“I cried unto thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living. Attend unto my cry; For I am brought very low” (Psalm 142: 5-6)
My body registered what it was before my mind could catch up. A red-hot poker stabbed through my chest wall at the sight. I thought I had hidden them all, but I guess I missed this one. There it was, lying nestled in the tissue paper from which I had just unfurled it. I was decorating my Christmas tree. The lights twinkled, the fire glowed and carols wafted through the room. Ten seconds ago, I was happy and content. Now I was in a crumpled, sobbing heap at the base of the tree, clutching an ornament given to me by a beloved person whom I lost. My indomitable Christmas cheer could mount no effective defense against grief’s lightning-fast offside tackle. I went from “silver and gold” to “blue” in a heartbeat.
For many, the holiday period from Thanksgiving to Epiphany, with stops along the way for Christmas and New Year’s Day, can be anything but “merry and bright.” Once you have been gang-pressed into walking through that Valley of the Shadow of Death, you are never the same. Trauma and grief change you at an essential, feels-almost-cellular level. And it seems to resonate even deeper as we lurch from one celebration to another, and the page turns from the old year to the new.
TobyMac’s new(er) song “Faithfully” expresses this beautifully. He wrote it after the death of his son: “It’s been a long year, it almost took me down, I swear…I’ll never be the same man..”
When your life has been shattered, the last thing you feel like doing is singing with the angels. But as followers of the risen Lord, how can we be anything else but happy, right? The reality is, of course, that at every festive church gathering from Thanksgiving through Epiphany, there are grieving, pain-filled people, whose lives are in turmoil, and who seek comfort.
In recognition of this, some churches conduct special services that hold sacred space for those who are struggling. These include “Blue Christmas”, “Longest Night” (understanding that the lonely night hours are often the most difficult) and sober, more reflective New Year services. They hold forth the “real life” duality of recognizing Christmas and the fact that Jesus came to offer the light of hope, as well as the fact that people are in darkness, pain and (for some) suffering shame and regret amongst the candles, poinsettias and champagne corks.
Toby Mac’s song concludes by saying, “…when my world broke into pieces You were there faithfully. When I cried out to You, Jesus, You made a way for me. I may never be the same man, But I’m a man who still believes….”
Unto us a child was born. And He was called “Immanuel”—God Is With Us. And He IS with us—faithfully—even in the darkest, longest nights of this extended holiday season, truly marking them as “holy days”–especially when we are at our absolute lowest and worst.
Thank God I am a woman who still believes….even if it’s through tears, while crumpled at the base of my Christmas tree….yes, I am a woman who still believes….
How can you partner with the Holy Spirit to actively seek out those among your brethren for whom this may be a difficult season? To use your own seasons of suffering to comfort others?
If YOU are suffering through a hard holiday season, can you encourage yourself to reach out to someone for prayer, counsel or solace?
For some reason it is often easier to pray for the generic “all those who suffer and are in pain,” or the nameless victims of war, or the thousands outside our church walls in difficult situations. Let us also remember to pray for our own church family, someone who may be sitting right next to us in the pew. I invite you to join me in offering up this prayer (or offer one of your own): Lord, as the darkest and longest solstice night collides with the brilliance of Christmas lights, we lift up those who are hurting, worried and afraid. As did so many two thousand years ago, we come to the stable, looking for the Christ Child. Lord, we know that there are many among us who are suffering in painful silence. Many for whom there is no joy in the prospect of a new year. Help us all to remember who we are in You and, more importantly, Whose we are. Sometimes we feel cut off from You because we allow our many hurts to engulf us. Open us to the understanding that You are the source of all love and that we need not feel so alone in our grief. Grant us wisdom to know that You can be trusted, and that You are ALWAYS “God With Us”. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
By Donna Devlin|Bethlehem, NH