Advent is a time of expectant hope as we wait to celebrate the birth of Jesus. For those dealing with bereavement and grief, however, the sheer effort of participating in joyous church services leaves only a hollow feeling.
We may believe in the hope of the Jesus' birth but the reality of living each day without a loved one can naturally lead to doubts. It is easy to thank God for his grace and blessings when life goes smoothly. That ease is often obliterated when we are plunged into the darkness of mourning, a state which is acutely emphasised at Christmas time.
When faith waivers in the light of a bleak reality, is Jesus always enough?
Dealing with doubts
We have a precedent for doubt in John the Baptist. During Advent, the Church lectionary examines his story and it is one with which we may identify. Imprisoned by Herod Antipas and facing execution, John sent a message to Jesus, asking a direct question 'Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?' (Matthew 11:3).
Perhaps the doubts expressed by John the Baptist when faced with a desperate situation offer us some consolation.
How can we harness the hope inherent in the birth of Jesus when faced with the paralysis of grief?
When faith is sorely tested there is no easy answer on how to deal with Christmas but the following suggestions may help:-
Don't expect too much
Grief is a personal process; there is no prescribed method of mourning. The Bible tells us there is a 'time to mourn and a time to dance' (Ecclesiastes 3:4). While the acute sense of loss will pass for those walking the lonely path of a mourner that time itself may seem like an eternity. Lower your expectations of Christmas and take one day at a time. Self-imposed pressure to celebrate only increases a sense of isolation.
Individual prayer allows us to draw closer to Jesus as he draws nearer to us during Advent. Prayer also offers a way of venting our emotions at God, of expressing our despair and sense of injustice. The Beatitudes reveal that God walks alongside those who suffer. 'Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted' (Matthew 5:4).
Be alone if it helps
Don't feel obliged to spend time with family and friends, especially if this is your first Christmas without your loved one. If you choose to be alone, explain your reasons why but keep the name of one or two friends who you can call on close to you.
Invite Jesus into your grief
'The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit' (Psalm 34:18). 'Crushed' expresses perfectly the overwhelming feelings of grief which threaten to strangulate us, despite what we believe. The landscape of your life has changed irrevocably. Jesus wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, he understands your grief. Ask for his help for you to deal with what is now your new 'normal'.
Coming back to my original question, is Jesus always enough? The answer is always 'yes'.
Speaking as one who experienced tragic family deaths very early in life, I would venture to say he is our only way through.
He alone can carve a path through the emptiness but in the midst of grief and anger it is natural to question that and to rage at God.
For mourners at Christmas, the joy and sorrow are intertwined but Jesus is our greatest gift.
'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life' (John 3:16)