There are Christmas wreaths on my front doors. There’s even greenery topping my kitchen cabinets, greenery hanging from the light fixture in the dining room, and decorations on the dining table and mantle. Three silver, glittery Christmas trees sit beside the fireplace making an awful mess with every bump. But there’s no Christmas tree. This is my fourth Christmas without my husband. And, this is actually the first year I’ve put up some Christmas decorations. Very minimal, but they’re there. It has just been too difficult to do it in the past, for several reasons.
When Brian and I were newly married, we started a tradition that stuck for many years. We’d brave the crazy shoppers the day after Christmas just so we could find our favorite ornaments on sale. It was the only way were able to afford the unique, mercury glass ornaments of Jonathan Adler, Christopher Radko, and the whimsical ornaments of Department 56. 75% off was just in our budget. We had so much fun! It was the thrill of the hunt, and the satisfaction of the find. But every ornament became my favorite, and, attached to each one, a sweet memory. After 30 years together, my tree was packed with our favorites. But now that he’s gone, I just haven’t been able to get a tree and decorate it with those treasures. The greenery, garland, and wreaths hung around my house are harmless. They carry no emotional attachment. But the Christmas tree, that’s another story altogether. That tree was also the keeper of many special gifts that sat patiently under it, waiting to be opened on Christmas day.
The last 10 years of our marriage, Brian would buy something special for me from our dear friends that owned a jewelry store in Victoria, TX. It took him a while, but he figured out that my love language is jewelry. On Christmas day, he’d wait until every gift was opened, and then pull out that little box tucked into the back of the Christmas tree, saving it for last. Then he’d hand it to me with such joy in his eyes. As I would start peeling back the wrapping paper, every time, I would glance over at him to find that his eyes were welled up with tears. He got so much pleasure from giving me something he knew would thrill my heart. Such a sweet, sweet memory. Funny, isn’t it, how memories are attached to certain things and they affect us like nothing else can?
But, memories are a beautiful thing. A gift. And so are traditions. And so, when things change, when life events happen that changes the trajectory of…well, everything…we have a choice. We can stay stuck in the thinking that “this is the way it was, and it’ll never be that way again, so I can’t possibly enjoy the memories of what was, or even be okay and settled in the way things are today.” My friends, this is NOT LIVING! When you identify yourself only by your past – even if that includes trauma – then you are still living in the past. But we must, if we’re going to live and to thrive – we must live in the present.
Here’s some good news. There is a healthy balance that recognizes and even honors the past, while at the same time embraces the present…the new. A real good example of this is my ability to say, I’m sad we won’t get to enjoy all those fun adventures of finding ornaments together, and we won’t get to enjoy seeing them hang on our Christmas tree together anymore. I genuinely grieve that. But at the same time that I honor the preciousness of those memories, I am able to embrace the present that says, “I can still enjoy these things that represent our relationship and find pleasure in their existence in a way that acknowledges the fact that these were beautiful gifts my heavenly Father allowed me to enjoy then…and now.” It is a breaking free of the weight of grief that keeps you from enjoying the memories only because they’re too painful to face. It doesn’t mean that you don’t still feel that initial, momentary sting that comes when you remember. But it does mean that you acknowledge that and honor the memory by refusing to let it hold you back from living, enjoying, and thriving in the present.
I want to talk to the widows and widowers specifically, now. What is holding you back, friend? What is keeping you captive to the trauma that keeps you from truly living? You do know that your loved one wants you to be truly living right now, don’t you? What can you do to honor that relationship that is, at the same time, a powerful step forward fully into the present? If you’re like me, you know exactly what that “something” is.
Because, especially during the holidays, it hits you like a ton of bricks right between the eyes. So, let me encourage you to go do that. Take that step. Honor the past by doing something new. Seeing things in a new way. Reframing the memory so that it serves your present, and doesn’t keep you stuck in the past.
Now, I want to quickly say…I understand completely! Holidays are hard. Really hard!
Besides the memories that are attached to things and events, you’re missing your loved one around the dinner table and all the traditions that have been interrupted.
If the loved one you’re missing was your spouse, then you’re missing everything that you’ve previously enjoyed about being married during these holidays. It’s hard. So many things can make you feel so alone. Even if there are many people around you, you can still feel lonely. What do you do?
One thing that I keep being confronted with this holiday season is the truth that our Creator God has a heart that is so tender towards those who are hurting, those who mourn, those who are orphans and widows. In fact, the admonition of His word in the Bible is very clear…He cares deeply for the orphan and widows, and commands for their care and protection. It is the heart of God to protect the weak and to show Himself strong for those that are oppressed. He delights in supporting those who are needy, and often does so remarkably. Our God is a God that is present. He is alive and active…very real…in your life. He is not a God that is far away, but is very near. Very present. And especially for the orphan and for the widow, He is a God at hand.
So the heart that feels lonely can be immediately comforted by His tender presence.
Here’s something I want to say about this. It doesn’t seem logical, right?, that a God that is spirit could fill the void of a person we’ve lost. In our humanness, we really just want someone with skin on. So here’s what I want to say about that…to me, I agree, it doesn’t sound logical that God could adequately fill that void with just Himself. But here’s the crazy thing I know for sure: He can and He does. Listen, I have no idea how He does it. But I have enough experience to know that when I’ve felt alone and lonely and cried out to Him for His help, He – somehow in His power and supernatural ability – filled up all the holes in my heart and took away that lonely feeling. It doesn’t make sense in the natural…I know. That’s why they call it faith. But it works. It happens. It does because that’s the desire of His heart - is to comfort all who mourn, to bind up the brokenhearted and heal their wounds. He so longs to show you how near He is.
He longs to show you how He’s able to take all that you’ve lost and all that is shattered in your life, and fill it so that nothing is lacking. Friend, will you, right now in faith, ask Him to do this very thing for you? To do the very thing He longs to do?
If you will allow Him to do this for you, this will be the very best Christmas gift you could give yourself. It certainly was for me.He’s already given you the best gift you could ever receive and that is the gift of His Son – Jesus - that came to save us from sin and death. Born in a lowly manger and was crucified like a criminal, though He was perfectly innocent. Then raised to life again, He defeated death, so that we, too, may be resurrected to new life. To live with Him forever. He did all this for our freedom. And our freedom begins now – here on earth – where we have His supernatural help and power to thrive in life today, no matter what our circumstances. This is our hope!
We have power to help pull us out the ruts we get stuck in; power to help us honor memories of the past, all the while stepping into the new of the present and the future.
He is Emmanuel. God with us. With us. Here. Now. You are not alone. Never alone.
Will you let Him attend to your heart today, friend? Will you let Him, Emmanuel, be with you? Lift the heavy burden of grief such that you are free to honor memories of the past, and step into the newness of the present and the future with your whole heart – thriving, enjoying, loving, living? Won’t you give yourself this gift this Christmas?