The past week has been challenging for me due to illness. In addition, the holidays are here and so is grief for me and many people. My grief is the loss of my marriage. My friend lost his daughter to brain cancer. People have lost jobs, family members, friends, and ways of living. Grief, loss, death, stops for no one just because a holiday arrives.
My friend David, who lost his daughter, said he is going to do his best to be happy during the holiday. His attitude humbles me. I told him I wasn’t trying to be happy, just trying to get through them and get them over. That is what most of us do when we grieve and yet also need attend holiday or festive gatherings.
What is powerful in the Christian tradition at this time of year however, is that we celebrate God coming to us in the middle of it all. God comes to us in the middle of the muckety muck of life. The coming we celebrate is different than was expected in Joseph and Mary’s time. The expectation of a “messiah” was one who would deliver. Jesus came to be with us to help us through our challenges. We’re not being rescued in other words.
Darn. Sometimes we just want to be rescued. We want someone or something to just take away the pain. We want the grief to go away. Yet, when we lose someone, we always carry with us those memories of joyous times past. We know that no one can rescue us from the pain we suffer. We suffer because no more memories will be made with that person. For those losing a job, it means starting over. For the newly disabled, it is learning to live with physical limitations that can affect self-worth.
When the holidays or a celebration arrives that a grieving person is expected to attend, sometimes the grief seems even larger; maybe even formidable. The grief feels larger because of the person missing, but also because we know others will expect the griever to be happy. Grief is not something easily stuffed down into a person’s heart and soul. When grief is stuffed, it can become a health hazard mentally and physically. What can we do to survive the holidays while grieving and also wanting (or trying) to be present for others still here?
The first thing is to be real and be truthful. When asked how one is doing, perhaps a response like “still hanging in there” is a good response. That is truthful for me while trying to accept where I am, but also trying to move forward. There’s a word that I’m looking for that is not “happy” or “joy”, but is related to love.
This morning as I sat in my meditative time, my soul suddenly said, “I love my life.” When I lived with my ex-wife, my heart and soul said that all the time. That has bubbled up in this new place and I’ve wondered about it. When that happens, does it mean I wasn’t truly happy in my former life in Sylva? Of course not. Perhaps “gladness” is the word for which I search. It’s not as exuberant to me as “happy” or “joy”.
All during this trying time, God has sent me messages about my being loved. Whether through dear friends, family, church, or my devotionals, the message is always the same. God loves you and you are not alone. This is the Christmas message. This is the message we celebrate in one called Emmanuel. Emmanuel means “God with us” and isn’t that the message of the entirety of scripture? That no matter where we go or what happens to us, God IS WITH US. We are not alone in our grief, loss, and sadness, no matter if it is a celebratory day or an ordinary day.
How can I love my life while grieving? I’ve asked myself that all these months. At first, that blossoming of that soul phrase made me feel guilty; perhaps my love was faulty in my relationship. Yet, we all have room to grow when it comes to loving another. At the same time, I loved my wife with all of my heart. As I continued to question what it meant for my soul to now exclaim “I love my life”, I began to see the beauty in my life in spite of the loss.
Yes, I have lost life as I knew it and had to move to a different town. However, God is still with me. When I lived in Spirit of the Mountain Lodge, God was there. My music, family, and friends still loved me. My dog always loves me of course (that’s why many believe the dog is most like God). These are all wonderful and beautiful gifts given to me and I am most glad to have them in my life. I did not lose all of that love and beauty by losing my wife.
“These three things remain; faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13 (my summary)
No matter what we go through: faith, hope, and love remain. Love is the greatest because it always changes one for the better. My wife’s feelings changed for me. While that is heartbreaking, she loved me well when we were together. On some level, she still loves me now. The real thing that matters however is that I still have those eleven years of love. Part of the grief is that the love we have for each other will change. Yet, even then, all the love that came before changed me into a better and more loving person. My life is better now because I was loved then.
“There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.”
God’s message to me during my devotion time today was so powerful that I could see that even though it feels like I’ve failed at marriage, I am still enough. I put on my “BE” shirt today. My counselor has been encouraging me to “love myself” and that’s something that has always been hard and a bit confusing for me. Yet, with the message from scriptures today and my soul’s comment, I think I get it.
I am enough for God. God uses the weak, broken-hearted, the down trodden. When we look at the life of scripture and those lifted up as great in church history, we see time and again that God uses the ordinary to create the extraordinary. God is that powerful. God can use someone like me. Like Moses. Like Paul. Like Mary. God can create an extraordinary miracle of love, even in someone as small and ordinary as a baby, like Jesus.
Helpful books during a time of crisis:
Social scientist Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW , Braving the Wilderness
Pema Chödrön, Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better