It’s the “most wonderful time of the year”, or so they say.
Except, that it’s not for everybody. For some, this is the most painful time of the year.
For us, this Christmas is a potent mix of both.
We’ve been proactive in trying to get into the Christmas spirit in an effort to make this year a “joyous occasion”, and on some counts have been successful. We put the tree up the day before thanksgiving, have been blaring Christmas music at every turn, and have been seeking opportunities to do fun holiday related activities– such as last evening when we drove to LL Bean in Freeport, Maine to see the Christmas lights (which are fantastic).
But then, there are moments on the opposite side of the spectrum when the holidays actually make our pain worse– such as opening a box of Christmas decorations and realizing that there’s an extra stocking that we don’t need to use this year. Or, the fact that yesterday was my daughter’s Quinceañera– a day we had expected to celebrate with great joy, but obviously did not.
Instead, I found myself turning to my wife throughout the day and asking, “how are you doing?”only to hear the reply, “right now, I’m just trying to breathe”.
If this is the most wonderful time of the year for you, fantastic! I’m sincerely happy for you. However, I want to remind you, that it’s not the most wonderful time of the year for everyone.
For some, this time of year totally sucks.
Yes, the holidays have a way of ushering in a season of cheer, but they also have a way of drawing hurt to the surface and accentuating feelings of loss. Many of us this year are dividing our time between celebration and mourning, sometimes vacillating between the two in the same day.
Often, we feel like we’re doing it alone– and I can only imagine that so many others do too. Today I simply want to remind those who are quietly mourning this Christmas:
You are not alone.
And, for those who have had a wonderful year and are having no problem getting into the “Christmas spirit”, I wanted to remind you that as Jesus followers, we must not let those who mourn do so in isolation. In the book of Romans we are reminded that as people of Jesus, we should remember those who are hurting and even enter their grieving with them:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Rm 12:15)
I realize that mourning with those who mourn is uncomfortable and messy and that it’s often easier to pretend like we don’t exist. Yet, I also know that so many out there long to come alongside the hurting, but simply aren’t sure how– messy things like community and mourning with those who mourn don’t seem to come naturally– often, it has to be learned and practiced. So, for those who long to become people who make the world a little less broken and a little more right, here’s how you can exemplify true Christmas spirit by coming alongside the hurting:
We’re not looking for magic answers, we’re not looking for someone who is “better equipped” to support us, we’re just looking for friends. Want to mourn with those who mourn? Simply develop a spirit of availability and sensitivity to those in your life and community who might be quietly grieving during the holidays. They (we) aren’t looking for anything special… an available you, will do just fine. If you have a posture of unavailability to a grieving friend, that only increases the sense of loss and sadness– instead, be available and let them know that you are available. Don’t fail to walk with the grieving simply because it’s uncomfortable– remember: the entire way of Jesus is uncomfortable.
Don’t think we want you to pretend that nothing is wrong.
We don’t. Often, when someone is grieving a loss we tend to avoid the issue, thinking that we’re helping them “get it off their minds”. Well, I have a newsflash for you: it’s always on our minds. When folks pretend that nothing is wrong and avoid the issue of loss, it actually has the opposite effect than what is intended. When everyone is ignoring the loss, our feelings of grief fail to be validated– and that can drive someone mad. Feel free to bring it up in conversation– we’re not going to be upset with you, we might even thank you for doing so.
Directly ask us how we’re doing.
In line with the previous point, sometimes we’re desperate for someone to ask us how we’re doing. And, I don’t mean a simple “how are you?” but a direct inquiry into how we’re managing our loss. A direct question gives us permission to talk about the loss and permission to talk about our feelings. People who are grieving, especially when it is an issue of extended grief, worry that they’re being a Debbie Downer and will often keep the issue to themselves unless directly asked. We know that our pain is making the holidays difficult for us, and don’t want to feel like we’re dumping it on you. However, when you directly ask we feel permission to be real and talk about how the loss is currently impacting us.
Please, don’t ask if you’re not ready to listen. You might be the first person who has had the courage to ask us how we are managing, and you might get a very long and emotional answer. The best friend a grieving person can have, is one who is willing to just sit and listen. Don’t even feel the need to respond– simply listening to us will be enough to make us feel like for a moment, we’re not isolated. Remember– those who are grieving can feel alone in a room full of people. However, when we have the opportunity to talk about our story and hurt, all of a sudden we feel a little less lonely.
PLEASE don’t use clichés with us, religious or otherwise.
If you have the courage to be available to a friend, have the courage to directly ask how their doing, and are prepared to listen, don’t ruin it by responding with some cliché or quoting a random Bible verse at us. We know you mean well, but this is hurtful. Our pain and grief can’t be assuaged by someone spouting off a few sentences at us. If I’m telling you about how painful it was to put a child’s stocking back in the box instead of hanging it by the chimney with care, and you respond with: “all things happen for good to them that love God”, just know that as I politely smile and nod, I am actually fantasizing about how good it would feel to punch you in the face.
Send an encouraging note.
If you live far away, send a card or e-mail to tell us that you’re thinking of us and realize the holidays must be difficult this year. Emails are great, but I feel as if we’ve lost the art and beauty of a letter that comes in the mail– write a short, encouraging note, throw a stamp on it, and drop it in the mail to us. It just might come at the perfect time and give us that encouraging boost we need to make it through a difficult day.
Stop by for a visit, and feel free to bring alcohol with you.
Live locally? It can be a big encouragement to someone if you just swing by to tell them that you’re thinking of them and wanted to see how they’re doing. When we’re overcome with grief we don’t often have the energy to reach out to people and need people to reach out to us. Just drop by to check in, and feel free to obey the Holy Scriptures by bringing alcohol with you (I’m sorry, but did you really think I’d write an article without saying something provocative?). For it is written:
“Give liquor to someone who is perishing, and wine to someone who is deeply depressed. Let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.” Prov 31:6-7
Remember: all we actually need or want from you, is to be a friend.
I fear that so many times, people grieve alone because those around them simply feel inadequate in reaching out. Please know, that you’re not– you’re exactly what we need: an available friend. You don’t need any special skills, any answers, and you don’t actually have to bring us free booze (but that is kind). All you need is to be an available version of you. That’s it. That’s all we need.
This Christmas season, I hope that your life is wonderful and that you are full of Christmas cheer. However, I would encourage you to stop and remember that this isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for everyone– for some of us, this is the most difficult time of the year. For some, this is the time when we most need your friendship and support.
That friendship, might be the best gift we receive for Christmas.
And so, the question becomes: who in your life simply needs an available version of you for Christmas?