All around me and within me I hear echoes of great loss. The holidays are powerful like that. They have a tendency to intensify the feelings intertwined with grief.
Grief is s powerful emotion. It’s a natural response to loss. Understandably, most often grief is associated with those grieving the loss of a loved one. And while this is true, grief also seeps through the cracks and corners of many other losses. It extends beyond one sector. The loss of a significant relationship. The loss of a job and financial security. The loss of identity (e.g. a survivor of breast cancer grieving the lost sense of femininity after her double mastectomy). The loss of autonomy (e.g. an individual struggling with a degenerative physical or cognitive health issue). The loss of dreams and/or expectations (e.g. a couple struggling with infertility). Grief is also very present in adoption and is experienced in varying degrees by all three parties of the adoption triad. The birth mother grieving the loss of the child she placed for adoption. The adoptee processing the loss of not being raised by his/her biological family. The hopeful adoptive family walking through an interrupted adoption and mourning the loss of the child that they thought would be joining their family. The discouraged hopeful adoptive family that has received “no” after “no” and their journey isn’t unfolding quite like they expected it would.
It’s vital to understand and acknowledge that grief can come wrapped in different packages. Your loss may look different than someone else’s. But that does negate it’s validity or need for grieving and healing.
Christmas 2014 was “supposed to be” one of the happiest and joyous Christmases of our life. The holiday festivities were “supposed to be” our first Christmas with our miracle baby-a miracle in every sense of the word. A baby that we were told was less than “1% chance possible” after struggling with infertility. I remember all of the emotions that were building up in my heart as the days progressed closer to Christmas. I didn’t want to do anything. I thought it might spark some joy to put up the Christmas Tree. (It didn’t). I nearly rolled my eyes when I came across an ornament that read, “Immanuel” (God with us). “Yeah right,” I thought to myself. I didn’t feel like He was with me. I felt like there was absolutely nothing to celebrate. The baby who was supposed to be less than 30 days old and snuggling in my arms wasn’t there. We spent that Christmas with friends, and even though I was surrounded by a ton of people who were happy, I felt sad and empty. That’s the power of grief. You can be completely surrounded by happy things and happy people, but feel absolutely miserable, angry and alone.
I’ve heard it said time and time again that grief is harder to manage over the holidays and I know this to be true. How do you navigate what is “supposed to be” such a festive and joyous holiday when you feel like you are drowning in your grief?
1. You remember Immanuel. You sink into the promise that God is with you. Period. Even when you don’t “feel” it. Your feelings are powerful, yes, but they do not change who God is or His eternal commitment to you, His child.
When my daughter had a boo-boo and she was crying, I kept on whispering in her ear while I had her wrapped in my arms, “I’m here with you. I’m here with you.” A few minutes later she looked up at me with big tear drops in her eyes and said, “I’m so glad you’re here with me.” Even as she was hurting, it provided her 5 year old little heart comfort to know that mommy was here and mommy wasn’t going anywhere. That’s the power of a loved one’s presence. It doesn’t take away the immediate pain. It doesn’t always fix the problem at hand. But there is something comforting on a universal level about the nearness of a loved one’s presence.
The comfort of a loved one’s presence pale’s in comparison to the nearness of of your Heavenly Father. Poured out through Scriptures we see variations of the promise that God is with us and examples and testimonies of how God followed through on His commitment to His children.“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” Isaiah 43:2
“…for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
“…for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save.” Zephaniah 3:7
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
“Even though I walk through the valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Psalm 23:4
“God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in Spirit.” Psalm 34:18
“Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
We should find great comfort as we read through truths like these and many others. Our tears don’t overwhelm Him. He doesn’t draw back when we try to hide. He isn’t annoyed by our big feelings. The comfort of God is constant. The comfort of God is steadfast.
2. Remember as Christians we are to look to Christ as our example in all things, including how we process our emotions. “…The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 2:6). This is an invitation to feel things just as deeply as Christ did.
When Jesus discovered his best friend Lazarus died one of the very first things he did was weep. Jesus wept (John 11:35). He mourned with his friends and family. After hearing that His cousin John the Baptist was murdered Jesus withdrew to a quiet place (Matthew 14:13). Jesus got on a boat, left the crowd and went away to a secluded place to be alone with the Father and mourn the loss of his dear friend. We don’t know for how long, but one thing is for sure is this: if Jesus Christ needed time away to mourn the loss of His friends, then we need to give ourselves the grace to process our loss. In Matthew 26, at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus became grieved and distressed upon thinking of the crucifixion. “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death…” He later fell to his face and cried out to the Lord. Scripture says at one point that his grieving became so intense that he suffered from Hematohidrosis (a rare condition in which an individual sweats blood). Jesus didn’t keep his grief in a neat tidy box. He lamented before the Father in anguish.
The grieving process is not a linear equation. It’s messy. It comes in ebbs and flows. C.S. Lewis says, “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley, where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” It comes when you least expect it. It comes out of the blue. It comes during should-have-been birthdays and would-have-been holidays with that extra person sitting at the end of the dinner table. It comes when a random adoption story or pregnancy announcement on Facebook scrolls across your newsfeed and you wonder, “Will it ever happen for us?”
Be kind, patient and gracious with yourself as you grieve. Don’t set the bar too high in regards to the expectations you have for yourself, especially over the holidays. If you need to keep it low-key or step away for a bit from a family gathering, than do so. Your family and friends will understand.
3. Remember that your story doesn’t end with grief. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 Paul instructs them not grieve as those who have no hope. He wasn’t telling them to “get over your grief and get on with your life.” He was reminding them that as believers they can grieve with hope.
Hope came to us in the form of a little baby boy. A little baby boy who came to save the world. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). A little baby boy, who would grow up and become quite familiar with pain, suffering and grief. (Isaiah 53:3). He experienced great loss in his short time here on this earth. He was mocked, rejected and threatened. He was betrayed by those whom he loved dearly. His identity and reputation came under question. He experienced the loss of friends and family. He experienced public humiliation of the worse nature as his clothes were ripped off his body and he was beaten. He knew what was coming for Him on the cross and grieved in anguish in anticipation of what would be a slow, tortuous death. But His story didn’t end there. His story didn’t end on the cross. He was raised to life and now sits at the right hand of God. Just as Christ’s story didn’t end with grief, ours doesn’t either.
As a believers sealed by Christ through the Holy Spirit you can grieve with hope knowing…
- You are not alone and God will strengthen you and uphold you with his right hand. Isaiah 41:10
- God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds . Psalm 147:3
- Nothing can separate you from the love of God-no death, no loss, no fear-nothing . Romans 8:28-29
- You can cast all of your cares and anxieties on the Lord and He promises to sustain you. Psalm 55:22
- Your present sufferings are not comparable to the glory that will be revealed in you. Romans 8:18
- The God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will restore and strengthen you.1 Peter 5:10
- One day Christ will return and he will wipe every tear from your eyes and there will be no more mourning and no more crying . Revelation 21:4
- This place is not our home. As believers, we have an eternal home waiting for us in heaven, where we will spend every day worshiping our Savior amongst our loved ones who we now grieve. Hebrews 11:16 & Rev. 7:9
The grieving woman in 2014 who rolled her eyes at the ornament that read, “Immanuel,” questioning God’s presence with her, did not escape God’s grace, goodness or unconditional love. Her feelings of doubt, anger, sadness, and despair did not scare Him away as they might a mere human. No matter how dark it got, no matter how unbearable and heavy it felt, God did not leave her side. Not for a moment. “Ultimately, your hope…hinges on Jesus. He’s holding onto you even when it feels like you’re free falling. You may be in the dark, but your Shepherd is walking right beside you. He knows what it’s like to be overwhelmed by grief and swallowed by bleakness. Your grip on life may falter, but his grip on you won’t” (Stephen Altrogge).