It’s been over ten years but I remember Christmas Eve 2008 like it was yesterday. My husband and I were still reeling from the coup d’état we’d experienced several weeks earlier at our church where he’d pastored for 7 years. Instead of ringing handbells, listening to my husband preach and our daughter sing, we were sitting with my sister’s family hundreds of miles away. At their church. With their pastor. Surrounded by hundreds of strangers. As the congregation sang “Silent Night” and candlelight spread throughout the sanctuary, I began to quietly sob. Never had I known the depths of such grief.
Grief can’t help but intensify during the holidays. Society has created a season that emphasizes shopping, parties, and family gatherings where everyone is home for Christmas. We’re supposed to “have a holly jolly Christmas” and “be of good cheer.”
But what if the holidays are filled with grief instead of cheer?
One of the most important things we can do during the holiday season is to acknowledge the grief that we feel. It does no good to try to ignore it. And berating ourselves with thoughts like “This is silly, I shouldn’t be grieving over this” or “That happened a long time ago, I should be over it by now” only makes matters worse.
Perhaps your grief comes from the loss of relationships. Maybe this is your first holiday season since the passing of a loved one. Or maybe circumstances prevent you from being with your family this year. Or perhaps people have betrayed you and the place they once held in your life is now just a lot of emptiness. The holidays have intensified your loss.
If you’re a minister in transition due to a painful exit from your previous church, the holidays are especially difficult. You have no sermons to write, no music to rehearse, no church to decorate, no parties to attend, no Christmas Eve service to plan. Your calendar is completely clear. In the past, you struggled to get everything done. But now there’s nothing to do. And that, my friend, can result in deep grief.
With Christmas just around the corner, what can we do to cope with grief, even as we celebrate the birth of our Savior? If you are grieving because of the death of a loved one, I encourage you to attend a GriefShare group or other grief workshop in your community. If your grief is due to other types of loss, here are a few suggestions that I’ve found helpful:
Be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself time to grieve. If you need to cry, cry. Don’t be ashamed of your tears. When sadness rolls in like a dense fog, recognize it as part of grief and be gentle with yourself. And know that the fog will eventually lift.
Change your routine. The first Christmas after my mother-in-law passed away, my husband’s family came to our house for Christmas instead of everyone gathering at the homeplace as we’d always done in the past. It didn’t remove the grief but it lessened the pain.
Have Plan B. If Plan A is to attend a Christmas Eve service, Plan B could be to go to a movie or drive around and look at Christmas lights. If you get to the church and find you just cannot go inside, switch to Plan B. Saying “I just can’t do this” is a healthy way to deal with grief.
Use caution when listening to Christmas music. If you’re out in public, you probably can’t avoid it. But when you’re at home or in your car, be aware of how the music you listen to impacts your soul. If hearing Andy Williams declare “It’s the most won-der-ful time of the year” makes you want to hurl the radio across the room, turn it off. Nothing makes me change stations faster than hearing the first notes of “Christmas Shoes.” And this year, I have no desire to hear the sad sounds of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Nope. Not gonna listen to it. But if you can’t imagine Christmas without music, choose which songs help and listen to those. For me, it’s Michael W. Smith and Carrie Underwood’s duet, “All is Well,” and the Josh Groban Christmas CD. Other than “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which I skip over, the CD is wonderfully worshipful.
Be intentional when getting on social media. If seeing photos and reading comments helps you survive the holidays, great. But if it doesn’t, avoid logging on. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re wise.
Whatever has caused your grief, please know that I’m praying for you. I may not know your name or your situation but I know what it’s like to feel intense grief during the holidays. I pray that as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, you will feel His loving arms wrap around you and you’ll hear Him say, “You’re going to be OK. I have come. I’m right here.”