Grief at Christmas Time

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I went to hang with my Grandpa today. I sat with him on the grass and we read the Bible together. He didn’t say anything, but I know he would have appreciated my visit. My Grandpa isn’t with us anymore. He passed away on Christmas Eve last year. I also went to see my Nanna. I sat on the grass and read the Bible with her too. She didn’t say anything either, but I bet she still remembers the last time I read her Psalm 23 at her funeral almost 10 years ago.

I have never had an overly joyous attitude to Christmas. I have never awaited it with bated breath or wished it would come sooner. It’s not that I don’t like Christmas, it’s just that I’m not that visibly excitable. But last year, my Grandpa’s passing cast a long shadow over my family’s Christmas Day. It was difficult to be joyous. It was difficult to smile. It was difficult to sing carols, to wish people a ‘Merry Christmas’, to ‘Eat, Drink and be Merry’, and to exchange Christmas gifts.

I wasn’t trying to be a killjoy – I just wasn’t feeling it. There was someone who, for the first time, and very suddenly, was not sharing Christmas with my family. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel fair. I could no longer giggle at Grandpa sneaking Favourites chocolates off the table and stuffing them in his pockets for later. I could no longer open my eyes during grace to see Grandpa transferring his veggies from his plate to Grandma’s plate. I could say the same about my Nanna. We no longer have two Christmas lunch/dinners on my side of the family because Nan was the only invitee for one of them. She would help us eat our oversized turkey and ham, and then help us polish off the Christmas pudding (also oversized – enough for leftovers).

If you have lost someone in your family or someone you love, whether it was near Christmas time or not, I’m sure you can understand and some of these stories may bring to mind some of your own. I will always remember my Grandpa at Christmas time and my Nanna too. They will always be sadly missed. But it is important, especially for those who grieve loved ones at Christmas to remember the reason for Christmas. Maybe you won’t be feeling that happy or filled with joy, but my prayer is that you feel Him this Christmas. Let me explain what I mean through the passage I read at my Nanna’s funeral – Psalm 23.

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.
2 He allows me to rest in green pastures and leads me by still streams, he refreshes my soul.
3 He guides me on right paths, as he has promised.
4 Even if I walk through deep darkness, I will have no fear, for you are with me – protecting me.
5 You prepare a banquet for me right in front of my enemies; you lift my head and you fill my cup.
6 I know that your goodness and your love are with me all the days of my life and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23:1-6 (own translation)

In John 10, Jesus says that he is the Good Shepherd so it seems good to me, in light of John 10, to read this psalm “Jesus is my shepherd”. And it is Jesus’ birth that we celebrate at Christmas time, not family (although this is good), not Santa, not food or drink, and not gift-giving. Allow me to walk us through some points of comfort we can take from Psalm 23 to help us with our grief at Christmas time:

Jesus, our shepherd, is all we need. (v1-2)

Think of a sheep’s relationship to its shepherd here. The shepherd finds safe pastures for the sheep to graze and also safe streams for the sheep to drink from. The shepherd makes sure that in the places in which he is taking the sheep, there is nothing that can harm them. This puts the sheep’s minds at ease and they trust in the shepherd and need nothing more than him. This is the same with us and Jesus who was born at Christmas time. Jesus looks out for us, refreshes us and doesn’t test us beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). But we need to trust that Jesus has got this and that he is all we need.

Jesus guides us through our lives and is strong enough to overpower anything. (v3-4)

Back to the shepherd and the sheep. The shepherd carries a crook so that if any threat to his sheep appears, he can defend them and ward of the threat. Jesus is the same in our lives. He guides us on the right paths, although sometimes they may not be well lit or look safe. But regardless, He is there with us, protecting us from anything that may come against us or be too much for us to bear. Another psalm confirms this and may be worth remembering: “God is our refuge and strength, our ever-present help in times of need” (Psalm 46:1).

Jesus is not fazed by threats of enemies but is there to comfort you and sustain you at all times. (v5)

This is probably the biggest point for those grieving a loss this Christmas. Jesus knows your pain, he knows your hurts. He is the best listener. You can come to him and be as honest as you need to be and he will listen and understand. When it feels like too much to handle, he will sustain you through. Psalm 55:22 says “Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” When you feel alone, he will comfort you. Jesus is the best friend that you’ve always had but maybe not always recognised.

Jesus is the true hope for a future life with him in eternity. (v6)

In Jesus, who was born at Christmas time, we have a hope for the future. Matthew uses Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 9:6 when he announces the birth in his gospel: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” I believe that both Grandpa and Nanna are resting in the arms of Jesus and I hope to one day see them again in eternity. It is Jesus that made it possible for me to have confidence in that statement. Another way of saying it is that without Christmas, there is no Easter. I need to be constantly reminded of this!

Although I wrote this post for myself, I know I am not the only one who needs to hear this. Jesus is the real meaning of Christmas and the source of joy. Although we feel that our joy has been taken away by our sadness from loss, returning to the source of joy may help you to find your Christmas joy again. It won’t bring our loved ones back and it is a difficult road but Christmas time reminds us that Jesus is all that we need. Jesus is our strength when it is hard, Jesus comforts and sustains us through our tough times and through Him we have a hope of an eternal life in the presence of our Almighty God! I pray that this Christmas will be one that you can bring your grief to Jesus and grow in relationship with Him as a result. I am always open for a chat if anyone would like to discuss this further.

If you know someone who will find it hard this Christmas because of lost loved ones or other circumstances – can I encourage you to be compassionate. They are not trying to be killjoys. They are not trying to ruin Christmas. They are just finding it hard with a cocktail of emotions circling their minds. But what they do need is for you to be their friend, to support them, and to care for them. Not everyone finds it easy to be happy and joyful at Christmas time and it is important that we understand this and provide support where necessary rather than just saying “Smile!”, “Be Happy!” or “Cheer up!”.

May every blessing be upon you as your celebrate Christmas with your family this year, but remember the source of joy, Jesus Christ, is the reason for the season.




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