This holiday season, I will pack up my family of six and caravan with my sister and her family of equal size to the house that first defined home for us both. We will travel across state lines to gather with generations and celebrate one last holiday season within the walls that sheltered us all as we grew. My mom’s plans for retirement mean that soon the house will be sold and she will travel north to be near her daughters — well, honestly, to be near her grandbabies.
I am looking forward to the festivities and hilarity that will surely unfold. Yet to say goodbye to a place that hides memories in its dust already has a piece of me aching. The ache only deepens when I realize that the collection of souls who will sit on the faithful couch that has offered comfort to us all is incomplete. While the room may be full, there will be empty chairs in each of our mind’s eyes.
The memories in that home are far more happy than sad, but it was those halls we roamed the nights when tragic news arrived like a punch to the gut. It was in that yard we laid when the earth shook and tempted us all to fear. It was behind those doors we mourned when the faces that belonged there never entered again.
Grief tends to be a surprise guest during the holidays. It can spring up in the form of a breathless gasp, an unforeseen rush of tears, or a whisper of undefined melancholy in the midst of celebration, but it does not show up to torture. It reveals itself because we’ve lost someone worth grieving.
The first Christmas when a loved one is gone can make the lights that line the streets we drive feel dim, and the beauty we wish our hearts could hold may be hard to find in the thickness of sorrow. Christmas trees in windows, hearing carols sung, and witnessing the joy of others may feel like an unfair taunt, but despite all the ups and downs mourning leads us into, the hope we have in Christ Jesus has not once failed to anchor the grief-laden soul.
Hard is too weak a word to bear the weight of the strength it takes to act like life goes on when it feels like life is over, but the great truth of Christmas is that death, despair, and disaster do not get the final word. As the angel said to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-11, ‘“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you . . . ’”
A savior for the heartsick. A savior for the lost. A savior for the mourning. A savior for us all — Jesus.
We can take every thought and emotion that tells us we are alone and let it be tended to by the truth we celebrate at Christmas. The virgin, Mary, conceived and gave birth to a son, and we call him Immanuel which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
God is with us.
When denial, anger, and depression try to close in, we remember, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). It takes a step of faith to believe in this closeness, but it is there.
God is with us.
Throughout Scripture, God reminds us that what we have hoped for is true, real, and sweetly ours. In Zephaniah 3:17, He soothes the places within us that feel forsaken with these words, “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
For those who have lost but still put up the tree, wrap the presents, and cook the meal even though you know your precious one will be missing, may your courage be bolstered by knowing that God is with you.
To those who just couldn’t do it this year: it’s okay. Really. When we are too weary to fill a table because the shadow of death lingers, Jesus prepares one before us. Take comfort in knowing that God is with you.
This Christmas, when the one we wish could be there is no longer sitting across from us, let’s let the memories that warm our souls sit treasured in our hearts. They were here; their lives made a difference. We may not be able to look into their eyes, but the imprint of their days will not leave us. And neither will God.When we are too weary to fill a table because the shadow of death lingers, Jesus prepares one before us. -@CharaDonahue: Click To Tweet