Another year has passed and here we are at Christmas, the first of our holy days as Christians followed by Good Friday and Easter Sunday. December 25th, a holy day of celebrating the Prince of Peace’s entry into this fallen world as a pure and sinless babe, is precluded by all sorts of celebratory rituals.
But, what happens when the holy days are holey days? What are we to do when we are wholly consumed with loss-related grief? How do we wade through the fun and fanfare when our feet are encased in the cement of profound sadness?
In three short lines, poet W.S Merwin exquisitely gives voice to the saturation this kind of sorrow brings in his work, Separation.
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
And so it is on these holidays. Attempted merriment is colored by thick threads of loss. Our hearts are threadbare and frayed at the seams. The tapestry of our lives is rent. Our vision is clouded by tears. Our holiday is hollow. We are riddled with holes.
This year, our fake fir stood in the corner for days, completely unadorned. It mirrored my feelings regarding the upcoming holiday. I, too, felt stripped of anything celebratory; bare of anything resembling peace, joy and good tidings. Imitation me, just like my tree. If it wasn’t for a visit from our grandbabies, I would have left the bare tree in the corner as a symbol of my emptiness. Perhaps, a self-indulgent homage to my distress.
Even when it came time to hang the ornaments and light up the branches, I wasn’t ready for the flood of emotions that came when my grands brought me ornament after ornament with questions about the history of each one. We were hanging poignant reminders of better times on garland adorned branches. Uninvited grief during holidays is just like the Grinch, it can steal our Christmas joy. No matter how many times I turned up the volume on the Christmas carols, I was unable to drown out the song of sorrow in my soul.
No matter who or what is absent. No matter who or what is lost, holidays are poignant reminders of what was or what should have been. Memories usher in a longing, and the gathering of families and friends can bring a sharp and painful focus on the holes in our lives. Even if you haven’t experienced some kind of loss, these days of “celebrations” are filled with expectations that many times go unmet causing all sorts of heartache. Sometimes, it’s simply the effort of getting along with the prickly pears in our circles can rob us of the joy we desire to experience at Christmas.
How do we turn our hole-ness into wholeness? How do we recapture some of that childlike awe that the birth of our savior should bring? How do we go from moving through the motions to experiencing true joy in the midst of gaping holes?
Maybe, we can look at the Christmas story from a little different angle. Let’s depart from the Mary and Joseph scene and take a look at what Jesus’ birth meant to his Father, our Father. The day that teenager gave birth to our Lord and Savior was the beginning of a life lived solely to suffer and die on our behalf. Every Christmas Day was one year closer to his betrayal, suffering, and tortuous death. Every Christmas Day marked the moment at which God gave him up to be sacrificed…for you, for me.
I think our father knows Christmas grief.
I think our father knows the heartache of the empty chair, the empty arms, the empty house, the empty bank account, the health gone bad, the hardness of a holey holiday. He simply knows.
He doesn’t ask us to revel in his knowing, but he does ask us to rest in that. Don’t let this be cliché:
Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.
Peace can be painful and joy can be muted, and that is simply okay. Christmas can be laced with blue threads instead of gold and that is okay, too. If this season’s tears outweigh its laughter, let it be. He knows.
You Yourself have recorded my wanderings. Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your records?
We will experience wholeness when we rest in his knowing and give our grief to Him. Our surrendered suffering will bring glory to Him and peace to us. Thankfully, we don’t have to figure out how that happens. He’s got this! When allowed, His presence begins to seep into every hole to the point of overflowing!
We must be careful to not measure joy by the world’s standards. Painful, productive peace is not promoted in this be-happy-at-all cost society. For Christ followers, tears and laughter commingle, joy and pain join hands, grief and God meet… in blessed ways the world can not know JUST as it did for our Lord that first Christmas morn. Let that be your Christmas awe.
So, dear one, hold on. Cry out to The Healer to fill your holes and rest well in His knowing this Christmas season. I leave you with this:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.