We are entering a season that from a distance looks like a time of great celebration. These next couple of months are marked by the gathering of friends and family, beautiful decorations, cheerful music, delicious food, and a wide variety of great festivities.
But hidden within the merriment of the holiday season, often unnoticed because of the pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce and overshadowed by the twinkle of lights and sparkle of tinsel, a common and not-so-pleasant part of the human experience resides: Grief.
For many people the “hustle and bustle” of the holiday season serves as a difficult and sometimes very bold reminder of loss. This sense of loss can take many shapes. For one person the strains of tightened finances highlight the challenges of the loss of a job. Someone else might be reminded of the loss of a dream, an expectation, or a missed opportunity. The sights of smiles and sounds of laughter might draw another person’s mind to the loss of a broken relationship. But for many others the festivities of this time of year can be a painful reminder of the loss of a loved one.
There’s a good chance, in one way or another, that this holiday season you are grieving. And let me simply tell you, “It’s ok.”
Grief is a strange thing because the way we individually process the losses we endure through life is totally unique from one person to the next. Some people close off emotionally for a time while others wear their emotions on their sleeves. Some express their grief with laughter and others with tears. Some process grief in random ways moment-by-moment as they emotionally bounce around from anger to denial to depression to joy back to denial to depression again to anger and then again to joy and on and on.
Because of our individually unique ways of processing grief it is very easy for us to feel alone. There is no simple formula or predictable process by which we handle the losses of our lives, and none of us do it the same way. So when we see someone grieving we often err on the side of “give him some space” or “leave her alone to work through this” when in reality he/she needs to know that it’s ok and we are here. We need to both give and receive the reminders that grief is a very real experience for everybody. No one is exempt. And no one is alone.
So what can we do about grief? I believe the most basic answer is found in the Word of God as it describes both the receiving and giving of a very special gift.
The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
As people who all grieve, let me first challenge you to Receive the Gift of Comfort. But don’t seek the pseudo-comforts this world has to offer. There is only so far that those things will go, and those things will eventually let you down. God alone can provide perfect comfort because He is the Source of comfort. Look again at how Paul describes Him as being the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” There is no comfort that exists apart from Him. So as you grieve, draw close to God to receive the perfect comfort He provides.
But let me also challenge you not to let this special gift stop here. Don’t simply receive the gift of comfort. Also be one to Give the Gift of Comfort. As you experience the comfort God provides, freely pass it along to someone else who is grieving. As your grief becomes more manageable (notice that I didn’t say “goes away”, because grief never totally disappears), prayerfully look for the people around you who are dealing with the severe and sometime crippling pain of fresh grief. Ask yourself, “How can I come alongside them to extend comfort during this time?” Think about what was most comforting to you when your grief was brand-new. And then actively choose to compassionately reach out to some who needs to receive the comfort you have been given.
When it comes to grief, we can all become Conduits of Comfort. God gives. We receive. And we pass it along to others.
This holiday season, as grief resides in the midst of our celebrations, how will you allow God’s comfort to flow through you?