As I write this blog entry, I find myself reminiscing of a meaningful program I was blessed to assist. A few weeks ago I was contacted by a local funeral home to inquire if I would be available to help them with their annual, “Service of Remembrance.” This special service is a time to minister to those individuals who have lost loved ones. I must admit this is the first time I have been part of anything like this but found it to be very meaningful and worthwhile.
Although the service lasted less than 30 minutes, I could see the positive impact it had on those who were present. As I stood before those hurting individuals I could see how this service was therapeutic for those in attendance. Afterwords, I was greeted my many people who verbally thanked me for my time.
I must admit that even though I have experienced personal loss, I have not spent the needed time in finding appropriate ways to minister to those who are grieving. Therefore I contacted Joshua Nichols and asked him to write an article to share with us his insight on this subject. I hope you find his thoughts to be beneficial and insightful. May God bless you richly.
“Once a year it comes to visit us. It’s as dependable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Although we know it is coming, it always seems to sneak up on us. It hangs around for several weeks, then, WHAM! Just like that, it is gone. In U.S. culture, this phenomenon has become known as The Holidays.
Beginning on Thanksgiving, the Holidays are in full swing. Almost immediately the nation goes into overdrive as patrons from all around the country partake in a shopping extravaganza known as Black Friday in effort to get a jump-start on Christmas shopping. I heard a statistic on the radio the other day claiming that the average American spends $400.00 on this day. For the next several weeks, our nation functions on heightened levels of anxiety as we hustle to finish our shopping, race to attend one holiday party after another, not to mention the decorating, baking, and getting those pesky Christmas cards sent out.
Despite the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, for many, this is a very special time. We are filled with wonder as we witness beautiful light displays in many surrounding neighborhoods. Bing Crosby brings warmth to our hearts as we hear him sing “White Christmas” on the radio. Our televisions cause living rooms to become a place of comfort and cohesion as families gather together to laugh and cry at one of many heartfelt Christmas classics. And we are often filled with awe as we think of Christ and the remarkable sacrifice he made so we can share in his glory. This time of year, for many, is a time of giving, family unity, and spiritual nourishment.
However, there are also those whom anticipate the holiday season completely differently. When the holidays approach, there are those whose hearts are filled with dread instead of joy; melancholy instead of nostalgia; grief instead of love. To these people, the holidays are a reminder of heartache, loss, and loneliness. There are countless reasons to explain their difficult emotions (e.g., divorce, death); but, these hurting souls are usually focused on one thing when the holiday season rolls around – survival.
There are two questions I would like to address concerning this matter: (1) What do I do if I know someone who is hurting this holiday season? (2) What do I do if I, myself, am the one hurting?
What do I do if I know someone going through this?
Pray. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer for the “prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective,” (James 5:16). Many of these people will welcome your prayers, but all of them need it. Not only do we need to be praying for healing, but we also need to be praying for a better understanding of our role in their healing.
Empathize. People who don’t enjoy this time of the year are often labeled “Scrooges” or “Grinches.” However, when we put ourselves in their shoes, we often discover that they have good reason for feeling the way they do. When we do this, we insert ourselves into their scary world, which they are often enduring alone. We don’t like to do this. After all, what kind of person doesn’t like the holidays? We don’t want them to make sense to us, which is why we often make the mistake of dismissing or disapproving of their grief. Remember, empathy and understanding are crucial ingredients for one’s healing. The question we face is: Do we become the spoon that feeds it to them?
Jesus was exceptional at this. Take time to read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-43). Although he knew he would bring Lazarus back to life, he still wept with Mary and Martha (11:35). He could have told them, “Ah, stop your boo-hooing! I’m about to raise him from the dead.” No! Instead, he got into their world of grief and became for Mary and Martha exactly who they needed him to be (11:33). What a powerful message for us as we help those who are dealing with grief, sadness, and depression this holiday season.
Gently assert yourself. As I mentioned earlier, many of those grieving over the holidays often are dealing with intense feelings of loneliness. We need to make our presence and our love known to them, not only by gifts, cards, and phone calls , but also by spending time with them if they will allow it (see Matthew 25:31-46).
What do I do if I, myself, am going through this?
Allow yourself to be sad. When the holidays arrive, you may feel pressured to be happy, joyful, or “jolly.” However, it is extremely difficult and somewhat painful to force these emotions when you are going through a tough time. Keep in mind two things about grief. First, grief is a process. When you continually try to replace your sadness with forced positive emotions, you often do yourself a disservice by interrupting the healing process. Second, there is no time limit on this process. Don’t adhere to people telling you in some way, shape, or form to “get over it.” They often say these things because they don’t know how to respond to what you are going through. You get to be sad. You get to be depressed. Don’t rob yourself of the healing process by forcing positive emotion. Obviously, if you are concerned about your well-being (e.g., suicidal thoughts), then you need to inform someone (minister, counselor, crisis line, ER, etc.) so that they can help you formulate a plan of safety.
Turn to God with your grief. When dealing with sadness and depression, for some, it becomes awfully tempting to turn away from God as if God can’t handle it or doesn’t want to be bothered by it. God already knows our thoughts; therefore, it is a sign of faith to be able to address those thoughts with Him directly through prayer. Did you know that over 60% of our Psalms are laments? The psalmists understood the importance of laying their grief and hardships before the throne of God (see Psalm 137). We need to strive to do the same.
Be with loved ones. Although it is okay to have time alone, make sure you are not isolating yourself. If you have the luxury of close friends, relatives, and/or a church family, utilize them. This will not come easy, but healing never is effortless, which bring me to my next point.
Be proactive. This is one of the hardest parts of healing because when we are sad or depressed, we often don’t want to do anything. However, we must take control of our healing. If you are unsure of what to do, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Counseling is often a step in the right direction when dealing with grief. Also, a minister or religious leader who has taken special interest in the area of grief could also be a beneficial resource. Remember, if your wounds are not healing, then they are festering.
Grief is never fun, but it can be excruciating during the holidays as it is often deemed unacceptable during this time of the year. My encouragement to you is to not allow yourself to fall into this trap. The wounded are among us; and just because the holiday season rolls around does not mean people cease to be wounded. We need to recognize that there are a lot of people hurting this time of year. When we witness this or experience it ourselves, we need not to ignore the situation by sweeping it under the rug until the New Year; but instead, we need to respond in a way that encourages healing.
God bless you all this holiday season!