By Sheri Ellington
Like many others, we are facing our first Christmas without close family members. My mom and my husband’s brother died this year. She died after a short battle with cancer, and he died at the hands of a murderer. Both sides of our family are hurting. Each person is dealing with the grief in his own way. If you are in a similar situation this Christmas, dealing with the mixed emotions that come with grief and holiday festivities, my prayer is that this will be a blessing to you.
First of all, it is helpful to acknowledge that we all grieve differently, and that we cannot look at others from the outside and know how they are coping on the inside. From my own experience and observation, there are many ways to process grief. Some cry, while some are quiet; some stay busy and try to get out of the house as much as possible, while some long to withdraw into isolation and avoid all celebrations.
There is no magic formula for grieving, but there is a Godly and biblical way to grieve: with hope.
This kind of hope starts with a relationship with Jesus. Through His death and resurrection, and because of the Lord’s great mercy, we are born again to a living hope and an imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance in Heaven (see 1 Peter 1:3-4).
Since we have a relationship with Jesus, we grieve with hope because we know that we will see our deceased Christian family members again one day. “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
This is no ordinary hope, like “I hope it won’t rain today” or “I hope you have a good day” or “I hope my flight is on time” or “I hope I get a new car for Christmas.”
This is a living hope.
This hope brings life and joy to the gravest of situations. This hope does not stop us from grieving, but it does bring our grief to a halt. It is like putting a pair of handcuffs on our grief.
This hope says, “Grief, you can go this far, but no further. You’re under arrest!”
Practically speaking, how can we utilize these “handcuffs of hope” to “arrest” our grief? Psalm 62:5-8 has great wisdom for us about the source of this hope and how to tap into it. “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”
To apply this passage to the overwhelming grief we feel, especially in the midst of the holidays, I want to pose some questions and refer back to this Psalm for the answers.
• When I am grieving, where does my hope come from? My hope is from God.
• Why should I draw hope from Him? What does He offer me? He only is my Rock. He is my Salvation. He is my Fortress.
• How can I live through the holidays and not be “shaken,” rattled, overwhelmed by my grief? I must remember that my salvation rests on God. He is my mighty Rock. He is my Refuge.
• What practical steps can I take to combat this grief? Trust in Him at all times. Pour out my heart before Him. Remember that He is a refuge for me.
If God is the source of our hope as Psalm 62 says, then He is the one who produces this hope in us. Our part is to trust Him and pour out our hearts to Him. He gives us hope.
One way that God produces hope in us is through our sufferings.
Romans 5:3-5 says, “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” What kind of hope? Hope that “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It seems counterintuitive to rejoice in our sufferings, but when we realize that the suffering is producing endurance, character and HOPE in us, we certainly can rejoice!
Nothing is wasted with God. Not even our grief.
1 Peter 1:6-7 says that it may be necessary for us to be “grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” If the trials (deaths in our family) which are grieving us are serving to test the genuineness of our faith, then there is real purpose in our suffering. God sees our authentic faith as more precious than gold, and He uses trials to refine our faith. Grief may be a necessary part of the refining process, but it has a way of draining us of our joy.
How can we hold onto joy this Christmas season while we are grieving lost loved ones?
An illustration from the Old Testament gives us some insight about this. After a long time in captivity, the people of Israel returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall. They stood as Ezra the scribe read the Scriptures (Law of God) to them, and as they heard the words of God, they wept. Nehemiah, the governor, told them what to do with their grief. His response to them is one that applies to us during this holy Christmas season: “Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength’” (Nehemiah 8:10).
The joy of the Lord is my strength. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Grief will try to steal that joy.
Let’s pull out the handcuffs and arrest the grief with hope – hope in Jesus Christ.
This is why He came – that we might be born again to a living hope. Merry Christmas!