Stressed and Depressed at Christmas: Bob Lepine
Sadness during the holidays: It's real. But, author Bob Lepine proposes, there's also real hope and answers when we're stressed & depressed at Christmas.
About the Guest
Sadness during the holidays: It’s real. But on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson host author and former FamilyLife Today host Bob Lepine. He proposes there’s also real hope and answers when we’re stressed & depressed at Christmas.
Stressed and Depressed at Christmas: Bob Lepine
FamilyLife Today® National Radio Version (time edited) Transcript
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Stressed and Depressed At Christmas
Guest: Bob Lepine
From the series: How to Deal with All the Feels at Christmas (Day 2 of 3)
Air date: November 29, 2022
Bob: When you’re walking through the mall, and you hear, [singing] “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,”—and you start to smile—and then you go, “How many people would actually say, “This is the most wonderful time of the year”? [Laughter]
Ann: They might start out saying that.
Bob: They would say, “That’s what I want it to be. That’s what I hope it’s going to be.” But mid-December when they’re frustrated—and life’s gotten too busy, and things aren’t going the way you want them to—they go, “What happened here?”
Dave: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Dave Wilson.
Ann: And I’m Ann Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today.
Ann: Christmas is right around the corner.
Dave: Yes, it sure is!
Ann: What gets you in the mood/like when do you start think, “Oh, yes; it’s coming!”
Dave: When I start hearing Christmas music on the radio in June. [Laughing] No, it usually starts right after Thanksgiving.
Ann: And now, it’s starting the beginning of November.
Dave: —and Christmas movies; I love Christmas movies. I love Christmas Vacation—there’s a couple parts we can’t watch—but overall, it’s a pretty fun movie, with Clark Griswold [played by Chevy Chase]. So that’s me; what about you?
Ann: I think Christmas music starts getting me in the mood; but also, I really start thinking about Jesus and the birth of Christ. I was a huge Santa Claus lover, growing up. When I realized that Christmas was about Jesus, it renewed my faith in a new way when I gave my life to Jesus, and realized, “This is the meaning of Christmas? This is way better than Santa Claus.” About the beginning of December, I start thinking about the gospel—the birth of Christ and the death of Christ—and what that means.
Dave: Let’s talk a little about the emotions of Christmas. Of all the people you would bring into the studio to talk about emotions, you might not think of Bob Lepine. [Laughter] But the former host of FamilyLife Today, Bob Lepine, is with us in Orlando in Christmastime; no snow here on the ground. [Laughter] Bob, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Bob: Great to be with you guys. I always enjoy this; it feels like being home.
Ann: It does for us too.
Dave: It does for us too.
You’ve written this book called The Four Emotions of Christmas. You’re hoping this book isn’t bought by a person, for themselves; but it’s a gift to give to your neighbors. I think that’s a beautiful vision.
Bob: My hope—and our plan at our church, by the way—is to give them to people in our congregation. If you gave every family in the church five or ten copies of the book, and said: “Start, now, praying about whom God would put on your heart—the five or ten people—whom you ought to give one of these books to,” and “Along with the book, include an invitation to the Christmas Eve service at church. Maybe, add a plate of cookies or something special that you’d do.” It’s a gift for neighbors, or friends, or relatives.
Ann: And it’s a little book; it’s not an overwhelming book.
Bob: Yes, this is a book that somebody can read in an hour and a half, maybe; it’s about 80 pages long. The book is designed to pull people into the common emotions we experience during the Christmas season: emotions like disappointment, and stress, and sadness. I’m hoping that a book like this would cause somebody, who doesn’t regularly go to church, to go, “I’m curious about stress and disappointment and how you deal with sadness during Christmastime.”
The last chapter of the book is about the emotion that all of us hope to experience during Christmas, which is the emotion of joy; that’s, “The angels came to the shepherds with tidings of great joy.” I wanted to say, “If this is supposed to be about joy, how do we get to the joy of Christmas that we all long for?” The way we all do that is to understand what it is that God did for us at Christmas; so I explain the gospel at the end of the book, in hopes that people will respond.
My hope is that you giving the book to your neighbor or your friend, along with the invitation, that it can open the door for you to have a spiritual conversation with them in a non-threatening, comfortable, casual way. It’s designed to plant seeds. I’m really hoping it will touch hundreds of thousands—I’d love to see it touch millions of lives—with people who are introduced to the Christ of Christmas at Christmastime.
For that to happen, we’re asking listeners to join us. In fact, right now—you guys know this—FamilyLife’s got the matching gift that we’ve got often. When listeners make a donation, there’s a second donation given, dollar for dollar, [which] matches what the listener gives. As our way of saying, “Thank you,” for making a year-end contribution, and having that contribution matched, we want to send you four copies.
Ann: —which is amazing—four copies of the book.
Bob: Yes; we’ll send them, along with cards, that you can write a note to your neighbor. Again, our hope is that you’ll share these with a neighbor, and it will open the door for a spiritual conversation. There’s more information about that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you have any questions. [Laughter] I’ll do it again, 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Dave: We were laughing—
Ann: I know, because we love it when he does that.
Dave: We heard you say that thousands of times.
Ann: It doesn’t sound the same when we say it. [Laughter]
Let’s go back to the beginning, Bob. I did find it fascinating that you get back to the origin of Christmas. When did it start?
Bob: It’s really an interesting story. Think about it: for the first couple hundred years of Christianity—after Jesus was born/after He died—the church did not gather in December for a Christmas service. They didn’t celebrate the birth of Jesus in a regular Christmastime service.
Ann: Was Jesus even born in December?
Bob: Most scholars don’t think that he was because of the whole issue of shepherds on the hillside. December gets cold in that part of the world, so would shepherds have been out on the hillside? There’s debate about that. But there was no regular gathering of the church. Now, they knew the details of Jesus’ birth; because they had Matthew and Luke’s Gospels that had been circulated to churches. They knew and celebrated the idea of the birth of Christ; but there wasn’t a “Christ Mass,” a Christmas service, until about the mid-fourth century.
There was a pagan festival called Saturnalia, that was held every year in December. It gets darker, and darker, and darker every day; the ancients used to think: “The sun is going out;”—like: “The light’s going out,”—"and if we don’t do something, it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker—and then, we’re done—the sun will go away.” They would, as it got darker and darker, start to cry out to the gods. They started to figure out: “If we do this around December 23, it starts to get brighter and brighter after that,”—we know that as sort of the natural orbit of things—but there was this ancient pagan festival, Saturnalia, where they’d get together and celebrate the fact that the darkness was going to go away; and that, it was going to get lighter. There was a lot of drinking, and it was not a godly or holy celebration.
In the mid-fourth century, Constantine, the Roman emperor, who comes to faith in Christ, looks around at the fact that, in his empire, they’re having this, basically, December Mardi Gras every year; and he says, “We need to be doing something different.” He instituted/went to the churches, and said, “Let’s celebrate the birth of Jesus around this time and try to re-term it: “The Light coming into the world, the Light of Life, who comes.” We put, alongside the pagan festival, this Christmas festival. There’s some Christians today, who won’t celebrate Christmas—because they feel it’s too attached to this pagan festival—but that’s where its origins come from.
Then, it kind of died out in the Middle Ages—although, there were little things—the Germans started bringing a fir tree into the house and putting candles on it to light up the tree in the wintertime. Really, the turning point for Christmas happened in England in the 1840s—it was a minor holiday; it was a minor church service—people didn’t get off from work for Christmas. If you had gone to somebody, and said, “What are you doing for Christmas?” They would’ve looked at you, like,—
Dave: —"I’m working.”
Bob: And then, Charles Dickens wrote a book called A Christmas Carol. You remember, in the book, that Bob Cratchit said, “We’d like to have a feast for Christmas.” Ebeneezer Scrooge was like, “I’m not giving you the day off for Christmas!”—which would’ve been how most shopkeepers thought—but he “Bah humbugged” and let him off for Christmas—and we all know the story of what happened. People read the book; they were charmed by the book, and everybody said, “That’s what I want Christmas to be.”
It just started to grow from there: you take A Christmas Carol and you add onto it what then the R.H. Macy Company did in New York in the 1920s. They were opening their new store, and they decided to have a huge parade on Thanksgiving to celebrate the opening of the store. It was a Christmas parade—now, it was the Christmas season, and Santa came into the picture—and so did reindeer and all of this started to get added on.
Ann: Where did the Santa come?
Bob: Santa goes back to a Christian saint, Saint Nicholas, who was one who would take care of orphan kids. He would go around on Christmas Eve and drop oranges through the window. This was the legend: that he would put an orange in your window so that, on Christmas morning, you had an orange to eat, or something special. People used to hang their stockings outside the window to dry them at night, and he would put an orange in your stocking. You’d come the next morning, and there was a present in your stocking from Saint Nicholas.
That became Father Christmas in one culture, and Sinterklaas in another culture; and ultimately, Santa Claus. Then, “The Night Before Christmas,”—that epic poem—made it popular for everybody; and now, Santa became a fixture.
You take all of that—this 21st century Christmas that we experience today—you go back 200 years, and people would go, “I don’t even recognize; I don’t know what you’re talking about”; we’ve added so much onto it. Now, all of a sudden, this holiday has taken on a worldwide significance that was not a reality two centuries ago. We come to this holiday, every December, full of expectation, full of hope, full of longing. All of our emotions get magnified and multiplied, and we carry all these expectations into Christmas. Then, we wind up often being disappointed that our expectations didn’t match up to what our dreams for them were.
We always tell couples in marriage: “If your expectations of marriage don’t match up to what your dreams about marriage were, maybe you need to go back and check whether your expectations were realistic in the first place.” Most of us go into Christmas with some really unrealistic expectations about what this holiday is going to deliver for us in terms of emotional fulfillment. We may need to go back and right-size our view of this and adjust our expectations accordingly.
Dave: In many ways, it is a microcosm/really, of life. Christmas—the present under the tree, as good as it might be/it might be what you’re hoping for—within a month, or six months, or six years, it ends up, usually, in a garbage dump somewhere. You feel this sense of disappointment, like, “I thought it would be….” Marriage is that way; life’s that way. Christmas just highlights what’s already the ache of our soul.
Bob: Here’s what it gives you: it gives you a momentary little bump—a little hint of the joy/a little taste of the reality—you watch a child open a present, and their face lights up—and you get that little moment of that—and the expectation/you go: “I’m wanting to feel that all the time.” What we don’t realize/what many people don’t realize is that, if you’re expecting the circumstances of life to be the thing that delivers you that joy, you’re looking in the wrong place for joy.
By the end of the book—where I’ve tried to take readers along—is to say, “These longings that you have are real; they’re God-given longings.” But we’re looking for joy—to borrow a song title—we’re looking for joy in all the wrong places! We’re expecting presents, and cookies, and parties, and Christmas feasts to somehow deliver the joy we’re longing for. Ultimately, it’s a spiritual longing that we have—until we address that/until we recognize it’s a spiritual longing—we’re never going to have the fulness of joy that the Bible talks about.
Dave: You write in the book about a pretty interesting Christmas you had that brought a bit of sadness.
Bob: When we look back—and it would be an interesting conversation for all of our listeners to have with one another—is to ask: “What’s been the saddest Christmas you’ve had?” There’s one that sticks out immediately for Mary Ann and me. It was at the end of a long season of change for us. It had been a year when I’d lost my job in the spring; we’d found out Mary Ann was pregnant a few weeks after I’d lost my job. I don’t have a job; we don’t have insurance; I’m looking for a new job.
I find a new job—we were living in Tulsa—it’s in Phoenix; that’s 1,000 miles away. Now, we’re going to move to Phoenix. In the middle of the summer, I move my pregnant wife and my three-year-old daughter to Phoenix.
Dave: Was this the house that you bought, without Mary Ann seeing it?
Bob: Yes, yes; I wasn’t going to bring that part up. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, that’s right!
Bob: It was that house.
Ann: She never saw it [before they purchased it].
Bob: She finally saw it and did not like it. [Laughter] She’s coming in, hormonally-challenged, and she’s got a house she doesn’t like. She doesn’t have any friends in Phoenix, and she’s a thousand miles away from her family and her support structure. She’s miserable; she’s depressed.
My job’s going okay; but then, I get a call, out of the blue, from another radio station; and they’re looking for a general manager. This was the job I wanted—to be the general manager of the station—I thought, “There’s no way I could do this.” They said, “Here’s what it pays…”; and I said, “Oh, I just found a way I can do this”; right? [Laughter]
So we, now, move a second time this year from Phoenix to Sacramento. We move into an apartment in Sacramento.
- We own a house in Tulsa we still haven’t sold.
- We own a house in Phoenix we haven’t sold.
All we can afford is a two-bedroom apartment. I’m there with my pregnant wife. Again, she doesn’t know anyone in town; I’m going off to work every day. She’s got a three-year-old at the apartment there every day. This has been a no-good, very bad, horrible year—not a day—a year.
We get to Christmas morning in Sacramento, and it’s just the three of us: Mary Ann; and Amy, who is three-and-a-half years old; and me. Mary Ann is great with child; in fact, she gave birth to Katie four days later, so that’s how pregnant she was. We get up on Christmas morning in the rental house we were in—we’ve moved out of the apartment into a rental house—I think we still had boxes all around the house. I don’t know if we had a tree; I can’t remember a tree. But we had a handful of presents; we didn’t have much. We didn’t have money to buy anything, because we had two house payments and a rental payment; right?
I get up on Christmas morning, and Amy opens her presents. I remember somebody from work bought her a pink backpack, and she loved her pink backpack. The whole present-opening experience was done in 20 minutes. Then, we’re looking at each other, like, “What are we going to do the rest of the day?” I mean, we’ve got nothing to do. We didn’t have any meal planned, so I’m trying to find a restaurant that’s open on Christmas in a town we’ve lived in for three months. There’s no internet, where you can go Google® and see who’s open for Christmas Day. We finally found some cafeteria that was serving dinner on Christmas Day. It was probably the worst Christmas meal we’ve ever had. [Laughter]
We come back home; I think we watched a movie on the VCR. We were sad all day. I kept waiting for our families to call and say, “Merry Christmas!” “What’s going on?”—I was looking for that moment of joy. Nobody ever called; so we called Mary Ann’s mom, I remember. We got her mom on the phone, and there was a party over at her mom’s house. You could hear all the people in the background. She finally, “Oh, sweetheart, I can’t talk because everybody’s here. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Love you guys! Bye!” Click. [Ann groans]
Yes; it’s just a sad Christmas, because what we’re longing for is connection; we’re longing for relationship. We’re longing for there to be some satisfaction in our heart and soul. We were lonely, isolated, empty—didn’t know anybody—and it just made for a really sad holiday.
Here’s the thing—there are people/that’s their whole Christmas season—not just Christmas Day. Every day, they’re going home from work to an empty apartment. Every day, they’re going home to a family that’s in isolation. This season—where all around them, they’re hearing laughter, and joy, and songs, and music; and seeing people, who look like they’re having fun—they go home, and it’s a sad time of year. And they’ve got to know how to address the reality of that sadness.
Dave: That’s a real emotion of Christmas—something about the holiday intensifies that—maybe, you lost a loved one; and here, you come back... “Bob, what do you say to them?”
Bob: One of the things I say is that you have to recognize: “There is a difference between happiness and joy.” If you are in pursuit of happiness—if that’s the quest you’re after—you’re going to find yourself perpetually disappointed. Somebody told me, years ago, that the word, “happiness,” has the same root as the word, “happen”; so our happiness is tied to what’s “happening.” I understand that, in Britain, they used to greet one another and say, “May the haps be with you”; it was a way of saying, “May circumstances go well for you.” If you’re counting on circumstances to bring you your source of joy, again, you’re looking at the wrong place.
This is where, in the book, I try to take a reader—who’s not a churchgoer/somebody who doesn’t know Jesus—and say, “Your circumstances are never going to deliver what your soul is longing for. You may be able to do some things to adjust the happiness quotient at Christmas, and to make it a little less depressing; but the longing of your soul is not for circumstantial happiness—it’s for deep joy, and that’s what Christmas offers.”
Dave: I think one of the things that we have to always remind—even ourselves, as believers—is that: “This person/this gift is not going to bring us what we hope,”—we know this! You said, “I’m writing this for a non-believer,” and we’re hoping they go, “Oh, finally, I found the answer to life.” We know!—and yet, we still get wrapped up, and we get discouraged, and we experience a sadness.
I think you’re right, Bob; I think we have to remind ourselves: “Wait, wait, wait! It’s the baby in that manger.”
Ann: I was going to say, Dave, it is a Person!
Dave: He is the answer.
Ann: He is the Person, and He is the Gift.
Bob: And there are things/I mean, you can do things:
- Like you can practice intentional gratitude, and that will increase your joy.
- You can volunteer to help other people.
- You can schedule some time for you—Dave, schedule time for Top Flite golf; right?—that brings joy to you. [Laughter]
Ann: Dave just needs to play.
Volunteer for something; find a time to do that.
- I would say: “Be really smart about any use of alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant; it’s not designed to make you happy. You may think it gives you momentary happiness; no, it’s a depressant.”
There are things like that we can do. But ultimately, we’re just dealing with managing our sadness as opposed to dealing with the deep down issue; which is: “Where does joy come from?” “Where does real life come from?” Where does meaning and purpose come from?”—it’s not from a holiday—it’s from a Person, like you said; that’s the goal of this book.
In writing this book—again, as we said at the beginning—we’re writing this with non-Christians in mind. My goal is that a non-Christian would read this and go, “Yes, that is what I’m longing for.” Throughout the book, I say: “Could it be that the issue is a spiritual issue?” “Could it be that you need to explore something deeper than just the cosmetic trappings of the holiday?” By the end of the book, I’m talking about where the joy of Christmas comes from: in a relationship with Christ.
I’m hoping we can enlist FamilyLife Today listeners to be a part of an army of people, who are handing this book out, right and left. I would love for you to give this to somebody you know at work, and have them say, “Oh, somebody else gave me a copy of this book!” I’d love to think they’re just inundated with this book. This is about: “How can we take the gospel to as many people as possible?” And Christmas is the perfect time to do it.
Ann: Bob, I would agree with that, too; because we forget how lonely many people are at this time of year. I’m thinking of our cul-de-sac—and how sweet a gift it would be—I usually give some sort of buckeyes, these chocolate peanut butter balls.
Dave: They are awesome.
Ann: They are awesome.
Bob: I’ve never gotten any of those.
Dave: You know, Bob, I think you might get a gift this Christmas.
Ann: I’m going to send those to you.
Bob: I need to move to the cul-de-sac; don’t I? [Laughter]
Ann: I know.
But to put your book in there; there’s a card that come with it that we could give. Also, I’m thinking our one neighbor was just diagnosed with cancer, and how sad this Christmas will be—sad, just dealing with the treatment of that and what’s going to happen in the future—we’re pointing them to the birth of Christ, who really, ultimately, gives us joy and hope.
Bob: You want to change your Christmas season for you? Start focusing on how you can spread the joy to others/how you can share Christ with others: invite people to your Christmas Eve service or your special pageant you have at church. Make that your priority during the Christmas season—if you want to get to December 26, and have somebody say, “What was the best thing about Christmas?”—if you say: “I got a chance to lead the guy at work to faith,” “We took somebody to Christmas Eve service, and they trusted Christ that night.”
Dave: That’s joy.
Bob: That’s what you’ll remember forever!
Shelby: That’s our very own Bob Lepine with Dave and Ann at FamilyLife Today. As you heard, we’ve got Bob’s book available. In fact, we’ve got four copies for you when you give to FamilyLife and help more families hear about the hope of the gospel this Christmas season. You’ll get that, along with six greeting cards, hand-selected by David and Meg Robbins. These make a great tool to share with the loved ones in your life.
Thanks to some generous donors, your gift will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to
$2 million; and that’s awesome. Getting one gift doubled is awesome—but get this—if you sign up to become a monthly Partner right now—that’s giving a gift each month—you’ll have every one of those gifts matched too! That’s 12 gifts matched, dollar for dollar; you can take advantage of this opportunity over at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Tomorrow, on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson talk with Ron and Nan Deal, who walked a tightrope in marriage until they realized that their past baggage—of pride and abandonment—that was the actual problem.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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