okay, we got to be straight on toward Christmas here. We got a lot to do to get there.” The season/our calendars were loaded up, but we were thinking, I always look for—people start Christmas, going, “I love Christmas.” And they say that because they love what the season reflects and what they hope it will do in them emotionally, spiritually. There's something about the Christmas season that causes you to smile and brings a warmth and a resonance.
What happens for a lot of people though, is you get in the midst of it and you find that the activity, the stress, the disappointments that you didn't anticipate, all of a sudden it's like, “Wait, I thought this season was going to deliver love, peace, and joy, and what I'm getting is stress and sadness and disappointment and unmet expectations, why is that?” And that's what I tried to sit down and diagnose and address.
Honestly, this is a book—you know this—I wrote this book for people who don't go to church because I wanted people who don't regularly go to church, who come to the Christmas season full of longing and hope to recognize that the ultimate fulfillment of what they're looking for is not in the magic of a season, but it's in a relationship with the person whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. So that's what the whole intent for the book was.
Ron: And at the same time, I can tell you, as a believer, that I was touched by the mixed bag of emotions that you discuss in the book. So, you know whether you have a faith rooted in the Lord or not, I think the emotional experience is typical/is common for people and it is that. I mean, I've had conversations with blended couples who, well, one partner is really looking forward to gathering with extended family at the holidays and the other partner's not.
Bob: —dreading it, yes.
Ron: Dreading it. Or there's this sense, it's a very real sense, that the holidays kind of reverberate stress back up into a blended family that is in the process of blending/that is still sort of evolving their family narrative together and when stressful situations, whether they be buying gifts for people and getting the right gift, that's one thing. It's stressful buying gifts. It's another thing to think, okay, but if I get this wrong, this relationship is going to be a little bit harder not better. And so, all of that just sort of adds a, a twinge of, like you said, stress, disappointment to the whole experience.
Bob: Well, our relationships kind of move to a different level of engagement during the holiday season. We know we're going to be together. Again, there are expectations built into some of that. In one sense, the Christmas season is almost a litmus test for “How are we doing relationally?” in our marriage, in our extended family. What you get right or wrong is magnified during the Christmas season and so the pressure to want to get it all right is something that we walk into.
Here's the thing. In the midst of all of that, which is not unimportant, but we often forget, we're supposed to be thinking about Jesus and his birth and what that means for us and instead, we're consumed with events and activities and relational tensions that have risen to the top, so it's a tricky season.
Ron: I want to just read a little excerpt out of your book, The Four Emotions of Christmas, and then have you comment on it. As children, you say, we grow up believing that Christmas is a magical season filled with flying reindeer, talking snowmen and elves who live at the North Pole or in New York City, by the way, [Laughter] making toys all year round. Although we learn the truth as we grow up, the idea that there is something special about this time of year stays with us. We long to believe that Christmas can somehow bring us a deeper sense of joy and peace and hope. We yearn for at least some of the magic of the season to be real. What's inside that for people?
Bob: Well, I think it starts from the place where we come to this season focused on the birth of Christ and we think this is a season of amazement. God comes to earth; angels appear in the sky and say, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” Hearing that story, we think there's something really special that happened that we're celebrating.
And then over time in the culture there's been so much that's been kind of piled on the back of that sentiment that now we head into that season with expectations that the present we get is going to bring the joy. The meal that we have as a family is going to be where peace is found. We start to import the original meaning of the season into all the tangential celebration aspects. And so now, all of a sudden, we expect everything to deliver. You mentioned Buddy; he moved to New York, started in the North Pole and moved to New York.
Ron: That's true.
Bob: But you remember Buddy's exuberance over everything Christmas and how excited—there's a little of that longing that's in all of us for the season to be that for all of us. At some level, it's a little unrealistic expectation that we need to adjust on the front end, and yet we don't want to let completely go of it because it tethers us back to what the original meaning of the season is.
Ron: Okay, let's unpack expectations; that's a beautiful lead in to—let's talk about these four emotions. The first one you mentioned is disappointment. We're going to get to stress, sadness, and then ultimately to joy.
Bob: Joy, right.
Ron: But let's talk about disappointment. We have so much riding on Christmas and expectations is definitely a part of that. Let's not forget the first Christmas didn't quite go the way Joseph or Mary thought that it was supposed to go. They had a mixed bag in their journey in terms of pregnancy—what? before marriage, what? What are people going to say? You know, the whole shame narrative that was put upon them from other people. They had to face that—
Ron: —on a regular basis. Then they're running for their lives. Okay, so what are expectations? What are the expectations we have that set us up for disappointment?
Bob: Well, I think because in our childhood, Christmas is this special time. I mean, when else do you get up and go downstairs and there are presents waiting for you to open up.
Bob: And everybody/there's a stocking hung, and everybody is smiling and a breakfast. There's a special breakfast that mom has made and so you grow up going “This is a really special day. This is something wonderful. I wish it could be like this every day.”
That's a childhood response. Well, we carry that in and so our expectation as we grow into young adulthood/into adulthood is this season has to deliver that. We start with that expectation that it’s the season that will deliver that. That somehow something in the air in December is just going to magically make all of the joy and peace happen. Then, as adults, we start to realize, “Oh, this takes work and execution on our part,” and we don't always get it right.
I think this may be my most horrible Christmas memory. I've got two of them. One was on the Christmas morning when all of our kids were opening their presents. We got all done and our daughter, Katie said, “Where's mine?”
Ron: Oh. Oh.
Bob: We had forgotten to buy a Christmas gift for one of our five kids. Now, as a parent, that's like we have just inflicted lifelong trauma—what we have communicated to this child—
Ron: Isn't that one of the unforgivable sins? [Laughter]
Bob: It is, right. So you walk away from that going, “What an utter failure we were as parents,”—
Ron: Oh man.
Bob: —"in this moment” and “How have we scarred our child for life?” And then I share in the book about what was the worst Christmas we ever had. We had/Mary Ann and I had been married for five years. We had a three-year-old daughter. We lived in Sacramento, California. Mary Ann's family was in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My family was in Kansas City, Missouri, so we were far away from family. It was just Mary Ann and me and our three-year-old. Mary Ann was four days away from giving birth to our second child, so she was great with child. We had a very—I mean her name being Mary, we were thinking, “Well, at least we have this going for us.” [Laughter] But we sat, we'd only lived in Sacramento for three months. We didn't have friends, family.
Ron: —felt isolated.
Bob: We had my job. We got up that Christmas morning and had some presents for Amy, our daughter, and she opened those. This whole thing took about 20 minutes and then we had nothing to do the rest of the day. We didn't make a big meal. It was just the three of us. We looked around for some place where you could eat on Christmas Day, and there are only a few depressing places that are open on Christmas Day, and we ate at one of those.
We came back waiting for our family members to call and say, “Merry Christmas,” and they never did. So finally at five o'clock, we called Mary Ann’s mom, and we get her in the middle of the family gathering and everybody's over and she goes, “I can't talk now. Everybody's here,” and “Have a Merry Christmas.” We just kind of hung up and went, “This is the most depressing day” because the expectation that the day would bring the joy and we'd kind of naively gone into that.
Ron: You know what's sparking for me right now; you're reminding me of a conversation that you and I and Dennis had on FamilyLife Today with good friends of ours, Bob and Vicky. They were a later life couple. They'd each been widowed. They found each other. They get married. They have adult children. Their first Christmas, they brought everybody together and they/Bob orchestrated this, what he thought was going to be a magical moment for their blended family experience, where he honors his new wife in front of her children and his children. They saved a gift for one another. All the other kids, all the other gifts have been opened, grandkids, and now it's time for us to honor each other. It turned out that it brought tears from some of the adult children and angst and tension to relationships, not—it didn't orchestrate togetherness.
Bob: Right. It magnified the loss that the kids had experienced.
Ron: Exactly. They were sort of like, kind of happy for you; really sad for us in this moment. And that's part of the disappointment I think; that people can relate to whatever that narrative is. Whether it was you guys being out there in Sacramento all alone, or whether it's Bob and Vicky, everybody can relate to the sweet and bitter part of the holidays where coming together, celebrating, sharing gifts, loving on each other a little bit with some special cookies and you know, traditions and yet at the same time, somebody's not here—something's not as I wish it were, whether that be a child or an adult or everybody. The things that you wish were different are different than the person sitting next to you that they wish were different. And so, there's this togetherness and aloneness I think all at the same time.
Bob: And the expectations that we have are all built on years of what Christmas was to us as a child or as a young adult. We've got this mountain of memories and we pull up the good memories and so we head into the holidays going, “This season will be this because it's always been that for me before.”
Then you hit a season that's not like that, or a season when you've had loss or where there's grief or you're trying to rebuild after the destruction of a family, those realities—I think we've got to go into the season—a little late to be talking about this now with folks who are listening—but you have to kind of start in early December and say, “Let's have a right sense of expectation as we go into this. Let's adjust our expectations on the front end so that we're not over promising to ourselves what this season's going to be for us.”
Ron: And here's the thing, if anybody out there is like me, you don't know what your expectations are most of the time until you don't experience it.
Bob: —until they're not met, yes.
Ron: And then all of a sudden you go, “Oh, I guess I was hoping…” and you start to put words on it. “That's me. I'm like that a lot.” And then I kind of back myself into what I was hoping was going to happen, and then I'm like, “Oh, okay.” Somebody listening to us right now may be able, at this point to put words on that, or it might be January before you put words on “Oh, yes, I was leaning into this and hoping that, and just expecting this.” And so next year, you start making those adjustments of expectations now for what might happen next year.
Bob: And I think when expectations go unmet, sometimes we have to go back and say, “Well, how valid or how realistic was the expectation in the first place? So is the problem of my unmet expectation that someone or something didn't deliver? Or was the problem that I had too high an expectation to begin with? Maybe we can adjust down and go, “You know I came into this expecting magic and what I got was mundane. Maybe magic was too high an expectation.”
Ron: Maybe it was me. That's the whole blender mentality that we talk about. You know just expecting too much too soon sets you up and everybody else up for a lot of stress, which is your second emotion, by the way.
Ron: By the way, I had a little reflection. I was kind of jumping into Mary and Joseph and their first Christmas experience, which we've jokingly said for years is you know, a pretty prominent stepfamily circumstance with Joseph not being the biological parent who did not have an immediate attachment to the idea of Jesus, the “This child; it's not mine/not my responsibility,” and he almost walked. I mean, that's really what happened.
You know, I reread that story. Bob, listen to this. I don't know that I've ever really caught this before. Maybe you have, but how many times in the Bible does an angel come to somebody and they say, “Do not be afraid”? And it is sort of like, “Don't be afraid. I'm standing in front of you. You're scared to death that some angel thing, what you know, is right in front of you and you're not sure what to do with this, ‘Hey, it's okay. I'm not going to hurt you. Don't be afraid.’”
Ron: What the angel says to Joseph is different. I've never noticed this. The angel says, “Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” The first thing out of his mouth is, “Look, I know you're really worried about this whole thing about Mary. You're walking away because it's not your child. And she, you feel like she betrayed you.” Of course, she didn't but he thought—and the first thing the angel says is one of comfort about the angst going on between him and her.
Bob: That's interesting.
Ron: Isn’t that really.
Bob: That's fascinating.
Ron: I never noticed that before. And then you could flip over to the Mary side and what's her response when she finds out she's pregnant and disappoint—“Oh, what are my parents going to say?” Just put yourself in her shoes and all the, “Yes, but Mom, you don't understand.” “Yes, right, honey.” Like you could just imagine how everybody reacted to their circumstances. What her response is, “I am the servant of the Lord.”
Bob: Right. Well, she starts with, “How can this be? And I, I think we read that phrase, and I don't think she's asking for the biological,
Ron: I think you're right.
Bob: I think she's saying, “Wait, how is all of this going to work?”
Bob: And she's starting to comprehend if this is true, there's going to be a lot of like, “How do we make this work?” because there's a lot of mess on the other side. “I'm going to be explaining things to people who aren't going to believe me and it's going to be a very challenging…” but you're right. She comes back around to the point where she says, “I'm the Lord’s servant.”
Ron: I’m just sitting here thinking about our listeners—you're dealing with disappointment. You're dealing with stress. There's a reverberation of stress in your home. You kind of felt like things were getting better and all of a sudden, now, this Christmas holiday season has sort of brought it all back up again. I thought we'd settled that. Well, now you're sort of mad at me and the kids are saying they're not going to come for all of Christmas. They're just going to be here a little bit. And now we're all sort of mad at each other and we don't even know why.
I'm sitting here thinking, “Okay, so what if I, just as a regular person, could adopt a little of Joseph and a little bit of Mary and take that posture of, I am a servant of the Lord.” Like, “Lord, I don't get it. I don't understand. I don't know how it's all going to work, but I'm going to look for opportunities to be your servant and to try to love as best I can.” And for Joseph, the receiving end of reassurance. Hey, don't be afraid to keep pressing into this relationship, this thing that you don't really know what it is, you're ready to run away from it. Just hang in there. I don't know. I think maybe those two thoughts could help somebody through the stress.
Bob: I think it's a perspective and a focus that says this season is it about me and my emotional needs being met and my, and Christmas delivering to me what my expectations are. Or is it about me being the Lord's servant in this to try to figure out how I can bless and encourage and minister to and share with others. When we make caring for others a bigger priority than getting our own itches scratched during the Christmas season, I think that has a way of shifting the emotional side that's going on in all of us.
Ron: The third emotion you talk about is sadness. We've already alluded to it a little bit.
Bob: Yes, these overlap. I mean, it's not like they're just hard categories, but the unmet expectations and the stress and the sadness are—well it's a blender.
Ron: Right. Exactly. It's all thrown in there together.
Bob: Yes. Yes.
Ron: You know, I just—this is a season—you know, what's the tiding?—tidings of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy. Even with joy, which we'll get to, we need comfort sometimes and I—absolutely, anytime anybody who has had any significant loss in their life. This is true for blended families. This is true for me—loss of a child. This is true for anybody that has anything in their life that they wish were different. You come to these special times of the year, and I just think that sadness gets resurrected. It's magnified. You can't have the sweet without the bitter.
Ron: Two sides of the same coin; I just think they go hand in hand. It is what it is. I know for me, I find myself in one moment laughing and smiling, and the next minute, remembering and wishing Connor were here and just, you know, feeling again that tug on my heart and there's just no way you can have both.
Our Summit on Stepfamily Ministry that we had this past October in Phoenix, our theme this year was helping leaders understand loss. It’s a continuing role within blended families, and we spend some time talking about loss, of death of a spouse and a blended family that follows that, divorce and, you know, what the experience is for adults and children. We unpacked all kinds of elements to all of that.
I think the big takeaway—I kind of joked with people. We were in Phoenix, as I said, I said “Yes, we brought you out to the desert to talk about the desert . And at the same time, you know, throughout scripture we have this God of all comfort. Paul says in Second Corinthians chapter one, verse three, and following, “God of all comfort, who comforts us, who then gives us a comfort that we can extend and comfort other people”—
Bob: Right; that we can comfort others with the comfort we've received.
Ron: —"we've been given.” [Paraphrase]
Bob: There's/the word comfort is an interesting word if you break it apart. Music people will know that forte means strength—do it strong and loud. Com on the front means with, so comfort means to function with strength. It's not the lazy boy, and where I just recline and relax. Comfort means I have the strength in the midst of whatever I'm going through to be able to withstand and endure. When the Bible says comfort others, it means give them the strength they need in the midst of what they're going through to endure what they're facing.
Ron: And that's such a beautiful picture as we think about Emmanuel, God with us; that He is with us. In your book, you kind of say it this way: when the darkness comes and the sadness, and you feel that sadness, focus on the light. Jesus came as light to be light.
Bob: One of the great prophecies in Isaiah, at the beginning of Isaiah 9—before we get to “unto us a child is born, a son is given.”—at the very beginning of chapter nine, it says, the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and it's describing the nation of Israel in this period of darkness. And then God's revelation is always pictured as light shining in darkness.
We talk about the shekinah glory of God. And the glory is this light. When Moses was up on the side of Mount Sinai and he said, “Show me your glory.” And God said, “You'd be blinded. You'd be dead. Turn your face, cleft of the rock.” And what happens? A blinding light comes, and Moses then shines with that light from the glory of God. So light is in scripture a reference to how God in the midst of the darkness. Now we take it as a metaphor for the sadness that we're feeling in our own life.
Ron: That's right.
Bob: God brings strength and comfort in the midst of it. Sometimes the sadness doesn't go away, but we have the strength to endure the sadness, and that's a different picture.
Sometimes we're thinking, God, take this sadness away. Well, you go through the kinds of losses you've talked about here, that sadness will linger throughout a lifetime, but God can bring you strength in the middle of the sadness. That's what the comfort is all about.
Ron: And the picture of focusing on light, it just strikes me—you know, the birth of Christ is surrounded by darkness. There was a genocide going on and the wise men follow a light, just one singular light in the sky that points the way, and that ultimately leads to the light of the world who changes everything, even in the midst of terrible, evil, horrible things going on.
Bob: Mary Ann and I watched the movie this year that told the story of the soccer players who were trapped in the cave.
Ron: Yes, yes.
Bob: You remember that? Well, being trapped in that cave in utter darkness they had flashlights that they were able to keep going for a while, but anybody who's trapped in a cave, what are they longing for? Just a glimmer, just a crack, which says there's a way out of here. There's hope on the other side of that. Experiments have been done where people have been put in utter darkness and after about 48 hours you start to have real issues/brain issues.
Ron: I can only imagine.
Bob: Yes. You start to go crazy. If you want to deprive somebody, take away light completely. This is where the biblical metaphor of light shining in darkness is really a great picture. When our soul is experiencing the dark night of the soul what we need is for the light of God's love, the light of Christ to come in and give us the comfort we need in the midst of it.
Ron: And this brings us to joy because we've got to look for the light, don't we?
Ron: I mean, we've got to focus on that. In all of the crazy hustle and bustle and the economics and the stress that that brings of the Christmas season, to only focus on all of those things is to totally miss the light.
Bob: Yes. I talk in the book about the fact that there's a difference between happiness and joy.
Ron: I was just going to say, what is the difference?
Bob: Happiness is tied to happenings that, in fact, the root word. Again, they're tied together; you're happy if what's happening makes you happy. It's circumstantial.
Joy goes deeper than just your circumstances. There's a joy that keeps you anchored to a reality/to a truth that is transcendent over whatever the circumstances. So on the ups and downs of the circumstances, if you're anchored in an enduring truth—that there's a God who walks with you through the valley of the shadow of death, a God who walks with you who will never leave you or forsake you, who has promised you a hope and a future—that's where joy comes, and it's why in the midst of adversity, and in the midst of pain, people can say, “I know joy in the midst of this darkness, because it's not based on my circumstances.”
Ron: Joy is that thing that you focus on even in the midst of disappointment, stress, and sadness—focusing on the light, burying up under it, trusting in Him.
Bob: Psalm 42/David in Psalm 42 is diagnosing his own emotional struggle. He says, “My soul is downcast. Why are you so downcast? Oh my soul.” And he's not asking for a diagnosis. He's really rebuking. He's saying, “Soul, you should not be downcast. Put your hope in God.” That's what the verse says when he's hearing his own soul say, “This is all that's against me.” He's counseling his soul in the moment, “Yes, I know that there's much against you; put your hope in God. That's where you're going to find the enduring strength, the enduring joy that will get you through the hardness of these circumstances.” And I don't want to make it sound like you just pretend away the pain.
Ron: That’s right. That's right.
Bob: Job did not pretend away the pain that he was going through.
Ron: You've heard me say, beauty from ashes does not get rid of the ashes.
Bob: That's right.
Ron: We still walk with that pain. Yes. This disappointment and sadness can exist, can coexist at the same time you're leaning into joy.
Bob: And so, the Bible tells us that circumstances in life, like the death of a loved one, will cause us to grieve and we grieve just like people who don't have the Lord grieve. It's a human experience. It's right to grieve because it's an acknowledgement that this is not what God intended.
Ron: That's right.
Bob: But it says we don't grieve as those who have no hope. When you have a hope, you're still grieving, but there's something that trumps your grief and says, “Yes, this is hard and this is painful, but I'm clinging to something that's stronger than my grief, and that is that I've got to hope that there's a reuniting going to happen.”
Ron: Okay, so let's pull back. What is this story about a little baby in a manger? What's it really all about?
Bob: It is really the story of the God who created us looking at the mess that we'd gotten ourselves into, and that mess involved, by the way, are turning to him and saying “We want nothing to do with you. We want to be in charge of our own life.
We're happy to fit you in if it's convenient, but instead of us taking orders from you, we're going to run our own life.” At the core when Eve and Adam took the fruit and took a bite, they were saying, “I know God made a rule. We are going to overrule God and we're going to choose our own path in our own way because we think we know better than He does.”
Here's the loving God who created, put you in a garden that's full of majesty and splendor and walks with you and life is ideal. And he says there's just one thing, and you say, “No, we know better.” The story of Christmas is that God looks at people who shook their fist at him and said, “We want nothing to do with you,” and he said, “Oh, no, that can't be.” He says there's only one way to rescue these people. And that is that I have to, I have to send my son; that I have to take on flesh. The second member of the Godhead taking on flesh, entering into time and space with all of the limitations of humanity that go with that.
Now you stop and think, this is like, I've been living at the suite, at the Hilton, and I'm going to the slums. I've been in splendor where for eternity I've had unbroken fellowship with the father, and I'm going to go live among people who despise and reject me. He comes into our world. He's born into our world, committed to the rescue mission.
We would never celebrate Christmas if there weren't an Easter. If there had been no Easter, the birth of Jesus would be a lost moment in history.
Ron: It's pointless.
Bob: But because he came and accomplished on the cross and through his resurrection what he accomplished, now all of a sudden, his birth is that coming into the world of the rescuer, the deliverer, the one who like Moses, who led his people out of bondage in Egypt. Jesus comes and leads us out of the bondage of our own sin into his marvelous light, the Bible says, into his family, into his kingdom, and gives us a hope and a future. That's why we sing joy to the world, not because of presents and reindeer and Santa Claus and candy canes. It's joy to the world because the Lord has come, let Earth receive her king.
Ron: That’s right. You know, as you were talking, I was thinking the two names that are introduced to us about Jesus. Matthew focuses on Jesus, the name. That's a common name in Jesus’ day. It actually in Hebrew means Joshua. You reference Moses. Jesus is the ultimate one who leads his people out of their own sin, out of exile from God, and into the Promised Land as Joshua did. He is the ultimate Joshua.
Ron: And then the other name that we learn about him from Luke is Emmanuel. We said that earlier, God with us. Ultimately, this is a story about God coming near, coming to be close, Him pursuing us. He started pursuing us in Genesis 3, 4 and it culminates in who Jesus is and His work on the cross.
Bob: John chapter one, John says the word; that is Jesus. We can go back and unpack that, so the word is God's idea from the beginning. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and the Word dwelt among us literally means to pitch the tent.
Ron: It’s a tabernacle.
Bob: So the word became flesh, yes, and pitched his tent right in the middle of us. We've done this with our kids at Christmas time where we pitched a tent in the living room, and they love—you know, the idea about tent in the living room—but we say “This is what Jesus did. He came and pitched his tent and said, ‘I'm going to live here with you. I'm going to come and dwell among you and be with you, and then I'm going to lead you out of the bondage that you're in, into the promise.’” And that's the joy—Emmanuel, God is with us.
Ron: You know, a common story we hear from people, Bob, in our ministry, as people struggling so much because of their past that they're trying to figure out how to get back to God. Please stop and listen to the story of Christmas one more time. He has come for you. He moves toward you. That's what Grace is: His pursuit of us. You don't have to do anything to somehow get back into His good graces. He has come to be with us and all you got to do is just release your hearts and your life to Him, receive that forgiveness. Thank you so much for being here.
Bob: Thank you. It's been a joy to talk about this.
Ron: Gosh, this has been fun, fun for me. I love you. I appreciate all that you have done for me and for families, and it's just a great opportunity to be with you.
Bob: I hope you and Nan have a very merry Christmas.
Ron: And to you as well.
Bob: Thank you.
Ron: Well, thank you. If you want to know more about Bob, you can look on our show notes and you can learn more about his ministry.
Let me just remind our listener, this is a donor supported ministry, and hey, it's the end of the year. You need a tax deduction, so why not. If you've never given to FamilyLife,
you can designate your gifts specifically to FamilyLife Blended; help us reach more people with the work that we're doing through podcasts like this, but also virtual events, in person events, resources, and all the work that the Lord has given us to do.
If you haven't subscribed yet to this podcast, please do that. We don't want you to miss. This is episode 101.
Bob: Oh my goodness.
Ron: Did you know that?
Ron: One hundred one.
Bob: That's amazing.
Ron: And the year 2023, we've got great plans. You don't want to miss anything that's coming, so let me encourage you to subscribe. In addition to all the books and resources that we have, we do have some in-person events. I just want to get on your radar as you think about your coming year. First of all, you can join Nan and I still at the Empowered to Love Sandestin FamilyLife Resort Getaway. It's February 13 to 17, 2023. We'd love to have you join us for that event.
You can join me at the WinShape Retreat facility. Bob, you're familiar with that.
Bob: Yes. I've been there.
Ron: North of Atlanta, Georgia. It is one of my favorite events of the year to do a retreat with blended family couples. We sit, we have meals, we climb and do ropes course, kind of cool stuff. It's a beautiful setting where people get to come and relax and get some away time together as a couple. That event is coming up March 17-19, 2023. Look for the WinShape Moving Ahead Retreat information in the show notes.
And let me just ask you to go ahead and put Blended and Blessed, our worldwide livestream, get it on your calendar Saturday, April 29th. For anybody in Florida, we're going to be in Melbourne. That's where the event will be held live, but you can be anywhere in the world and participate through this online virtual event, Blended and Blessed.
And here's a cool thing. Your church can host it for a group of couples for less than a hundred bucks, but you better start having the conversations with your church leadership right about now. January would be a great time to have that conversation so that they will put it on their calendar and start making plans about how you can host some couples in your community to be a part of that. Again, the show notes will give you all the information about these events.
Okay, next time, on FamilyLife Blended, it's going to be 2023. So Gayla Grace and I are going to be in the studio, and we're going to be talking about starting your year off right. We're going to be talking about working smarter, not harder on your blended family, working smarter on behalf of your stepfamily, not harder. That's next time on FamilyLife Blended.
I'm Ron Deal; thanks for listening. We love having you join us on this podcast. Just want you to know we're produced and edited by Marcus Holt and Josh Batson. Our mastering engineer is Jarrett Roskey; project coordinator is Ann Ancarrow, and theme music, the all-important theme music, is composed and performed by my son, Braden Deal.
FamilyLife Blended is part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network. Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most. Merry Christmas.
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