Are you ready for the holidays?

It seems like a benign question, “Are you ready for the holidays?” In fact just about every random conversation that you have with a perfect stranger or people you know will begin with this question. While it seems like a simple question, it is actually begs to go deeper than trees, and cards, food and cookies and gifts.

The “holidays” whether you practice Jewish tradition of Hanukkah or Christian tradition of Christmas are based on what God has called us to do. These traditions are all about God and what God has done, so getting ready for the “holidays” begins with getting our hearts right with God. Getting ready for the “holidays” calls each of us to prepare our hearts, and spend time with God, listen to God and do things that are in line with what pleases God.

So what pleases God? Caring for each other and reaching out to those in need. Bringing our our checkbook and writing checks to those who are serving the poor, or their communities. Doing a special good deed that brings a smile to someone’s face who is in a changed circumstance this season. Reaching out to those who are sad or suffering. These are things that please the very heart of God. As we ask over and over, “Are you ready for the holidays?” remember it is a call to prepare our hearts, and please God with our actions, our words, and our deeds.

Grief-5 Basic Steps

This is the season when our grief hits us the hardest. We are entering into those seasons of great memories, and hard memories. Because of changed situations, waves of grief might be falling upon us.

Waves of grief: I remember it well, and it has the potential to come  again, over and over again. Washing over me and my family. Its like the ocean. You think the water has stopped, all is calm, and suddenly wave after wave begins to splash all around you, above you, and sometimes carries you away. I had forgotten how grief comes in waves.

One of my call verses to ordained ministry comes out of my first story of grief. When my own young husband died suddenly in a car accident 25 years ago leaving me behind with two babies-the unbearable grief almost got the best of me–but God was there all along. God is with you too, though you may not feel it at this time.

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2 Corinthains 1: 3 has the Apostle Paul’s greeting the people from Corinth with these words:, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Now I am here to walk alongside of others in their own grieving process. In all that experience it still does not “prepare” you for the next time when you will be in the midst of grief. The second worst day of my life came three years ago, when my brother-in-law, the very one who had stepped in to help me when my husband had not been there, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. This kind of heart attack is called the widow maker, and virtually there is nothing anyone can do when it strikes. One day he was healthy, working out in the pool and helping strangers in the nursing home, the next morning he woke up not feeling very well, and died shortly thereafter. Ron was only 61, loving life, and serving others.

And now my cousin’s husband, suddenly departed this earth on Thanksgiving day; and all the loss of the people I love at the church I serve. It is never easy.

So how do we cope? How do we survive? How do we go on living when sometimes there seems to be very little to live for? Here are 5 basic steps, a very good place to begin. Sometimes in the beginning of grief, we need to go over these basic steps daily for a long time:

1) Grief is a process, it takes time. While this seems basic sometimes we forget that grief is not something we “get over” quickly. We can be grieved over many things: Loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, kids moving out of the house, divorce, a change in our own health status or that of one we love. I remember when I attended a grief support group for young widows and they told me I would not feel whole again until 5 years. I remember thinking, “There is no way I can make it that long in this condition.” 5 Years was right, I did not feel fully alive again until 5 years later. (Sorry to be the bearer of that bad news, but keep reading there are things you can do NOW.)

2) Take time to grieve. Give yourself space and permission. Some circles call this the “white space.” This is unplanned time to allow yourself to be, to remember and to be sad.

3) Tears are healthy. Use them. Take time to cry. It might seem that you have already been crying far too much, maybe it seems that there are no more tears left. Tears also help you process. There is a chemical element of tears that is cleansing. After the two year point when my tears no longer came at regular intervals several times a day, I would take some space and listen to music that would MAKE my cry. This did two helpful things: It helped me control my emotions in public, and it allowed the grief process to continuing working in me.

4) Find out how you “process” things and DO it. I have discovered that I process life events with pictures. So I pull out pictures of my loved ones and go over them and remember. (I even did this when my dog died, I loved my dog!) Maybe you process by telling your story. Find a trusted friend or a pastor who will listen to your story. Tell it over and over again, this helps the processing. I have also found that writing to my loved one in a journal helps me process. This had an added benefit in that months later I could reread my journal and really see that I HAD made progress in my grief work even though sometimes it FEELS like you are standing still.

5) Don’t leave God out of the mix. The Risen Christ Jesus promises to be with us until the end of the ages. (Matthew 28:20) The biblical witness reminds us from the beginning to the end that we have a God who loves us, who cares for us and who will be an abiding presence with us.  But in the midst of our grief sometimes we feel that God HAS abandoned us, we feel that God has forgotten us and we feel like God doesn’t care about us. God is big enough to hear your cries of pain and hurt. There are very real persons of faith, particularly in the Psalms of Lament (Psalms 22, 88 and many others,) who cry out in their pain and they ask the question, “God where were you and where are you now?” (Psalm 22 is what Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.”) Cry out to God, and when you cannot seem to pray for yourself, ask others to pray with you and for you. (Get on a church prayer list, have faithful friends pray for you, find a Christian prayer and healing service near to you.)

This is a contemporary praise song that helps me in times of being in the desert by Hillsong United entitled, “The Desert Song.”

Grief work is hard, but whatever you do do NOT do nothing. Doing nothing will only help you become bitter and self destructive. REALLY! May the God of all comfort comfort you in your pain and grief.

In Christ,

Pastor Sarah