Trumpets proclaim joy in jubilant fanfares. Confetti cannons explode. Applause, laughter, and cheerful shouts all accompany joy.
Joy is important. I want to feel as much of it as I can.
I love carols like Joy to the World and Go Tell It On the Mountain especially when I’m singing them along with a large crowd in church. I won’t be doing that this year. I’ll have home sing-a-longs on my own. I’ll even make up words when I can’t remember all the lyrics.
For all the joyful noise that rightfully has its place in our lives, I make the time to revel in the joyfulness of quiet. I also find joy in the peacefulness of the season. The quieter songs fill me just as full as the louder ones. Probably fuller. I even remember the words most of the time.
One of my favorite hymns of Advent is My Soul in Stillness Waits. It repeats these words several times:
For you Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits,
truly my hope is in you.
It’s a song of waiting, of hope, and of light. The melody is smooth and repetitive, like the back and forth of a soothing lullaby. Sometimes I envision my church decorated with green boughs and lit trees on the altar. That’s usually where I am when it’s sung. Sometimes I think of a starry night sky with that one distinctive star aligning perfectly in the Bethlehem sky with a manger below. I’m beyond excited to view Jupiter and Saturn align this year on December 21st as a “Christmas Star” and will gaze eagerly towards the southwestern skies.
Jesus was born away in a manger, far from crowds, in the quiet. Sure, the cattle were lowing, but the baby didn’t fuss. The stars looked down on baby Jesus while he slept. You might even call it a very silent, holy night. Away in a Manger and Silent Night are two other favorite carols of mine. My mom loved Silent Night, too.
My dad loved The Little Drummer Boy, a song of a poor boy whose gift was his song. Drums would normally be loud and thunderous. Here they are sweet and soft. Pa-rum pum pum pum. The song is so simple and peaceful.
Joy doesn’t need to be loud. It can be, but joyful stillness can move our souls powerfully without creating a big stir. Jesus wasn’t running around with jingle bells.
The Christmas season is much too terribly rushed by my standards. There is such a buildup that starts as soon as Halloween ends. Christmas comes, and then – poof – it’s gone. Spending part my day doing quiet things like reading, listening to music, taking a walk outside, wearing comfy pajamas, sitting by a warm fire, and eating a few favorite foods whenever I feel like it all sound lovely to me. These things bring me joy. I get joy from the time spent with others but don’t get much out of working all day, listening to music blare carols nonstop, running myself ragged cooking, or trying to spend every single moment with others. I usually find I am too fatigued by the time I get home to enjoy much on my own in the evening. Christmas is over, I’m exhausted, and I didn’t honor some of my needs. I find many components of the holidays to be stressful when my self-care is neglected. When I have time on my own, I’m very content to be also be with others.
Here is my list of easy joyfully quiet activities:
- Watching snow fall or admiring an untouched snowfall
- Gazing at the Christmas tree until you fall asleep
- Playing carols on the piano or listening to music
- Snuggling in front of a fireplace
- Taking a walk in the woods and just listening to sounds
- Spending part of your evening without electricity and instead using only candles
- Bird watching
- Building a snowman / Making snow angels
- Watching a favorite Christmas program or movie
- A quiet morning or evening walk
An evening with candles will soften everything else around you that night. Perspectives will shift. A quiet morning walk to perhaps take in the sunrise makes you feel like it’s for you alone. Walking in the evening to look at Christmas lights is a quiet way to take in neighborhood displays. I like combining a few of these at a time. Gazing at my tree while listening to music in front of a fire is a favorite thing to do.
Joy is healing. Doing things I don’t find joyful is not. Cancer has plenty of unjoyful moments. It is imperative that I put some boundaries in place to protect joy and healing during the holiday season. It’s more than okay to turn down invitations or change plans. It’s perfectly fine to have some time on my own. It’s definitely okay to do whatever I need and not justify your reasons.
This year it’s easier compared to others because I’ll be celebrating a pandemic Christmas and it will be all on my own. I’ll get to experience opening gifts under my tree this year on Christmas morning for the first time ever. To make the most of these circumstances, I’ve wrapped several items I’ve gotten for myself as Christmas gifts. I am more excited about this than I expected. I’d love to be with my family, but I know I won’t have this chance again. I’m going to do my best to enjoy a lovely day.
None of this is meant to be negative. Rather, it is motivated by compassion and the need for self-care. Showing yourself love and support is extremely positive. Self-care is vital to our lives whether we live with cancer, something else, or are in perfect health. It’s been hard for me to learn this lesson as a people pleaser. I have learned a lot about how to put myself first. I’ll keep learning.
If others are unable to see my joy, whose joy is that really about?
I know there will be plenty of exuberant joys with Christmas this year. There always are. That hasn’t changed as I keep living with metastatic cancer. There will be exuberant joys even this year when so many plans have changed and many, including myself, will be on our own. Enjoy all the quiet joys, stillness, and peacefulness coming your way that Christmas brings this year. Maybe it’s the hush of a blanket of snow when you look out a window. Maybe it’s staring at the Christmas tree and being lost in memories. Maybe it’s playing a few carols on the piano and singing along. Whatever they may be, enjoy them.