It’s NOT the most wonderful time of year….
Not for everyone.
I remember when Kay Warren wrote an article about detailing the overwhelming grief that comes with this time of year, as she was faced with the gut-wrenching reminder of the tragic loss of her son by suicide. She talked about the first Christmas after losing her son. Opening her Christmas cards, one by one, only to be filled with heart-ache at her loss, but more so, the lack of sympathy and empathy expressed through the cards she was receiving- instead, wishing her a joyous Christmas…
“I grew astonished”, she writes, “then angry, as I realized that none of the cards mentioned that our precious Matthew had died violently six months earlier, leaving us definitely not having a joyous Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas.” It’s a term that we give and take so lightly. For most of us, it’s a term of obligatory seasonal greeting, but what we forget is that it’s a term that may not resonate with some who are wounded, grieving, and desperately hurting.
Life is hard, and sometimes, the holiday season isn’t very merry.
As believers, it’s not only important, but crucial for us to be a safe place for those who are hurting. That’s what Christmas is actually all about, isn’t it?
Because Christmas isn’t simply about a King. It’s about a King who left the majesty, safety, and “cheer” of his throne, to rescue and comfort those who were sick, mourning, and desperately hurting. A King who left his comfort, to comfort us.
And because that is what Christmas is all about, there’s actually nothing more Christ-like that we could do this Christmas than comfort those who are in need of comforting.
Instead of blanketing statements of Christmas cheer to everyone and everything we come into contact with, what would happen if we took even a few moments to see what that comfort might look like in the place that God has us, and toward the people He’s put in our lives? What would happen if we actually stepped out of our comfort zones for just a moment, and into the pain of someone else’s life? As a professional counsellor, I work with people who are dealing with heartache and pain all the time, but more so, I am familiar with that pain myself.
If you’re wondering what it might look like to comfort others, I can only speak from my experience, but here are some things I wish someone did for me, when I was going through the dark seasons of my life.
1. Don’t Ignore It, Acknowledge It
One year in particular, I was dealing with some devastatingly hard things in my life. Many people in my circle of friends and acquaintances knew about the pain of this particular struggle — but hardly anyone mentioned it. And whenever I brought it up they would say, “Well, I knew you were hurting but I just didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything at all.”
For me, that’s the absolute worst decision a person could ever make in light of someone’s heartache and grief. Because silence actually says something: it says you don’t care. It says you aren’t concerned. It says you don’t have the time to get involved. While I didn’t necessarily want to “talk” about my heartache with every passing person, I would have been so comforted just to hear a simple “we’re praying for you” or “I’m sorry you’re hurting.” Even an affirming hug, a quick email, or a thoughtful text message to remind me that people cared, and that they loved me right where I was at. There was certainly love poured onto me during that difficult time (and to those people, I am forever grateful), but I will be brutally honest in saying that with regard to my overall experience with people, it wasn’t nearly enough.
While I can’t even begin to fathom the hurt that Kay Warren was experiencing and the disappointment from a lack of empathy, in a small way in my own life, I too was disappointed by the silence from some of the people who I interacted with the most. Don’t be silent, because your silence speaks volumes. Instead, learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable by acknowledging what you know of the pain that others are going through. Those genuine words, as awkward and uncomfortable as they might be, are more soothing than you could ever know.
2. Don’t Dismiss It, Validate It
If the worst thing you can do in dealing with someone’s pain is to stay silent, the second worst thing is to say something invalidating. Oftentimes, we try and encourage those who are grieving by trying to get them to “look on the bright side” of things. Had a miscarriage or lost a child? Well, at least you have another child to enjoy. Going through a terrible divorce? Better to have known love and lost it than never to have known love at all. Just lost everything you had? Well, let’s try and count your blessings. REALLY?!?! I am dumbfounded, astonished, and heartbroken at some of the things that come out of people’s mouths toward those who are hurting.
Don’t try to make their hurt go away, because you can’t. And even if you could — it’s not your job. Your job is to be present, to be available, and to mourn with those who are mourning. Your job is to offer hugs, comfort, prayers, and words that speak validation through hard times. “This must be so hard to go through,” “I’m so sorry you’re hurting,” and “I love you….” carry more power to heal than any empty “inspirational” quote could ever do. For me, the most healing moments came from people who sat with me and simply cried with me. They hurt, because I hurt. And that validation was like water to my dry and weary soul. Don’t dismiss what people are going through, instead, simply walk through it with them.
3. Don’t Offer Something, Do Something
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do” is the worst phrase ever known to man. Because when I am sick, tired, grieving, and in pain… most likely I will NOT let you know, nor do I even have the energy to let you know that I am in desperate need of EVERYTHING. Don’t just offer to do something — actually go ahead and DO something. Bring a meal. Write an email. Send a card. Plan a prayer vigil. Schedule a visit. Leave a present at the door. Initiate the invitation. Whatever it is that you would do if they asked, go ahead and do it BEFORE they ask. Because your actions are so much more powerful than your words could ever be.
Some people don’t want you to just wish them a Merry Christmas, because they need more than that. So, instead of a superficial holiday statement, or a signature-only Christmas card, why not take a little extra time to show love in a practical way this Christmas, to someone you know is hurting? Whether you realize it or not, you have the power to bring a little bit of hope and healing into someone’s situation, just by stepping out of your comfort zone for a moment, and into the pain of another.
We were meant to walk this life together and carry each other’s burdens. After all, that is what Christmas is all about.