Thoughts for a Holiday Season When Grieving

 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
 He will not always accuse,
   nor will he keep his anger for ever.
 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
   nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
   so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
 as far as the east is from the west,
   so far he removes our transgressions from us.
 As a father has compassion for his children,
   so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
 For he knows how we were made;
   he remembers that we are dust.
(Psalm 103:8-14)

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also...‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:1-3, 25-27)

A Message for You This Holiday Season

We are approaching the shortest day of the year in December.  For many of us, it has felt dark for a long time, since the beginning of the pandemic at least.  Of all people, you who have lost loved ones this year are among those suffering the most from the restrictions of the pandemic. It seems that there are deeper levels of darkness we never dreamed of visiting, yet here we are. 

Every year in December we get into conversations about how Christmas gets co-opted or watered down by materialism.  We don’t like to see it become just another reason for over-indulgence and profit.  We feel as though we have to strive to stay focused on the “real meaning of Christmas.”

Yet this year you may suffer from a different problem.  The merriment surrounding Christmas feels hollow, even painful, when you are in the throes of grief.  Family celebrations highlight the absence of the person you love, introducing sadness into your cherished traditions.  Perhaps you even feel disloyal celebrating the holiday at all, because that special someone isn’t here to share it with you.

With all these tangled emotions, we can find ourselves sinking even deeper into grief.  It is hard to find comfort when others around you want to feel joy.  But you can’t. You just can’t. 

This is the reality of being human.  There are times of darkness, and times when the darkness is made even more profound because of the circumstances of the world around us that put our suffering in stark relief.

Yet here, too, we have a reason to turn to God, for God has plumbed the depths of our humanity and made all of it sacred—every part of it—with His presence and love.  Yes, there is love there in the depths with you, because God is there.

God sees you and will love you through the worst of it.  Meanwhile, you need to be gentle with yourself and do what you need and nothing more. It is all right to let go of or simply tolerate any part of this season that obscures your experience of that divine, healing love you need so much.

I hope you can hear the good news I want to tell you: God embraces both you and the one you have lost.  Nothing and no one is beyond the reach of God’s love.

Despite all the glitter and celebration surrounding Christmas, we know that Jesus was born in poverty and obscurity.  He knew what it was to be exploited, unseen, hopeless.  To observe the happiness of others while unable to experience it himself.  He withdrew often from the company of others to be fully in his father’s presence.  The love of the Father was his comfort, his strength.  That fierce love enabled him to show us that his love could not be snuffed out, not even on a cross.  I believe he died there not only to atone for our sins but also to prove that divine love does not die.  It cannot be killed.

Neither can your love for your spouse, child, parent, friend.  It lives on.  And their love for you lives on too.  This is not a wistful notion.  It is the deepest truth in the universe.

As you gaze into the manger this year, I hope you will see the one who knows your pain and asks only to be held close to your heart for your healing.  He will do that.  He came precisely for that reason.  Jesus will heal your heart, sooner or later.  Whether you feel his presence or not, he is with you, now and always.  Believe this truth, and know the peace that only he can give.