Christmas Mourning

sad woman on park bench in snow

Christmas Mourning (photo by Graur Codrin)

Reposted (with minor updates) from December, 2012.  This holiday season I am especially praying for my mother, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews and children, as we each struggle to process the myriad of emotions related to my father going home to Jesus, on November 2 of this year.

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 can be.  I know how trite attempts at comfort can 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 father, Papa, who was recently taken home…even as I rejoice in knowing Papa’s deepest joy has been fulfilled in meeting Jesus face-to-face.

Today, I grieve the loss of my brother, Ernie, who has been absent from our family these past 28 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 Messy Marriage, Graceful, Wellspring ]

 

18 thoughts on “Christmas Mourning

  1. Dear Joe,
    I join you in your sorrow and grieve as well…
    I grieve the loss of a spiritual bond with my Mother
    I grieve the broken relationship with my estranged brother
    I grieve the broken marriage of my sister and her husband
    and share these words with you as well
    ….the weapons of our warfare are not this flesh and bone
    the wounded fill the valley – but we are not alone
    Mightily move among us, that we may fearlessly speak of your love
    Faithfully arm us with your sword
    Humbly we pray for power
    for this appointed hour
    Finally be strong in the Lord
    (a song penned days ago reminding us to pray and be strong in the Lord….)
    Merry Christmas even still – Joe
    Your sister,
    Cindy

    • Those broken relationships are tough to deal with, aren’t they, Cindy?

      We want them to be healed and restored, but only have control over one side of the relationship.

      Praying for you and your loved ones!

      Thank you for the prayers and encouragement, as well as the beautiful song!

      Blessings to you, sis!

      Joe

  2. I loved this post last year, Joe, and I love it again!

    The holidays can be incredibly difficult, even in the church. (maybe especially in the church) Your voice of reality is a breath of fresh air.

    Thinking of you and your family as you experience your first Christmas with your dad gone home.

  3. My step-dad’s brother who I loved as a brother myself took his own life last Wednesday night after his son took his own life last summer. It’s a very sad situation. And filled with sorrow.

    • Oh, Dan! How tragic!

      Praying for you and your family, that God will bring an extra measure of comfort and encouragement during this time of sorrow.

  4. Dear Joe
    My heart goes out to you and your family, dear friend. I lost my father 10 years ago at the 26 August and I still miss him everyday. He was the one I spoke with when I needed to and he is the one on who’s grave stone only his name, date of birth and death are written with the words,”And the greatest of all is Love.” Joe, he taught me without words that your left hand should not know what your right hand was doing and even though he was quite well off, he never owned much personal things. He left that for my mother!! This Christmas is also very difficult for me for I don’t think I will be able to spend it with my family because of my health!
    Much love and my prayer XX
    Mia

    • “And the greatest of all is Love.”

      What a wonderful legacy! May we each be remembered for our love.

      Praying for you, Mia, that God will continue to comfort you in your sorrow, that He will continue to strengthen you in your illness, that He will continue to anoint your ministry, and that He will bless you with an extra measure of His glorious presence.

  5. This dovetails so perfectly with what I’m slowly unfolding in my forgiveness series, Joe. There’s so much grieving we must do in forgiving and most don’t understand that connection. But most of all, I’m so glad you are not running from your grief, nor asking others to. Christmas can indeed be a very painful time of year for those who’ve lost loved ones. My prayers are with you, Joe and your family and thanks for your wise words here today.

    • Yes, grieving is very necessary, and cannot be rushed or skipped. Not only is the grief a necessary stage in the process of healing, but it is also the place that God seems most likely to meet us, minister to us, and teach us more of His heart.

      Thank you, Beth, for your encouragement and prayers.

      May God richly bless you and your family during this holiday season. And may the Holy Spirit surround you, comfort you, guide you, and protect you as you recuperate from surgery and face whatever treatments may lie ahead.

  6. There’s something missing every Christmas – my grandmother and grandfather, my uncles, my father-in-law – I did a poem in high school, thinking of my grandfather about how I will always put the wreath and harness bells on the door – because it reminds me of him – and the Christmas balls remind me of my grandmother – and they are in my heart and my hands reaching – a part of them and what I carry of them in my spirit. There are days I see life as a chess board – and notice that many, many pieces of my board are being moved to His board – and I think, “Wise move, God. Wise move” – how much more like home is heaven when so many people I love are there! Praying for these holes in your heart! Praying that something of each of these people are included in how you make your holiday – and that it feels less empty!

    • “…how much more like home is heaven when so many people I love are there!”

      Exactly! As more people I know and love go to Heaven, Heaven feels more and more like home!

      Thanks for sharing this!

  7. That first Christmas without my dad and mom were tough. Even now, three years later, I still miss them more than I ever dreamed possible. We had to establish new traditions within my extended family but even then, the grief over losing the old traditions with our parents was palpable.

    I pray the Lord will bless you and your family with comfort, with joy, with reconciliations, with good memories, and with time and tears to grieve all your losses. You are a special man, Joe. Your sensitivity blesses many, including me.

    • Yes, I love the idea of starting new traditions! It’s amazing how quickly children latch onto something new. If a new tradition is done two years in a row, kids usually perceive it as “we always do it this way.”

      Thank you, Lisa, for your prayers and encouragement. You’re a special lady!

  8. Joe, I’m so sorry for your losses. The holidays bring the pain into sharp relief, don’t they? Bless you for reaching out to comfort others as you mourn. It always amazes me how God uses everything. A blessed Advent season to you.

    • Thank you, so much, Laura! You are always such an encouragement.

      Yes, God’s ability to use everything for our good is truly astounding! What a savior!

      Blessings to you and your family, this Advent season!

  9. I hear you, Joe. I’m sending my readers over your way, because mourning is intermingled with rejoicing and sadness and hope and discouragement. And we need to allow ourselves to feel the myriad of emotions that assail us, especially during this time of year.

    Blessings as you grieve …

    • Yes, grief carries such a myriad of emotions, with a need to acknowledge each one.

      Thank you, so much, Linda!

      Have a blessed Christmas!

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