Battling the Christmas JOY-Stealers

Have you ever felt that joy is simply escaping you? I mean, in this season that should fill you with warm fuzzy feelings, are you ready to hit the “eject” button? Let’s be honest, sometimes circumstances just suck.

I’m there right now. “Joy to the World” …whatever.

And that’s not normal for me. I have always been a huge Christmas lover. You know, the kind of person who would listen to Christmas carols in July and hang Christmas lights in September. In fact, we have fairy lights hanging year round in the kitchen just because there’s just something special about washing dishes with ‘mood lighting.’

Even now as I write this, the house is quiet, the tree is keeping me company, and the smell of turkey is coming from the kitchen.

What… so early? Are you crazy?

Yes, yes I am. But let me tell you what’s going on around here.   

JOY STEALER #1: When plans get canceled

Many of you know that we’ve been in a battle this year for our children’s study visas. What a pain! I can’t even explain how difficult it’s been except to say that, sometimes, obeying God is the most expensive and inconvenient thing you could ever do.

Long story short, even after hiring lawyers and a ridiculously long appeal process, Rachel STILL doesn’t have her South African study permit. Why is that a big deal? Because we just had to cancel our international trip back home for Christmas. If she tries to leave the country without a visa, she’ll be heavily fined at the border and then deemed “undesirable” for 5 years and not allowed back.

Nice one.

JOY STEALER #2: When loved ones are separated

Visa dramas are also affecting our oldest son, Joshua. He was only given a visa until December 31st because it was dependent on enrollment in a school. However, because he just graduated from Grade 12, he must now leave the country before the New Year. That means that, amid all of the year-end drama of exams and grad ceremonies, we’re busy packing up his room and all of his possessions. It means that he has to say goodbye to his friends and his dogs. Sucks.

But it also means that he’ll be moving back to live with my parents and go to university in Canada. We know that it’s the best decision for him, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing―it’s just painful. Oh, my heart.

JOY STEALER #3: When expectations aren’t met

When our eldest daughter, Raelynne, left for Hillsong College in Australia last January, it was difficult but not devastating. We knew it wouldn’t be forever; it was only for one year, and we could count the days until we’d see her again. About a month ago, she told us that she really feels that she is supposed to do a second year, which means that she has to stay there for the holidays to earn enough money for tuition.

Yes, we’re delighted that she’s hearing God for her life and doing what she should be doing, but the disappointment kinda creeps up and takes your breath away when you least expect it. Again, it’s not a bad thing―it’s just painful.


So, that’s where I’m at. Trying desperately to stay positive and festive, but really struggling.

How to find JOY when your heart is sore?

// I wish there was someone who could help me walk this journey with courage and grace. I don’t want a pat on the back with an “Agh, shame. I’m so sorry for you,” and I don’t want to hear how grateful I should be.

What I want is a TO-DO list. I NEED SOMETHING TO DO so that I get out of bed in the morning and change the atmosphere in my home. I don’t need pity; I need a solution. I need help. I want someone to come alongside me and say

“You’re right, this totally sucks. This is how I survived when it happened to me.”


So in the void of such practical advice, here’s what I’M DOING to survive the joy-stealers this Christmas. If you are also struggling with the impending holiday, I hope my to-do list will help you:

  1. Do the ordinary.

If you usually have a Christmas tree up each year, then put it up. If you usually have a Santa hanging out of the chimney, then stick him in there. Put the lights on the house and the stockings on the fireplace. Put it ALL up and change the appearance of your home. No, it doesn’t change what you’re feeling inside, but driving up to a dark house or sitting in a depressing room isn’t going to help you.

  1. Open your heart and invite people over.

I know that you’d rather be in bed with your head under a pile of pillows, but don’t do it. Reaching out to other people will make you feel better. And it’s a good way to get out of that vicious cycle of self-pity and grief. Even better, look for someone who is also alone for the holidays and needs that human connection. //

  1. Add something new.

We have a family tradition each year of adding one new ornament on our tree or a new decoration in the house. Those ornaments need to mean something―a reflection of what has happened this year or what God has done in your lives. This year, we bought 3 wooden heart ornaments, and Rachel is inscribing them with the 3 different locations of our family… “South Africa,” “Canada,” and “Australia.” It’s a simple acknowledgment that our hearts are in 3 places, but we’re ok with that.

I also had the privilege of giving Joshua a cooking lesson yesterday―pumpkin pies, Grandma’s stuffing, and how to prep a turkey. It was AWESOME and a memory I’ll treasure forever!

  1. Have your cry, and get it over with.

You CAN’T hide your grief; let it out. But for the sake of your own mental health and the people around you, you CAN’T stay in that sad place forever. Don a Santa hat or something, and find a reason to smile. There is always something to smile at.

Look for the JOY, then sing 'Joy to the World and especially to me!' Click To Tweet

  1. Remember the real reason for the season.

Christmas was never meant to stress us out with false expectations and pressures to perform. You are not being graded on how well you decorate your house, nor on how many batches of cookies you make.

 RELAX, and breathe.

Jesus came as a baby, lived and died and lives again so we could enjoy unbroken relationships, both with the Father and with each other. That’s why we do this thing. Even when everything else goes wrong, we can still find a reason to celebrate.

I celebrate waking up this morning and having breath in my lungs.

I celebrate what God did for humanity and His incredible love for us.

I celebrate the plans and purposes He has for my life and my family’s lives.

I celebrate my love for friends and family (near and far).

I choose to celebrate and be JOYFUL today!


Oops, gotta go baste the turkey…


Every Friday, I join an inspiring group of writers to write for FIVE MINUTES on a one-word prompt. No editing. No revising. Just WRITE. This week, the prompt word is JOY.

// indicates the start and stop of the timer. (I know, I know. I can’t stop at 5 minutes. Once the words start, they just have to come out.)

For more information on Five Minute Friday, check out Kate Motaung’s site!

9 replies
  1. Debby
    Debby says:

    Life can be hard, disappointing and yeah, suck. Joy takes intention and you’ve given some good words on choosing joy. I especially like doing the ordinary. Amazing how comforting the simple things can be. As another group once say, “Joy to me and you”! Glad to be your neighbor at #fmf.

    • Shauna Blaak
      Shauna Blaak says:

      Hi Debby! Gotta love Boney M, and such a good song too… gonna be singing that song all night!
      (By the way, Joshua’s turkey was the best tasting turkey I’ve had in years! Seriously. And while we were carving it together, he says “Yeah, my wife is gonna be lucky to have me!” What a kid!
      I’m so glad you stopped by.

  2. annette @ A net in Time
    annette @ A net in Time says:

    good thoughts…but ah. it’s tough when you can’t see your children or your family or you have children struggling with unexpected bureaucracy…. find your joy this Christmas, find the Lord God in the midst of it.

    visiting from FMF#16

  3. Mary Hood
    Mary Hood says:

    Shauna, sometimes I think I’m the only one! But no, circumstances are real for everyone. Grief is real! And grief is a joy stealer. Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King. And let us receive the light that overcomes the darkness. #53 FMF.

    • Shauna Blaak
      Shauna Blaak says:

      Thanks, Mary! Such a great reminder—powerful lyrics! I love how the old hymns are so rich with truth. It’s so true—the joy we’re looking for comes from His presence. Where He is, there is joy and all we need to do is receive Him. “Let earth RECEIVE her King.” Beautiful!
      I’m so glad you stopped by. ❤️

    • Shauna Blaak
      Shauna Blaak says:

      Dear friend, I was thinking about you today. Praying that the truth of His Word and the power of His presence will flood your weary heart! Missing you already. Hugs❤️

  4. Emma Hughes
    Emma Hughes says:

    Sorry it has taken me so long to come and visit! Man, in my life stage I cannot even imagine the reality of having to say goodbye to kids and watch them venture into the world to study… really puts things into perspective… and I LOVED the part about you giving your son, Joshua, a cooking lesson – what an incredible memory for you both! I always feel so encouraged by your outlook and wisdom and learn so much about how you handle struggles…. you are an inspiration to us all. xx


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