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Newswise — LOS ANGELES (Dec. 26, 2023) -- Wars abroad. Struggles at home, including record-setting inflation and political polarization. Although the holiday season can trigger a range of emotions, this year may feel especially challenging. Yet there still are ways to find hope, light and joy, say Cedars-Sinai leaders in spiritual care, cancer support and mental health.

To discover ways to find solace during the holidays, the Cedars-Sinai Newsroom spoke with the Rev. Hannah Rhiza, chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital, and from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: Arash Asher, MD, director of Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship; the Rev. Peggy Kelley, lead Christian chaplain; Nathalie Murphy, MD, psychiatrist, Cedars-Sinai Cancer Patient and Family Support Program; and Rabbi Jason Weiner, PhD, director of the Spiritual Care Department and senior rabbi. They also share their hopes for 2024.

Given current world events, how can we find comfort and joy during the holidays this year?

Rhiza: Self-care, gratitude, and faith and beliefs are resonating with me right now. We really didn’t have time to recover from three-plus years of COVID and then are now painfully journeying through, at times, an unrecognizable world, bearing witness to so much pain, suffering and fear. So, let’s give ourselves permission to heal and restore. On gratitude—there’s power there, for the one who gives and the one to whom it’s directed. Also, examining what we believe in allows us to focus on what gives our lives meaning. It’s important to anchor and find what we hold true in our hearts. In doing so, my hope is to be able to find comfort and joy, maybe when we least expect it.

Kelley: I find that even in the best of times, this time of year is tender. The pressure to feel connected and joyful can be disheartening when aspects of our lives and world events may feel incredibly heavy. I encourage everyone to try moving into this season by being gentle with their heart—and light with their expectations—so that hope has a chance to bubble up within them.

Weiner: I recommend finding comfort by surrounding ourselves with people we love and respect. Also, by focusing on things that give our lives meaning and taking breaks from things that bring us down, like watching the news. Try to turn toward good relationships and meaningful experiences.

Asher: I agree with Rabbi Weiner about taking breaks from things that bring us down. We are not wired to take in all that we see on the 24-7 news cycle or on social media, where we are inundated with heartbreaking stories and images of loss, devastation, crisis and tragedy. Our ancestors probably learned of periodic calamities from their own tribe or a neighboring one, and at a much slower rate. While I’m not advocating for being ignorant about world events, please take a break. Limit how much time you spend attending to the news. Consider taking a Sabbath one day a week when you can close your access entirely. Perhaps then there can be space—a refuge—for moments of joy and comfort. 

Murphy: A common feeling that most of us experience when faced with the knowledge of human suffering is a feeling of helplessness and wishing we could “fix” the world. It's overwhelming and heavy. Although we may feel helpless, and as individuals, we may not be able to change the world, we can greatly influence the world for ourselves and those close to us. Focusing on simple joys can bring comfort. Connecting with loved ones, engaging in pleasurable activities, creating new traditions or revisiting cherished ones, and practicing gratitude in small moments can all engender a sense of warmth and comfort during the holiday season. These acts can bring light and levity to our celebrations.  

How can we have hope for 2024?

Murphy: Esteemed theologian Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” One thing that is apparent when hearing about devastating events is also hearing about the helpers—the people who genuinely care. These events wouldn’t affect us if we didn’t care, and that gives me hope. People do so much good, whether it’s by sending a care package to a sick friend or helping organizations that provide humanitarian relief. On a personal level, it is inspiring to see my colleagues devote themselves to patient care and the advancement of medicine. Many breakthroughs in medicine are happening at an unprecedented rate, and it’s exciting to think about what’s to come in 2024. In the field of psychiatry, the advent of new fast-acting treatments for depression is very promising. These kinds of treatments could revolutionize the field and offer relief to millions suffering from mental health conditions. If you look closely, there are plenty of things to be hopeful for in the new year. 

Weiner: What Dr. Murphy said is so true—there are many good people in the world, and when there is pain and suffering, we also find resilience and goodness in the helpers—much like the people who work in a hospital. While this past year has been one of horrific suffering for many, that also means that there will be even more people trying to make a difference by helping and comforting those in need. Difficult times are often followed by tenderness and loving kindness, and if we look for that in the coming year, I am certain we will find an abundance of it.

Rhiza: Finding hope comes down to each individual person. I often think about resolutions and how those are intended to help us look forward to the new year with hope and a clean slate. But can we honor the actual purpose of making a resolution for the new year by truthfully embracing where we are individually on this complicated journey? Can we celebrate that hope for the day may mean just being able to get out of bed in the morning? Hope may look like a tiny glimmer, that solace is on the horizon—even if we don’t see it yet. I encourage us all to be more present as we move into 2024 in a loving, hopeful state, attending to our own souls and those around us.

Asher: Optimism can be helpful, but it’s passive. Hope, on the other hand, is active. It requires our attention, our time, our energy. Not accepting the world as it is—scarred by violence and injustice—means refusing to give up hope. It means we still believe we can make the world better and strengthen life around us.

Kelley: In many traditions, this is the season of light—a season that is asking us to move deeper into a fresh invitation of hope. Sometimes hope burns constant and true, and other times we have to seek it out. As we seek, let’s remind ourselves who we are in that most beautiful sacred space within. Nurture that space in ways that warmly call you back to yourself. Maybe it can be found in your religious or spiritual beliefs with rituals and history that connect you. Maybe you will have to do a little hope “homework,” which can be wonderfully restorative. You can start by reminding yourself who you are in that most precious place within by engaging in life review … reflecting on a time you felt that space most authentically or maybe a time where it was easier to reach. Allow yourself to sit in that sacred space and get to know it again because it is yours. Hold it, guard it and nurture it. And trust that light will dispel the darkness.

What is your own wish for the new year?

Asher: I wish that we all, collectively, have the courage to continue to strive for hope, peace, health and joy. 

Kelley: My wish for 2024 is healthy healing for our wounded world that longs for peace, and that all people will intentionally seek that which feeds their souls with compassion. Also, a most fervent prayer for the little ones—that all children may feel safe to thrive and grow in peace and comfort.

Murphy: My wish is for everyone to find the light that Rev. Kelley mentioned, and that however big or small, they are able to gather warmth, comfort and hope from it. 

Rhiza: To be at peace and gentle with ourselves and those around us. To nourish our souls, regain our footing and find the respite we need to continue to heal. I would love to see that in the hurting world around us.

Weiner: My wish for the new year is that people slow down, see the dignity in others and show everyone respect and compassion. Also, that suffering will give way to kindness and hope, and that the coming year brings unanticipated and unprecedented goodness!

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Why Does a Jewish Hospital Celebrate Christmas?