when christmas is hard: "help"

blog when christmas is hard“o God, listen to my cry! hear my prayer! from the ends of the earth, i cry to you for help. when my heart is overwhelmed. lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge” – psalm 61:1-3, NLT

sometimes when i write about how hard life is here at the refuge, i wonder if i’m exaggerating.  then i go through a week like this last one and remember how real it is.  seriously, so many people struggling in different ways, some related to the season, some just related to life’s realities.  no matter the reason, it’s rough around here.  we have an advocates group that meets twice a month and is centered on support-skills-training-love for those who journey with others in hard places. it’s one of my favorite groups, a learning place, and every december our theme is the same:  “soul care & compassion fatigue.”  we bring in our therapist friends to remind us of all the things we should be doing to take better care of ourselves so we can last. it’s always awesome.  this past tuesday, my amazing and awesome friend phyllis mathis was with us and brought a mini wailing wall.  she gave us time & space to just cry out in any way we needed on behalf of others-we-are-journeying-with and for ourselves, too (the one that we often neglect the most).  i ripped up paper after paper, scrawling prayers on them for my friends, for me, and then stuffed them into the cracks of the rocks. “God, please help….” 

then i lit candles. a bunch of them. i didn’t light one candle for each person because there weren’t enough, but i lit one for all my friends struggling with depression, another for a handful of women i know who are leaving abusive situations & trying to rebuild, another for those with health issues, another for ones with kids-on-the-fringe, another for those in the midst of divorce, and another for those who feel so far from God and long for some loving.  and then i lit a candle for me, just for me.

with each candle i thought.  help them, God.  

help me, God. 

goodness gracious, we really need your help.

if you’re like me, it’s hard to ask for help.  i’m getting better at it, but it is so not my natural reflex. left on my own, i am a bootstraps-figure-it-out-on-my-own type of person.  it’s part of my history and unfortunately, i have carried a lot of this into my relationship with God.  it’s not that i don’t believe he’s present. part of my healing has been embracing God’s emmanuel-ness, regardless of what i do or don’t do.  but i often don’t know what it means for him to actually help, at least in the ways i desperately want it.

but here’s what i keep learning-it helps to at least ask for help.

it humbles me because it makes me realize how much is out of my control anyway.  it reminds me of my humanness. it also helps me feel less alone.  it also helps me remember that even if nothing is changing, God is near, listening, present.

i finished anne lamott’s latest book last week–help, thanks, wow: the three essential prayers.  it was so good, really lovely.  here’s what she says about asking for help:

“there’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parent, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. this is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged:  the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past.  it’s exhausting, crazy-making.  help. help us walk through this.  help us come through.  it is the first great prayer.”  

it reminds me of the first 3 steps in the 12 steps, which say 1. we admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors and life had become unmanageable.  2. came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3. made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.   my paraphrased version of steps 1 through 3 have always been:  1. God, this is so not working.  2. maybe you can help.  3. and yeah, here it is (insert big hand motions of giving it over here). 

i don’t know where each of you are at this week in the midst of a busy season. i’m guessing some of you are doing just fine, others are on the fringe teetering and yet others are seriously tanked.   i also know that for some, asking for help isn’t hard to do, while for others it is a giant stretch–especially when God feels far or maybe hasn’t helped us in the way we have hoped.

asking for help is always a risk.  it’s vulnerable.  it’s scary.

but i’m pretty sure the alternatives are far worse.  a hardened protected heart.  or an overburdened weary one.

for this christmas-formation-friday, here’s a small thought to consider.  if you are feeling burdened with all kinds of things, maybe take a risk and ask God for help.  it might look like your own little wailing wall like the one we used or could be in some other form.  it might be just a simple prayer over and over.  help so and so…help me…. and then when you’re done, maybe light a candle somewhere nearby as a symbol of hope.  keep it burning as long as you can.

i made some candles for my advocate friends for christmas this past tuesday.  it was fun because i really thought about it before i made them. i wanted the words to be what this group of people might need, which is likely to be what i needed, too.  these are what came to mind, a reminder that:  “i am loved. i am not alone.  i am human.  God is near.”

so today, i’ll light mine again and one for you, too.

you are loved. you are not alone.  you are human.  God is near.

please God, help.

peace and hope this weekend, kathy




Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • I can’t say how much I loved this post. The Rx bottles made me happy, too. I fell a few weeks ago and bruised my leg and hip. I had to ask for help several times in the past few weeks, and like you, I am the kind of girl who goes it alone. Yes. I asked God too for help. Thanks so much for the reminders. Hope your Christmas time is happy and healthy.

    • thanks, laurie. sorry that you are hurting and glad for asking for help & for good drugs 🙂 peace and hope and healing to you, my friend from afar.

  • Oh I needed to read this. Again. Christmas is not my favorite season, and it seemed to come so fast this year?! But the more that I am intentional about being honest about the holiday depression, the better it gets. Imagine that. I hear you on the asking for help issue, as I have to go against my knee-jerk response to hunker down and figure it all out myself. I think that for me, more than half the battle, is the ability to say out loud and without judgement that the season taps into hard things.Having people know that my tendency to hibernate actually makes hibernating lkess desirable. Also, being reminded that I am not an orphan anymore also really helps. 🙂

    • it’s amazing how freeing honesty can be, how it can take away at least some of the shame and power and bring what’s in the dark to the light. yeah, it does kind of suck in a good way when your friends have a sixth sense about hibernating 🙂

  • Thanks so much Kathy. How do we ask for help without sounding needy? People run from ‘needy’ people especially if they haven’t learned boundaries or know the other can’t fill every need and void. How do you say ‘I need help but I don’t want to suck the life out of you?’ When my father passed away last year at this time, the grieving was so hard. I felt very alone. Then I got sick and ended up in the hospital. I finally hit bottom and asked for help. But I waited too long. I never want to do that again. Some people are just not equipped to be there emotionally and that’s okay. What I discovered was that those who had lost a loved one….really got what I was going through and feeling. But I’m learning to ask God & friends now much sooner than later. Just being honest and real and trusting that God will open the way. God bless you Kathy!

    • thanks for always sharing so honestly here, irene. it is a gift. i think the truth is that we are needy and that’s okay! we have come to associate “needing help” with “something is wrong with us and we shouldn’t need so much” when in reality, it is part of life, that we really truly can’t do it alone. i know that thing where it crosses over as “too much” sometimes but that’s why we need a community where we can all share the load together, when the burdens are bigger than others. it’s so much easier said than done, though, and sometimes takes more intention than any of us can really figure out. please, God, help us in this!

  • I guess I just thought of this whole thing going through my friends horrible situation with spiritual abuse. Honestly, she is the reason we all can still have freedom here on our blogs. She won a court case on a church that was spiritually abusive to her and tried to stop her from blogging the truth. She is an amazing friend and I can’t believe she has endured what she has. Lately, it has been so hard on her because the pastor is continuing in his abusive ways. I don’t know. I just read some of the things that went back and forth in a recent flare-up with her and the pastor on the Wartburg Watch and that the things came from his “church”…well, I can’t believe how the body is reacting and treating each other now days. It’s nothing that Jesus would’ve been accepting of. She is in a continual bashing of those that want to control her. I am just proud of her for standing up against spiritual abuse. It is more subtle than most would even want to think. Anyway, she WON her court case and I am SO proud of her. Again, it is HONESTLY the reason we can all contiue to post the truth and not have repercussions. Can you believe with all that is going on we still have horrible things going on in the body? I wish you could meet her. I’m pretty sure you would understand where she is coming from. Her site went viral and she is continuing to stand up for those that have been spiritually abused. Granted I only got a few stories about your Flatirons situation, but I believe I completely and 100% understand it now. She has really supported me through my spiritual abuse recovery and I can’t really believe how much she REALLY understands.

  • I googled “When Christmas is hard” – and found this. I went on my knees and let my heart do the asking. It started to slowly come right. To admit that Christmas is this hard, wow. There you go – and someone in a post below saying, it taps into deep things for us … very true – unfathomable, hidden from me, where rationalisations don’t go … I’ve been trying to let myself hurt and be okay with that. I’ve named it this morning with a staff member, who was kind and responded. Tears are not far away … I know naming it can take some of the sting out of it … and realising the kindness of people around me brings me to tears as well. I’m hoping by writing this, a little more processing will take place …

    • hey jenny, thanks for sharing how you found your way here. wild. i am glad you took time to share and do hope that you can use this space to process in any way that helps. peace.


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