Christmas Mourning

sad woman on park bench in snow

Christmas Mourning (photo by Graur Codrin)

Reposted (with minor updates) from December 21, 2011.

We speak of Christmas as the most joyful time of year.  We sing lyrics, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

And Christmas is a wonderful time of great joy and rich traditions, specifically because of the event which we are celebrating.  God became man, for the purpose of redeeming us from the bondage of sin!  Even the angels announced to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!”

This is the best news mankind ever received, and celebrating that event sparks anew the joy announced by the angels and experienced by the shepherds!

And yet, the very joy being celebrated deepens the sorrow of grief.

We intentionally build rich family traditions around Christmas for the specific purpose of making the celebration both meaningful and memorable.  Then, when the day comes that a child, sibling or parent is absent from the event, we feel the sorrow all the deeper, for remembering the joy we once had…and even more in longing for the joy we know we should feel at the celebration of such a joyful event.

Our brokeness (broken hearts, broken families, broken lives, broken dreams, broken circles of love and broken joy) is exposed in sharp relief, casting a long dark shadow over our lives in contrast both to the joy of those around us and to the joy we instinctively know we should feel, if all were right…but all is not right.

Our modern western society does not deal well with grief.  I don’t know if other cultures do better; I just know that our’s handles grief poorly…including me.  Lord knows I’ve experienced sorrow, the loss of my brother who was closest to me in age, the loss of precious nieces, the loss of a marriage, the loss of time with my children due to court ordered custody agreements.  You would think that, by now, I would know how to speak comfort to someone else in their grief.  I certainly am better than I once was at recognizing grief, and my heart goes out to my friends and family in their mourning as I shed tears in prayer for their comfort.

Yet, I feel more at a loss for words than ever.  Because I know how ineffective words usually are.  I know how trite most attempts at comfort come across.  I know better than to ask, “How are you doing?” when the obvious answer is “Horrible!  How can you not know that?”   So I tend to stand at a distance and pray, wishing I knew what to say or do to bring just a small measure of comfort…knowing that although I share their grief, I lack the tools to adequately or meaningfully express that shared grief to the mourner.

In our society, we tend to treat sorrow as something we expect people to get over soon.  We view sorrow as not a good thing, and hope they will soon “get over it” and get back to living a joyful blessed life.

But those who have experienced deep sorrow know better…we know that life will never again be the same…that it will never again be as innocently carefree as we once believed it to be.  We know, to the depths of our being, that this fallen world is inherently a place of sorrow, and that so long as we remain in this life, sorrow is our natural state and any joy is both momentary and miraculous.

Yet, because of the expectations of our society, we feel compelled to try to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, plaster a fake smile on our face, and joyfully sing Christmas carols, as though we hadn’t a care in the world!

Speaking to real people experiencing real sorrow, Jesus said, Blessed are those who mourn... (Matthew 5:4).  He didn’t say, “Blessed are those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, nor “Blessed are those who have gotten over their grief.”  He said, Blessed are those who mourn!

Right now, while you are grieving, while your heart is filled with sorrow in sharp contrast to the joy of those around you, Jesus calls you blessed!

Jesus, himself, is described as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).  Jesus, Immanuel, God-with-us, experienced deep sorrow as part of being a human, living in this world.  Often, the gospels tell us of Jesus being moved by compassion, or grieving a loss.  Jesus, who knew the end of the story better than anyone, deeply grieved the current state of brokeness in this life.

So, why do we, His followers, expect to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, force joy into our lives by the power of positive thinking, and work at “getting past it”?

Blessed are those who mourn!

Why?  Because it is in our sorrow that we see this world as it really is.  It is in our moments of deepest despair and pain that we understand how broken this fallen world really is – how totally unfit for human habitation.  And it is in that moment of realization that we truly desire our Lord’s return, as our hearts cry out “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

Blessed are those who mourn…for they shall be comforted!

When all is well with our lives, enjoying loved ones, realizing the benefits of dreams and goals we have worked hard to achieve, we don’t feel the strong pull of longing for our Lord’s return.  We maybe even hope He’ll wait a while longer, so we can more fully enjoy the benefits of our labors.  We grow content with life in the here and now, and stop longing for the joy of life to come.

Not so, when we grieve.  Our grief finds no lasting contentment in this life, as our hearts long and yearn for our Lord’s return.  And so, it is only in our deepest sorrow that we can truly understand and appreciate our greatest source of joy.

A man who has never known hunger doesn’t fully appreciate the anticipation of a meal.  A man who has never known bondage doesn’t fully appreciate the joy of liberty.  In the same way, it is only “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” who can fully understand the joy found in the sure hope of our Lord’s coming!

There is joy in His having come to redeem us from Adam’s covenant with the kingdom of darkness!  There is even more joy in the sure hope that He will come again to deliver us from the power and consequences of sin, to recreate this world into what it is supposed to be, a place of eternal joy designed to be habitated by God’s children, where there will be no more sorrow or pain!

Today, I grieve the loss of my brother, Ernie, who has been absent from our family these past 27 years…even as I rejoice in the sure hope that I will someday be reunited with him.

Today, I grieve the loss of my Aunt Ardelle, who went home with Jesus when I was eight years old…and I grieve the broken heart of an eight-year-old boy who could not comprehend why the God I trusted did not answer my earnest prayers of faith that Aunt Ardelle be restored to health…even as I rejoice in knowing that God is worthy of my trust whether or not I understand.

Today, I grieve the loss of time I was unable to spend with my children, as they were growing up…even as I thank God for His protection and care over their lives.

Today, I share the grief of family and friends whose child, or other loved one, will not be home for Christmas this year, or any year in this life…even as I rejoice in the sure hope of a future reunion.

Today, I share the grief of family and friends whose disabled child will never achieve the hopes and dreams that every parent longs to see their child enjoy…even as I rejoice in knowing that child will someday enjoy running, laughing, and playing more than any of us.

Today, I grieve a world filled with pain, suffering, poverty, illness, ignorance, bigotry, greed, selfishness, hatred, war, and brokeness…even as I rejoice in the sure hope of Christ’s return to reclaim His rightful ownership of this world, and to establish His kingdom, forevermore!

Blessed are those who mourn…for they shall be comforted!

How about you?  What deep sorrow are you grieving, today?

[Linked to God Bumps , Scribing , WIP , Beholding Glory , Graceful , Wellspring ]


39 thoughts on “Christmas Mourning

  1. Dear Joe/Redeemed,
    I enjoyed your reminder post of the difficulties people face, especially at Christmas Time. Your words reminded me of a Christmas when I was very ill with pneumonia and actually joined our family’s festivities in my pyjammas on their couch. One night before Christmas day arrived, I couldn’t sleep, let alone breathe, but God had a message for me and we entitled it; “Christmas Hope”. I recorded an album entitled the same soon after and I’d like to give you the link to what remains one of my favorite songs (thank you Lord)†:
    or you can type in: Christmas Hope by Cindy Palin

  2. I’m glad you reposted this, Joe. It will speak to many; it speaks to me.

    The losses do pile up through the years. My own include a daughter who died at birth, a first marriage, both my parents dying two years ago, etc. We learn to live with the losses, but they still pop up and bring pain, especially during seasons when everyone is “supposed” to be happy.

    I agree that we don’t deal well with grief. I still feel like I should hide it when I’m sad. Yet, yet, … there is a blessing for those who mourn. Thank you for pointing that out again. We need to be reminded over and over. Blessings to you.

    • “The losses do pile up through the years.”

      Lisa, I’ve been surprised at how old sorrows become fresh again, with each new sorrow. Grief, for me, is never about just the current loss, anymore. Each new loss seems to open old wounds be grieved anew, all together.

      And, yes, there is a blessing in taking the time to grieve those losses.

      Thank you for the insights, my friend!

  3. I’ve done some extensive study in the process of grief, because as your post so eloquently points out, grief is the very stuff of life, Joe. If we don’t know how to grieve our losses, then we won’t know how to embrace the joy that exists right alongside our losses in this life.

    And I’m so glad that you are reminding us that Christmas is a hard, painful time for many who’ve lost loved ones. I see this in a 30-something friend who recently lost her husband to a massive heart attack, leaving her a widow with three small children. Your words remind me to pray for her, for you and for others like you. Thanks so much for your revealing words, as always!

    • “If we don’t know how to grieve our losses, then we won’t know how to embrace the joy that exists right alongside our losses in this life.”

      Yes, this life is such a mix of joy and sorrow. More often than not, the richest joy is found in the midst of sorrow.

      You’re right, Beth. If we don’t invest the time and emotion to truly grieve our losses, we will miss out on life’s greatest joys.

      Thank you for that perspective!

  4. You and I think a lot alike, Joe. I have learned over the years that grief is good. I mourn for an infant daughter that was stillborn each year. I travel to Joplin, MO to care for her stone. I mourn my dad’s passing just two years ago. I mourn for my old friend Joe who died in 1998. The list goes on. The point is that mourning is healthy. Pretending we’re happy as society expects, is not. I’ve also found that writing is a great therapeutical way to mourn.

    • “The point is that mourning is healthy. Pretending we’re happy as society expects, is not.”

      Well stated, Dan!

      I am grieving with you, this morning. You have seen a lot of sorrow in this life.

      It is a broken world…and yet Christ has entered this world in all its brokeness…He chose to share in that brokeness and grief…the light of His glory shines in the darkness…and He promises to come again!

      Blessings to you, my friend!

  5. Wow, all lost in my joy, I needed this reminder about the grief that the holidays, and probably Christmas most of all, trigger.
    It is a sad thing that Christmas has become an expectation to paste on a grin, no matter what, and just be jolly for jolly’s sake. It really does help to be focused instead on the solemnly beautiful gift of salvation that came to earth and lay in that rude manger and then walked the earth, “A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”
    As for the right words, I’ve come to realize they may not be needed. If our heart goes out to people in their trouble and grief, just going to them, being with them in it may convey more comfort than any words we could think up.
    Thank you for this good reminder of how sad many are at this time, Joe.

    • You know, in times when I was in deepest sorrow, what seemed to impact me the most was someone just letting me know they noticed my pain.

      Grief feels so isolating, sometimes…so intensely lonely.

      Someone simply saying, “You look really sad, today,” sometimes brought a flood of emotion, simply because someone noticed.

      Thank you, Sylvia!

  6. I’m sorry for these specific losses you mention here, Joe. The holidays can be a difficult time for so many. I appreciate this post so much for recognizing that and offering hope. Thank you for that kindness.

  7. In response to this posting once again, I was pleasantly surprised last Christmas.

    The story;
    A dear friend’s husband left her and we were all devastated. Our youngest daughter was good friend’s with their daughter, and watching the toll it took on the girls was heart wrenching. After praying and talking with my friend, I broke before the Lord and asked if there was anything I could do beyond praying. I remembered that God gives us gifts to speak out and that morning I wrote a song called; Love Leaves. The Pastor called in December and asked if my daughter and I had a song we would like to share at the Christmas Eve service. I told him that we did, but that it wasn’t the normal kind of message. I sent him the lyrics and he said it was perfect. Of course, God had a plan. The service was all about how there is pain, even at Christmas time. As Julie and I prepared to go up and sing the song God gave, a neighbor family came in, one that refused our invitation to come to the Christmas Eve service, years ago. We hadn’t pushed, and remained good friends. They filed in and sat in the front pew, and I could barely hold back the tears, their daughter had recently gone through a divorce.

    The lyrics go like this:

    There’s a father who’s considered breaking promises will bring happiness
    and he tells me, it’s my Mother, but he’ll always be my Daddy
    He assured me he cared, as he walked out the door,
    I could tell by his choice someone else mattered more,
    for the rest of my life I’ll believe

    Love leaves, love leaves
    when the going gets tough love’s not enough to stay
    love lies, love lies
    I was all he could need, until he threw me away

    There’s a mother who’s been living in a fairy tale, she knows she won’t heal,
    but I tell them I’ll get better, and I’ll always be their mother
    I assure them I care as I brush out their curls
    they can telly by my voice I’m not long for this world,
    for the rest of their lives they’ll believe

    love leaves, love leaves
    when the going gets tough love’s not enough to stay
    love lies, love lies
    I was all they could need, until He took me away

    There’s a Father who has promised
    and eternity free of suffering
    and His son came to a manger
    to know our pain and call our name
    He assured us He cared as he went to the grave
    conquered death to remind us that love finds a way
    for the rest of my life I’ll believe!!!

    Love lives, love lives
    when the going got tough, love gave it up to stay!
    Love dies, true love died
    to be all we could need and he’ll never go away
    He is all that we need, and He’ll never go away!

    ©Cindy Palin November, 2011

    It is a song that doesn’t point fingers at any one gender, but recognizes we are all incapable of “love” on our own, without intervention from the Father – who is the perfect example of love, in sending His son for us!

    After the service that night, many came to us expressing thanks for singing something real. There is pain at Christmas and although love leaves all around us, love also lives!

    • Cindy, that song is beautiful!

      You’ve captured both the pain of broken promises and the hope of The Father’s faithfulness combined with Christ’s sacrificial love.

      This world is still a place of darkness…but the light of His glory shines in the darkness.

      Thank you, for sharing it!

  8. Joe, this is just a stunning post. Like you, my brokenness is more exposed in this season of great hope. It’s a heaviness that hangs in the air. My wife of 27 years walking out and riding on the back of a harley. My sons, who are stunned, wondering if dad was at fault. My in-laws whom i loved, but rally around their daughter. Friends who just quit talking to me. And then a mom, a dad, and a dog that died in the span of 12 months.

    Yes, I’ve mourned, But. But. But. I have new love and at a shot at new life. As she reminds me, “It’s never too late to start happily ever after.”

    Thanks for this. Very wise.

    • That’s a lot of grief to bear in a short period of time, David!

      I remember, while going through divorce, being surprised that I hadn’t cried at all. I shed a lot of tears during the marriage, but none during the divorce.

      Then, our dog was killed…and I absolutely could not stop crying. Having grown up on a farm, I was not one to cry over animals. Yet, for four days, I couldn’t stop crying over this dog!

      I see, now, that I was grieving over a lot more than the death of a dog…and am thankful for the tears that needed to be shed.

      And, yes, in Christ, there is always the hope of a bright future…not just a dream, but a true and certain hope of what we know is yet to come!

      I’m so happy that God has brought new love and companionship into your life! He’s done the same for me.

      May God continue to richly bless you and your family!

        • Isn’t that funny…how a pet dying can sometimes hit us harder than more serious losses?

          I wonder…is it easier for us to grieve the loss of a pet because the emotions are simpler…less complex…???

  9. What a thoughtful response to those who are grieving or hurting this holiday season. And the photo is so fitting, especially with the “Christmas mourning” title. You’re shining a light into dark, broken places, Joe. Keep up the great work. Your words make a difference!

  10. It’s true, through sorrow we see the need for redemption and long for the day of His return. Important reminder that this time of year many are sad at heart. May we bear one another’s sorrows as Jesus bore ours.

    • “May we bear one another’s sorrows as Jesus bore ours.”

      Yes! Well put, Christina!

      Thank you, for sharing my sorrows, this morning.

  11. One of the gifts God has given us this year is to play a special role in the life of a friend who is mourning the April passing of her husband. He has given each of us a special place in the other’s heart. A true gift.

  12. I love this, Bro! I was thinking recently too about how the Lord treasures our tears and stores them. And, in the Old Testament, during times of disaster He saved those who were mourning over the sins of the nation. Also, Hebrews tells us that Jesus, Himself prayed with loud cries and tears. Thanks for your insightful comments. Hugs!

    • Yes, our tears of sorrow are never wasted. He treasures each one. Psalm 56 says that He stores our tears in His bottle and records them in His book.

      Thank you, for sharing that perspective, Susanna!

      Love you, Sis!

  13. Joe, once again, you’ve written a beautiful and timely piece.
    This topic is fresh on my mind as our church is running the theme from Charlie Brown for Christmas. Yesterday’s message was “good grief”.

    I love how you expanded on the link between joy and grief. The ability to experience joy is directly proportional to our ability to grieve. Yet so many of us resist the grieving process.

    When I post the piece I wrote yesterday I will link your post to mine because they are so similar (and yours goes much deeper).

    I’m sorry for your many losses. Mine include broken relationships and the death of a father figure I loved dearly.

    • My Mother used to say, in response to Charlie Brown’s exclamation, “What’s good about grief?” The thing is, though, that grief is good and necessary…because it is a recognition of the brokeness of the world in which we live.

      Like you said, “The ability to experience joy is directly proportional to our ability to grieve.”

      I’m so sorry for your losses, Denise! Broken relationships carry extra levels of pain. And the loss of a father figure runs deep.

      Looking forward to your next post!

  14. This is my first visit to your blog, and so glad I’m here. I am a huge fan of “real.” Your post and each of the comments registers so much peaceful kindness.

    My issue was 20 years with an abusive Christian husband, divorce, and the consequent crisis of faith. I spent too many years after that drowning my grief in anger and trying-to-figure-it-out-so-I-can-make-sense-of-it-and-fix-it-and-be-happy. My churches (plural) had no answers. I have never been exposed to this idea of grief before, but it rings true.

    Comment and song from Cindy – cpsoul – above: she said people were “expressing thanks for singing something real.” Yes. YES!

    Thank you for your kind and generous post, and to those who commented with such kind and generous transparency. Thanks for singing something real. I’ve learned from you, and grieve your losses with you. Diane

    • Diane, I am so glad you stopped by!

      I am sorry for your pain and sorrow of an abusive marriage and divorce. Those are sorrows I can definitely relate to…17 years in my first marriage…with a multitude of emotional scars…

      I am grieving with you and praying for you, this afternoon.

      May our God of all comfort draw you closer in His embrace!

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