Death, separation, divorce, illness, family trauma, job loss, world-wide pandemic.
Whew. That's an awesome way to start off an uplifting post.
The list of losses above certainly aren't on any of our to-do list, yet we are at times forced to face them, and even if we are no longer in the "deep-grief fog", the holidays can really bring about an array of emotion in regards to our loss as well as a physical response. Next week marks 9 years since our son passed away, and I still find myself with a slight bit of dread regarding the holiday season and being more forgetful than normal.
The week before Thanksgiving I attended a GriefShare event titled "Surviving the Holidays." It was so good to receive the practical tips, but the reminders of who God is and all He has to offer through His Word for our edification and healing was so refreshing. I have personally experienced a many losses in my 42 years of life - several good friends, a best friend, all my grandparents, both parents, and a child. I have found that every holiday season has brought with it a unique sense of grief and gratitude.
I feel less alone in these emotions this year as the world simultaneously deals with the heartache of what the pandemic has laid at our door steps. I pray the words within this post will give you permission to fully grieve yet fully live in the comfort available to us through Christ Jesus - the one whose birth we celebrate this Christmas.
"37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:37-39
Who wants to be a downer in the room when everyone is celebrating the birth of a child? But, at Christmas time, are we really celebrating His birth or are we celebrating the reason He came and the result? This is a holiday about suffering; Jesus came as a solution to suffering, a solution that came at a price but it also came as a result of great power and love.
"Christmas is the "sufferers" holiday." (GriefShare - Surviving the Holidays)
As we suffer and grieve, we can be reminded the reason for our Christmas celebration - that we too will overwhelmingly conquer the losses of this world because there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from the love of the One who came as a solution to it all. We may not feel like "conquerors" at the moment, but we are gaining the strength and momentum toward that victory. His love for us is so deep and profound - it's implications are eternal.
- Take refuge. Pray and be in the Word as continuously as possible to remember the true reason for the season rather than getting wrapped up in everything the world says it is. Knowing this will help you better manage self-expectations. I hear people say, "the holidays are all about family"... even that's not true. It may be a bonus, but that's not the purpose.
- Please read Romans 8:37-39 again and again. Soak it up, memorize it, pray it, and share it with others. Remember His deep love for you.
FAITH and COMFORT
"But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News..." Colossians 1:23
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Matthew 5:4
"3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ." 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
When you envision a person of great faith, what do you see? I once envisioned someone always standing, chest out, trudging valiantly through the storm and laughing in the face of evil. It can definitely look like that, but I think it first looks like a person flat on their face at the feet of Jesus, sobbing and pleading... or possibly just completely limp and motionless.
After the death of our son, I adopted a mantra "I have so much faith that I will fully embrace my grief." Suppressing sorrow and suffering is the opposite of living a faith filled life. I can allow every ounce of my grief to surface, even when it feels as if I was going to drown, because I absolutely believe Matthew 5:4 - I will be blessed and comforted as a result of my willingness to mourn at His feet. There will be a season of trudging valiantly ahead (I believe this is where I am today), but the season at the feet of Jesus has incredible value.
- Don't fake it.
While you don't have to tell everyone everywhere all that you are feeling, it's okay to say "I'm struggling... This season is very difficult for me... etc."
- Make a plan.
Make a list of every event and gift you normally attend and buy. Ask yourself, "Do I need this or can I let it go?" If it needs to stay, then consider if there is someone who can help you with it or if it can be paused (plan to do it next year).
- Give yourself LOTS of flexibility.
Rather than RSVP to an event, let the person know you likely won't know until the day of the event whether or not you are up to it and that you may only stay 30 minutes. If you do attend, have an exit plan.
- Create times of solitude.
Solitude is not isolation. Isolation is avoiding and results in loneliness and hopelessness. Solitude is an intentional time for receiving the comfort God promised those of us who grieve. It is rejuvenation for our souls, which gives us the strength and desire to return to our lives. We are designed for a dependence on God and an interdependence on others. Times of solitude allow us to live within this design.
- Take care of yourself.
Emotional health is incredibly important. One of your greatest griefs this year may be that most activities are cancelled and you don't get to be with many of the people you love. While it may not be the same as in the past, please find a way to connect and be with others. Go for a walk with friends or family, listen to music that lifts you up, write letters to someone, call someone you haven't spoken with in ages. How can you connect with others? Do things you know bring you calm and joy without regret.
Don't ignore your physical health either. Find ways to keep moving and make good food choices. I know many of our holiday traditions include over indulging, but I encourage you, at a time when you're not feeling emotionally top-notch, consider how you can feed your body with good food and exercise. It will help you physically and emotionally.
- Find your safe place for tears and deep conversation.
There is healing in tears (scientifically proven!). If you don't have someone you feel comfortable off-loading on during the holidays, reach out to a counselor or get engaged in a group that will support you. Getting the help you need is a way of acting in faith that God has made a way for your healing - not just eternally but also here on this earth.
- Say hello to "self-grace."
If your tears and emotions come out in unexpected ways, just give yourself grace. I chuckle at this now, but it wasn't funny at the time - I once accidentally off-loaded a ton of tears and way too much information on an unsuspecting cashier (I mean, she didn't accept my coupon for the pages I planned to use in my son's scrapbook... who wouldn't have lost it?) - so sorry whoever you are!
- Serve others.
This can be as extravagant or simple as you need it to be, but serving others is a reminder to us that we are functioning out of His strength rather than our own. This knowledge is part of our survival tools. When you think, "I just can't do this...", then say back to yourself, "Wow! You're right. You can't, but He can."
"He causes us to remember his wonderful works. How gracious and merciful is our Lord!" Psalm 111:4 (NLT)
"Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God." Philippians 1:3 (NLT)
Has it ever occurred to you that we only experience loss if we once "had"? So many times in the Bible God has people place objects in a location so that they could remember what had just taken place. As readers of these stories thousands of years later, it makes sense for them to remember the miraculous, good things God had done, but if you consider the circumstances in which God requested this - it was often after His people had undergone something really, really hard - war, loss of life, leaving of homeland, etc. The reminders were for them to remember all God had done, but there's no way they could conjure up the memory of God's good work without also remembering the hard stuff also. In the midst of their sorrow and suffering they may not have even recognized the beauty of God's handiwork, yet He had them mark the occasion because it was important that they be able to recall it.
- Make new traditions.
Sometimes traditions are too painful to participate in when you've experienced a loss, so you may need to decide to toss or delay them until another year. This is an awesome opportunity to create new traditions, some of which may honor what you are grieving. For us, we spend time honoring the nurses who cared for our son and family at the hospital by taking them treats and a card.
"Moving forward is different than moving on." (GriefShare - Surviving the Holidays)
- Buy or make a special ornament.
We hang special ornaments to remember certain people or seasons as well as God's provision during those times. For example, we have a tiny shoe hanging on our tree. This shoe is the one our son was wearing when he was adopted. With this shoe, we remember the roads he walked in life prior to joining our family, those he had to say goodbye to, and how God has nurtured his and our hearts.
- Intentionally recognize the loss.
Don't let your family's loss be the big pink elephant in the room. If you have lost a job, make a poster board of all the things that were great about your last job. Write a prayer at the bottom praising God for those things and pray that He will bring them to you again soon. If there are empty chairs at your table for any reason, light a candle in honor of those who aren't there. If you have a loved one that has died, make their favorite dessert or dish in their honor. Don't make your time of remembering the center of attention, but don't let this moment pass as if nothing has happened.
- Say their name.
When we first lost our son, I had someone tell me they didn't want to bring him up or say his name because they feared it would make me sad, but, for me, hearing his name was like sweet music to my ears. Often times those around us are clueless in how to walk alongside us, but they want to do it well. So if talking about memories or saying a person's name is helpful, let them know. When you've had enough, let them know.
- Thank God - for all He has done, is doing, and will do.
HOPE and COURAGE
"Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will also help you, I will also uphold you with My righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10
"3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love." Romans 5:3-5
Grief and suffering are my superpowers. I know that sounds ludicrous, but it's true. Prior to walking boldly in faith those things were my greatest detriment. I continually tried to fill the pain with so many other things that led to one disappointment and regret after another.
How can I express this without it sounding too simplistic or cliché? The power of the Holy Spirit completely changed my grieving and my suffering. It still hurt and ached my bones. I still felt like I couldn't breathe at times, and today I still dread such pain - but, in grief and suffering, I found the deepest parts of my soul. Now that I know this part of me, and the Holy Spirit within it, I constantly give it away to others. I see others' hurt and pain in new and significant ways, but not in an overwhelming way - I see it with new eyes... with hope. I remember borrowing hope from others whom had this same superpower. Do you need to borrow some from me during this difficult season? I want to give it to you. The strangest thing - even as I give it away over and over, the amount of hope I have is never depleted. This hope never disappoints.
Merry Christmas, my sweet friends. May the love of Christ be ever present in your heart and mind this season.