Someone around you is grieving right now. Even if you don’t know his or her name. Even if you don’t know why. Even if you’ll never know why. So many people grieve on overdrive at this time of year.
Recently, I was teaching at “Attending to the Grief We Don’t See” workshop at a congregation and I encouraged them to pay attention to certain times of the year trigger grief.
We all agreed that a season that tops that list are the calendar days from Thanksgiving to New Years. Such was my experience for years as my husband, Kevin and I waited with hope that we’d be parents one day. For a couple expecting but not yet expecting a baby or who have recently lost a baby, Advent can be a miserable time. (As everything in the culture screams children and babies!)
And for others of us, we’re weighed down heavy by–
Hearing our cancer has returned.
A bout of depression which isn’t getting better.
A child diagnosed with a learning disability.
An aging parent given months to live.
Enduring a job search with dead-end after dead-end.
Family dynamics that are just weird.
While songs of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” and “joy the world, the Lord has come!” are blasted on the radio, the grieving among us experience December more like Holy Week than Advent.
That first Christmas without mom here . . .
That second Christmas of being a divorced dad sharing custody of your kids . . .
That third Christmas that your son is in jail . . .
And on and on it goes.
Yet, because it is the holiday season many of us want to be happy, regardless. We want to be able to put whatever is bothering us aside and rejoice as the scripture exhorts us too. We want joy—even as much as our life circumstances aren’t naturally joyful.
So how can we be joyful? Is it even possible for the grieving?
I would love to offer that joy is a formula that can be followed (as many preachers offer: Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last).
I would love to suggest that joy is an emotion of the will that we can just pray harder to make happen.
Or, I would love to tell you if you “Sing one more Christmas carol or bake one more sheet of cookies, then joy of the Christmas spirit will find you!”
But I can’t.
Maybe you’re better at joy than I . . . but it has been my experience that seeking joy in the midst of waiting does not come through formulas and cookies.
Waiting on joy has looked more like:
Crying until I’ve run out of tears.
Sitting among the rocks and dirt in my backyard.
Drinking too much wine.
Pulling myself out of bed, brush my teeth and go to work without clean socks believing I’m doing the best I can.
And I’ve done these things on repeat. Then when I’ve been lucky, others have come to sit with me and done these things with me.
Here is what I most want to tell you: as I’ve allowed myself to feel what I feel and been honest with others about it, a miracle has happened.
My spirit has began to move just a little. It moved toward hope—that the next day would be brighter than the one before.
It moved toward love—that someone needed me to notice their pain so getting out of bed was, in fact, a really great idea.
And finally it moved toward joy—that though sorrow lasts for the night, in the morning joy comes.
Such is what I’m hoping for you this holiday season.
Your joy might not be bright and showy. You may not be the one in the choir singing the carols loudly.
But you’ll be hanging on because of your quiet strength. And you will get through because you’re braver than you know.
Would you like me to come speak with your congregation or community group about sitting with grief during tough times? Contact me.