Sunday, November 29, 1998
Family feasts, cheerful carols, sparkling lights - the things that make the holidays a joyful, exciting time for most people - can be a painful reminder to some that a loved one is gone.
"This period of time from Thanksgiving through Valentine's Day is one of the most difficult times," said the Rev. Chuck Chambers, senior pastor of Woolsey Baptist Church. "There is a lot of grief, a lot of depression. "The persons who are going to be most affected by this are the ones who lost loved ones recently, who are going through it for the first time this year."
While he says he has not personally experienced it himself, Chambers has suggestions for the bereaved: "A person's greatest resource is going to be prayer, and just realizing that Jesus Christ has himself promised he would never leave a believer, never forsake a believer - the whole aspect of trusting in the Lord and prayer."
He also said it is important to make an honest admission to friends that you're hurting and struggling, in the best way you can communicate it. First Presbyterian Church of Peachtree City is this year giving a packet of information to its grieving members, including tips for dealing with grief during the holidays, stories and poems. It's the first year the church has kept a list of its members who lost a loved one during the year for the express purpose of ministering to them during this difficult time. "The idea is to contact them, and offer our presence, then we can offer them help where it's needed," said First Presbyterian's pastor, the Rev. Don Smith.
Among the suggestions in the packet are to change holiday traditions, since the more you try to make things the same as they were before, the more obvious your loved one's absence will be; and to counter the conspiracy of silence by taking the initiative to mention your loved one to family and friends who are afraid to say anything that may upset you.
Other ideas are to do something or give something special in your loved one's memory, like helping a charity he or she was fond of; and setting aside time in your calendar to grieve - that way it might be easier to postpone grieving in public.
A Christmas story in the packet, "A Plan Behind the Pain," points out that God's sovereign timetable is working in the life of your family, as hard as that may be to accept at times. "Despite the hardship, despite the inconvenience, despite our lack of understanding, God has something in mind. He is in control, and He has a design for your life." In his new book, "Confessions of a Grieving Christian," author Zig Ziglar writes, "Today is the foundation for tomorrow. The way I choose to grieve today prepares me for tomorrow." After the death of his oldest daughter, Suzan, to pulmonary fibrosis in 1995, he accepted God's tender mercies and says the grief eventually made him stronger - not only impacting his work but also his life as a man, a husband and a father.
He encourages the bereaved to take comfort in Psalms 139:16, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be," and Isaiah 57:1-2, which says God often calls our loved ones home to protect them from evil that lies ahead: "The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death."
Ziglar says to go ahead and cry; after all, Jesus wept over Lazarus. Fill your heart and mind with God's word, and remind yourself of what you know is true about God's love. Ziglar also says don't be afraid to love again, and let the loss give you a new urgency about time - using that time to strengthen your current relationships and to express your love.
"On the other side of grief is love," he writes. "Take comfort in the fact that your loved one is in the presence of the Lord in a glorified body." Chambers also has advice for the people around the bereaved: "Be sensitive and have a high sense of awareness that not everyone is joyful and happy during the holidays - some people are at the bottom of the barrel. We need to have love, care and compassion."