by Bob Allen:
Me: The holiday season is hard for a lot of people.
With this one sentence question, my oldest daughter highlighted one of the challenges of the Christmas season: the search for peace. In the moment, I felt a touch overwhelmed trying to explain loss and grief to a 10-year old who has dealt with very little of it. She was too young to remember my wife’s grandmother in whose house we lived for a time and, while she was sad when my wife’s other grandmother passed away, she was not nearly as grieved as those who knew her well and cherished her love and service to others. Her hardest loss has been our cat, Marmalade, but even then, she got over it before I did (kids are resilient).
For some, this holiday season will be the first without their husband, wife, sister, child, grandparent, beloved aunt, fun uncle, sibling-like cousin, life-long friend. The aching void left by death and separation throbs like nothing else during the holidays.
I think it is supposed to feel that way.
We want nothing to do with the exposed wound, with the disquiet, with the tears, with the tender-to-the-touch emotional bruise that has faded yet still sears when grazed because grief and loss remind us of things we’d rather not remember and the holidays amplify the anguish. Feelings antithetical to the Christmas message of good news of great joy and peace toward mankind surface, reflecting disturbance rather than tranquility. Whether it’s people or places or days gone by or other tender moments, fond recollections force our hearts to consider the inevitability of losing. Not to sound fatalistic, but each of us will one day lose something dear to our hearts. I well up with sadness at the mere mention of that truth, but it is no less true today than it was millennia ago. But there is another truth which should bring us comfort.
God encoded that loss into our existence because he experiences it himself. In Isaiah, we find these prophetic words about Jesus, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” (Isa. 53:3-4, emphasis added) Jesus not only lived a fully-human life, but through it, he experienced every range of human emotion. He too wept tears of sadness. (Jn. 11:35) And it’s not just the Son who has endured heartbreak, God, our Father, is acquainted with grief, bereaved since the Garden of Eden.
But God’s plan repurposes these throes, these pangs, these sorrows.
Through Christmas, we experience how God deals with grief. When Matthew records the angel explaining Mary’s conception to Joseph through a dream, he writes it was “to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” (Mt. 1:22-23, emphasis added) Familiar with loss, God chose not to abandon the universe to it. What was God’s solution to grief? God came near. Becoming flesh and dwelling with man, the One who was with God and was God, through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together, stepped out of heaven and lived and served and wept and died to demonstrate his desire to heal the collective hurt, the injury suffered by both him and his creation. In this way God finds our tears precious because he knows their source; he knows he alone can cure the wound which causes them; and he knows the cost of redeeming them. They are our saline reminder that all is not rosy and bright.
But our tears are a gift to us, bitter as they are.
Our God is not unaware of our pain. He does not sleep as we claw our way through the shadowy valley seeking refuge and solace. He has not turned away from us, closing his ears to our laments. Though the weary wander in the wilds, the Light of the world came to illumine the path through the darkness, a path that leads back to him, a journey which takes us through our suffering to blessed rest and comfort.
Remember that tears are natural, loss is part of this life.
Remember that grief is ever near to us; its presence just around the next corner of life, just on the horizon of the new day.
But the promises of God speak to the end of the sadness.
“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psa. 30:5)
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)