This Sunday begins Advent. A rather familiar time for most Christians, especially those from mainline and liturgical traditions. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, so the culture reminds on every street corner and storefront. And it is a wonderful time of the year: friends and family, gifts, candy, parties, endless food, Christmas trees, frivolity, bright lights and decorations, merriment. It really is a most wonderful time of the year.
But for many people, this is the saddest and most difficult time of the year. Or, as Mitch so poignantly asserts: “Shouldn’t the world stop? Don’t they know what has happened to me?” For many of us, the melody in our heart has grown silent. For many, “joy to the World, the Lord has come” has been replaced by, O’ Lord how long? For many, this Advent and Christmas – perhaps like many others – has become rather ‘blue.’ Grief is a difficult and lonely experience, especially during the holidays.
For many, this will be the first holiday apart from a loved one; an empty chair at the dinner table. And while death of a loved one results in excruciating grief, perhaps the most normative metaphor for grief is ‘loss.’ The loss of an important relationship, the loss of health, the loss of a dream. The holiday season has a way of accentuating all of our griefs and losses. My heart goes out to those experiencing acute grief during this time of the year.
A number of years ago I came across a brief article by therapist Ashley Bush Davis that I found especially helpful to me during a bout with acute grief. I share Davis’ six tips for coping with grief during the holidays with hope that you, too, will find it helpful in making your days a little “less” blue:
Talk about your Loved One – Don’t be afraid to mention your loved one when you’re at a party or with friends and family. Often people are reluctant to mention the deceased because they are afraid to ‘upset’ you. They don’t realize that your loved one is always on your mind and that it’s healthy to reminisce. Be the one to share memories and to encourage conversation.
Express your Feelings – Holding in pent up emotion is not healthy. If you want to cry, let yourself cry. If you need to express anger, write in a journal. Try creative arts to express the many feelings you’re experiencing. Letting yourself feel the pain and then finding expression for that pain is an important aspect to healing.
Light a Candle – Light a memorial candle at the holiday dinner table to honor the light of your loved one. Remember that although their physical form has gone, they are very much still a part of your life. Hold that love close to your heart and remember that your life has been enriched by their love.
Shop and Share – A frequent sadness for grievers is not being able to shop for their loved one. Try going shopping for things that you might have purchased for your dear one and then donating those items to a homeless shelter, a hospital, or a charity.
Cut Yourself Slack – Be extremely gentle and kind to yourself. If you don’t feel like going to a party, don’t go. If you don’t want to send cards, then don’t send them. Do the absolute minimum necessary for you to celebrate the holidays. Grieving is exhausting and you simply won’t have extra energy to expend. When possible, ask friends and neighbors to help you with tasks that feel overwhelming. Try to do your shopping on-line. Set your bar low and give yourself permission to take it easy.
Simple Pleasures – Even if your heart is broken, you can look for simple pleasures to savor. See if you can find one tiny thing each day for which you can be grateful. Notice your health, your loved ones who are still living, even small sensory pleasures like tastes, smells, and sounds. Try shining the focus of your attention on small things in your life that bring you some happiness.
Remember that you are not alone in your grief. Grieving is a universal experience that we all experience at one time or another. Grief is also a process that takes time to work through. Therefore, be patient and gentle with it. And, by all means, call a friend, pastor, or someone if you feel overwhelmed by your grief.
Glad to be your pastor,
On Sunday, November 4th, we will observe “All Saints Day” at our church. It will be a very special day and I hope you have made plans to be at Church. Let me count the ways it will be special: a pastoral installation, birthday luncheon, Regional Minister Greg Alexander will be in worship…and a solemn remembrance of saints – many of them dear family and friends – who have graduated to that “great cloud of witnesses.”
As meaningful and exciting as everything happening this weekend, observing All Saints Day (for me) will be the apex. Over the years, it has become the high point of my worship year. I usually cry throughout the service. Sometimes I even have tears rolling down my cheeks. But why?
Thomas Lynch is both a poet and an undertaker, a rather unusual vocational combination. But hey, it works for Lynch, so who am I to knock it! He has written a wonderful little book entitled, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade. It’s part autobiography, part comedy, and full of stories about the challenges of growing up in the home of a funeral director. It almost reads like something Garrison Keillor would write. Very entertaining. I highly recommend it. I mention Lynch’s book because he makes a very powerful statement in the book. He says, “Where death means nothing, life is meaningless…We remember because we want to be remembered.” And that, my friends, is the very essence of what this beginning of November feast – All Saints – is all about.
So during Sunday’s All Saints Day worship, we will remember the saints who have gone before us through the Christian metaphors of requiem and sacrament. In a requiem (the Latin word for “rest”), according to the deceased preacher Peter J. Gomes, “we invoke eternal rest upon the dead, remembering that while they were here they worked and played, they prayed and suffered, lived and lusted, but in death they now ‘rest from their labors.’ A hymn says, ‘we feebly struggle, they in glory shine.’”
Dr. Gomes continues with his wonderful words of wisdom: “Rest is not the absence of work but rather the presence of joy in which work is no longer necessary, for what is work after all but to keep us amused and distracted while living? To ‘rest in the Lord’ is to find at long last that peace which the world tries to sell but which it can neither give nor take away, that peace which indeed passes merchandising and understanding, that peace which is also not a negative, not merely the absence of stress, but the discovery of all that to which we have aspired, the reunion of the creature with the creator.”
In true Disciples’ fashion, the table of our Lord is paramount as we observe and celebrate of All Saints Day. For it is at the communion table that the resting dead and the living experience reunion in the sure and present hope of life eternal. “Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord…they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them” (Revelation 14:13).
Let’s share tears of joy and remembrance together this Sunday.
Glad to be your pastor… DON
Chasing Rabbits...An Inside Job
Anything mechanical is not my cup of tea. Renee has come to know and love me as an “idea type of guy.” All that to say, I am a mechanical moron! Give me a book or something to be written, and I have found my niche; planning or creating something, I’m happy as a hungry flea on a hound dog! Anything else…I make no promises! Chainsaws? Absolutely terrify me. Hammers, screwdrivers, pliers, etc.? Gave them up for lent many years ago and never reclaimed them!
Which makes it even more surprising when, while channel surfing late at night a few weeks ago, I became enamored by reruns of the television hit, Extreme Makeovers: Home Edition (not to be confused with the Extreme Makers – plastic surgery, wedding, or weight loss editions!). Despite being a confessed mechanical moron, I am deeply impressed with those people who have wonderful mechanical skills and know how remodel homes, exterior and interior. Perhaps a tad more than “impressed.” Okay, I am downright envious on them!
With those remodeling masters from Extreme Makeovers fresh in my thinking, this challenging piece of dialogue from Noah benShea’s clever book Jacob’s Journey came to mind:
“All of us are magicians,” said Jacob. “With great skill we shift who we are as if we were peas under walnut shells. Soon, we ourselves have no idea where we are hidden. Soon, pride in our camouflage causes us to become caught in our own slight of hand.”
“Well,” said the young man, “at least I’m not old like my grandfather. He sits with his chin resting on his cane, doing nothing for hours. I have my whole life ahead of me.”
“You do have your whole life in front of you,’ said Jacob, “and yet life is an experience not only of breadth, but of depth. As you grow older, the game of life goes inside, making room for memory. The interior life is no less real, and in some ways more private, more ‘yours.’”
“But,” said the young man, “what do you think my grandfather spends so much time thinking about?”
“Maybe he is thinking about you.”
“Yes,” said Jacob. “Maybe he’s worried that his grandson is living only on the surface of life, and he wonders when you’ll come inside.”
Spirituality is bi-directional. Most certainly, spirituality looks ‘up’ to our God, but authentic spirituality invites – no, demands – we journey within, to the inside, and consider the possibility of doing some divine remodeling. SELAH (stop and think about it).
Glad to be your (transitional) pastor. DON