Taking The Dave Test during the Holidays
Question One: “Can I say life sucks?”
Introduction to the series
Much of the last year was thread through with considerable loss. My brother, Dave, battled a fatal brain cancer for nearly eight years and he died this last January as the result of a fall that was due in large part to his disease. He would have been 58 years old in October.
In reaction to Dave’s quest to find a durable faith and supportive friends, I wrote a book called The Dave Test, which was just released by Abingdon Press and featured at the Patheos Book Club. The book distills Dave’s quest into ten questions that any of us can ask ourselves, when we are in one of life’s hard places or when we are trying to support those we love. Whether that hard place revolves around divorce, death, unemployment, abuse, illness, or some other misfortune, I hope that the questions I ask and the answers the book offers will help us all sit a bit more easily with life’s ragged edges.
Over ten weeks I plan to apply the questions in The Dave Test to our preparation for the holidays. At this time of year for many there is — as the expression goes — “no cause for celebration.” But I am convinced that there is reason for hope and I don’t believe that we need to navigate the holidays alone. I hope that the book and this application of The Dave Test’s principles to the holidays will help ease the sense of isolation that is so much a part of life for many of us at this time of year.
This week’s Dave Test question: “Can I say life sucks?”
Illness, job loss, the anniversary of a loved one’s death — these and other experiences are, by nature, isolating. They cut us off from the life-affirming possibilities that are typically part of life (assuming, of course, that we haven’t lived with lifelong struggles of the same kind).
That sense of isolation can be acute during the holidays, because at special times of the year we assume that everyone is caught up in the same life-affirming celebration: the spirit of thanksgiving, peace on earth good will to all, a Hanukkah filled with light, happy new year. But what if you or someone you love is not in a position to celebrate?
If you are, then those greetings don’t ring true. The truth is, life’s ragged edges don’t honor the calendar and there are a lot of people in the same situation. Rather than struggle with the disparity between our own lives and the tension that we feel with the “holiday spirit,” we need the freedom that comes from being able to say, “Right now, life sucks.” When someone in our lives witnesses to that fact on our behalf, or when we can admit it to someone else, the very act of admitting it can ease the sense of loneliness we experience.
Witnessing to the fact that life can suck — especially during the holidays — can also free us from misplaced guilt. To “suffer in silence” shouldn’t be forced upon us. But the collective “don’t worry, be happy” mindset that pervades the holidays leaves many of us asking, “What’s wrong with me?”
The answer? “Nothing. People take holidays, suffering doesn’t.”
It isn’t surprising, then, that many of our holidays were first commemorated in the shadow of tragedy, suffering, and struggle. That’s true of Thanksgiving and the efforts of the early colonists to survive on a new frontier. That’s true of the birth of Jesus in the shadow of Herod’s raging paranoia. That’s true of the early days in Jerusalem’s defiled Temple following the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Holiday celebrations that pass The Dave Test are honest about those realities and people who can say, “life sucks” are among the best to celebrate with on those holidays. There is nothing wrong with you. What is wrong is an approach to celebrating the holidays that ignores life’s realities. That’s part of the reason that far too many of our celebrations lack the gravity, significance, and nurturing wisdom they were meant to impart. When we acknowledge that holidays can be hard, we open up the possibility for them to nurture us in the hope and wisdom that marked their original celebration. They witness to the fact that others have found themselves in hard places and have found reason to hope. Share your life and your holidays with people who have had that experience.