December 31, 2018
New Year’s Eve – the last day of an old year and traditionally a day to celebrate in some way the coming of a new year. The reason that the month coming up is named January is that the Roman god Janus was the god of beginnings, gates and doorways.
What does that information have to do with Christians struggling with grief and other problems at this time of year? Janus had two faces, one looking backward and one looking forward, and perhaps we Christians can learn something from him.
All of us struggling with darkness know that we need to look forward to the light, to the promise of tomorrow, and most of all to God’s promises. Walking with Jesus means moving forward, necessitating looking forward so that we don’t trip over the dark things of the past.
However, we also need to look backward -- not to dwell on hard things that happened or to mire in sorrows, but to summon precious memories, to honor those things which made us who we are and made our loved ones a strong part of our lives. With our family, our son who died had a January birthday, so we are guaranteed to look back at birthday memories of him.
What captured my thoughts today, though, is that Janus was the god of doorways. My grandmother’s favorite picture of our Savior is the one where he stands at the door entwined with vines and knocks. The scripture comes from Revelation 3:20, which says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hear my voice and open the door, I will come in unto him and sup with him, and he with me.”
So while we are eating, drinking and making merry this New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we listened for His voice, opened the door, and treasured the rest of His promise! Can the Lord Jesus be at our New Year’s table? He said that if we gather in His name, He will be in the midst of us.
I wish for you these two days of remembering, looking forward, and answering Jesus’ knock so that He can be truly present in your New Year’s celebrations and all your lives.
December 24, 2018
Holy Christmas Eve! I decided that if we say Merry Christmas, we should have a greeting for Christmas Eve which honors what it is really about. This is a holy day, not just a holiday, the night that Jesus was born and began a life which would end with turning all of our sorrows into joys.
This blog is about dealing with grief, finding ways to cope and to find joy in life again. The root of our joy is Jesus, baby in the manger to man of miracles to Savior on a cross and arisen from a tomb. What we learn from Him is that His way is the way to joy.
I hope that today and tomorrow are good times for you. With family and/or friends in any way that you celebrate. I pray that Christmas Eve and Christmas have powerful meaning in your life.
Please celebrate today with a Christmas Eve service, one where they share Luke’s story of Bethlehem and Jesus’ birth, one where they share the traditional carols that bring both tears and joy. My favorite is “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” because of the beautiful poetry. Here is the verse I would like to share on this holy day:
And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
Those of us who suffer from grief and depression know about “life’s crushing load,” know about “bending low” and “painful steps.” What a blessing to “rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!”
If you take that time to rest and really listen for the angels’ song, what you will hear is filled with joy – “Glory to God in the Highest” and “Alleluia.” What the angels are doing is not just heavenly music for a special night but actually announcing the birth of God’s Son.
May your Christmas Eve be holy, your Christmas be merry, and your lives be blessed by Christ the Lord. Alleluia!
December 17, 2018
The challenges of dealing with grief during this season are daunting. However, coping is possible, and as I wrote last week, it often is enabled by a change of focus, first by focusing on Jesus and the Light he offers those of us who walk in darkness. Another change of focus can be accomplished by turning our thoughts to some Biblical people.
Jesus’ mother Mary provides one excellent example. Through the angel, she was asked by God to accept a role which would be very difficult for a young woman to accept in that society. But we know that she never hesitated – just agreed to be the “handmaiden of the Lord” with no strings attached.
As a result, Mary experienced carrying and giving birth to God’s Son. She was there for His first word, His first steps, His growing years and years of learning and forming His ministry. She made the request for the wine at the wedding, His first miracle. What an amazing life she and Joseph had!
However, think about the things which Mary “pondered in her heart” after Jesus’ early days, knowing that within the glorious hallelujahs of the birth of the Messiah was the prediction of His death. We know that what she pondered in her heart encompassed not just joy but also the forecast of sorrow, just like the myrrh which was among Jesus’ gifts from the Magi.
All of us experience joys and sorrows, and like the wonderful song “Blessings,” we need to see that blessings come through all experiences, the bad as well as the good. If we can do that, and see Mary as an example of accepting God’s will in all things, we can focus on wonderful memories and the promise of Heaven even though we suffer grief during the holidays.
Through all of these times, honor your memories of your missing loved ones. View the pictures, tell the stories, observe the traditions which meant a lot to them. If our focus is on walking with Jesus, He will remind us that each of these people celebrated holidays and now are celebrating eternal life with Him.
Oh, come, Emanuel, and ransom souls captive in darkness. You are our blessed Light of the holidays and always.
December 10, 2018
Last week I promised that during December I would write about coping with grief during the holidays, when others are joyful and we are dealing with such sadness. This week I will share parts from a chapter of my book on this subject.
How do we who suffer wrap ourselves in the plush blanket of Christmas warmth when we are wrapped in frigid darkness? How do we see candlelight clearly through tears? How do we decorate a Christmas tree or a Christmas table when red and green has faded to grey? How do we gather together when the gathering does not include everyone we were sure would always be there?
The answer we can reach for is a change of focus, turning our mental cameras away from the empty chair and toward the source of Light who is the source of the holiday. This is not a matter of trying to forget or disregard a loved one, just a change of emphasis.
Whether we are observing Thanksgiving by giving thanks to God for our many blessings, observing Christmas by gathering and sharing in Jesus’ name, or observing the New Year by looking forward to another year of God’s presence in our lives, we can focus on the Light of the World and His power to overcome death and darkness. He will wrap His loving arms around every gathering and every hurting soul.
The important things are to avoid rejecting the holidays and to avoid allowing grief to isolate us at a time when we need others. Remember that when Jesus walked on earth, he focused on the people and their needs for hope and understanding. We can walk at the speed of Light during the holidays by following His example, reaching out, offering hope and giving generously to those who need our love. Read the scriptures, find a kindred soul to pray with, attend a religious service, and warm your hands and heart at the hearth fire of Jesus’ Love and Light.
December 3, 2018
One of the true delights of December in our town is the annual Community Choir Christmas Concert. Our choir is a group of 30-40 volunteers, many with outstanding voices, directed by a lady who has been conductor for 49 years!
The concert last night fell on the first Sunday of Advent and in its own way ushered in the Christmas season for our town and area. A combination of sacred and secular Christmas anthems in four-part harmony, the program combined to lift spirits and to truly make a “joyful noise” onto the Lord.
Love of music varies with different people, of course, but it is hard to find anyone who doesn’t enjoy at least some form of music. The Christmas season wouldn’t be what it is without music, whether it is being sung by a choir, playing in the background in a department store, or being played on a CD by one of the many stars who have shared their favorites of the season.
Starting tomorrow, I will be playing Christmas music for the old folks in the nursing home and assisted living where I play each Tuesday. My point in this blog post is the effect that music, especially uplifting music like most Christmas carols, has on people, beginning with our seniors who have heard most of these songs all of their lives.
This month I will be dealing with grief and depression during the holidays and what people can do to combat that darkness and to focus on the light-bearing message of this time of year. Like the seniors who smile, tap toes, and sing along while I play the carols, everyone deals with some loneliness, unhappiness, grief and/or futility.
Music can be part of the answer. Studies show that it increases endorphins, and along with physical movement like dancing or clapping or toe-tapping, it can help lift spirits. Also, music often brings back memories of good times with loved ones, a part of the holidays which can be sad if we let it but happy if we focus on the good part.
Make sure your December has music in it, music of any kind but hopefully including praises to the Lord who gives us this glorious time of year.