Friday, December 16, 2011

Personalize The Christ Child

With Christmas 9 days away, you still have plenty of time to personalize the Babe of Bethlehem. The other day I asked a friend who lost his dad last year how it was going. He said, wistfully, “I wish I could hide somewhere and let Christmas pass by and come out when it’s over. I’d just like to skip Christmas this year. I think about him every day.” This man of strong Christian faith is normally upbeat, but he’s been socked with loss and grief. This got me thinking about how God comes to us in celebration, amidst our losses.

On the “Woman to Woman” show, produced by Lutheran Hour Ministries, when I interviewed guests about loss they insisted that The Lord of Life can use that very situation as an opportunity to experience His power and peace in a whole new way. John the Baptist, a major Biblical voice, calls out of the wilderness for people to repent of their sins to prepare the way of the Lord. What about the longing in our hearts for someone who’s no longer with us? Can that prepare the way of the Lord? Since God is not distant, since He is at hand, Matt 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" …the answer is YES, our loss, any loss, can prepare the way of the Lord. Keep that awesome reality in mind. God will use the emotions you’re experiencing through your loss to give you what you won’t get any other way.

As you try to celebrate Christmas best you can, a few tips from Dr. Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge, a clinical psychologist in Grand Rapids, MI and co-author of the book THE EMPTY CHAIR.

About the one less place setting at the Christmas table this year, one less chair where HE or SHE always sat. Holidays usually raise us above the humdrum of life to renew and revive us! Grief is tough enough, but when Christmas comes it can be even more difficult. Grieving the loss of a loved one can turn your holiday into a painful time that robs you of happy memories of past celebrations.

Certainly, the holidays will never again be exactly the same for you, Dr. Zonnebelt-Smeenge says. With the death of a loved one, things change. That doesn’t mean, however, that you’ll never again be able to join in the celebration or experience a full richness during holidays. You’re on a journey, she advises, with these ways to find peace in your pain and hope in your hurts.

Remember that Grief not a passive process

Have a Plan in your head. To avoid the “elephant in the room” that everyone tiptoes around, give people permission to talk re. him, how he always lit the candles, or her favorite dish, how the person lived their life.

Holidays like Christmas are emotionally charged and it probably doesn’t take much to throw us off from having a great time to having a horrible one. Dr. Zonnebelt-Smeenge says, “full resolution of grief is possible through a combination of time and intentional grief work.” You don’t come out of it and find your old self again. You come out a different person.

She calls it “Sorting through the ashes” which includes accepting the loss. Admit you’re frozen inside like the ground, that you cry when you look at your gift list. Your holiday spirit has been broken by death, maybe nothing sparkles but your tears. “What about a less than ideal relationship with the deceased?” Her advice was to keep the finest of your loved one alive to pass on. Celebrate the joy he brought into your life. Thank God you loved and were loved by this person. Her point is that Grief can be one of the great deepening experiences of life.

To get “control” over our emotions, be intentional about this grief work. If it’s your first holiday without your husband or child or parent, it can be overwhelming. Take care of yourself physically. Don’t scrap the whole thing and deny yourself pleasure in obligation to the deceased. Instead, buy a gift for him and give it to someone needy.

If you live alone…visit a soup kitchen or a nursing home. Make new bonds out of shared losses in a grief support group. Above all, find a time of peace & reflection. The person IS there in a sense. He or she is part of each of you. It could be lovely for people to share that. Lower your expectations of the holidays. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Plan ahead so you’re not overwhelmed at the last minute. It’s hard to concentrate when you’re grieving, so make lists and simplify your to-do list this year.

My dad’s been gone for 4 Christmases, my mom for 8. I still have moments when I stop and in tears, thank God for all the ways they focused Christmas on The Christ, the Giver above the gifts.

What about you? Prayerfully consider what we’ve talked about and invite God’s grace to reach in and transform your grief from an ending into a beginning.

No matter what your loss, you needn’t be at a loss over what to receive.
The 14th century German melody [author unknown] “Now sing we, now rejoice”, 2nd verse, speaks to this. “Come from on high to me; I cannot rise to Thee, Cheer my wearied spirit, O Pure and holy Child; Through thy grace and merit, Blest Jesus, Lord most mild…Draw me unto Thee! Draw me unto Thee!”

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