How will I bear witness to grief?
That's the question that's shaping my holiday plans.
“In the end, darkness is not explained; it is defeated. Night is not justified or solved; it is endured until light overcomes it and it is no more.”
—Tish Harrison Warren, “Prayer in the Night”
This week, I finished the free e-course, “5 Days to an Organized Christmas.” These types of course rarely land for me, but I started this one on a whim and am SO glad I did it. It’s not sales-pitchy and I found it incredibly helpful to cut through the emotional and literal clutter of Christmas and hone in on cultivating an Advent and Christmas season that reflects my/my family’s values. In short, I highly recommend it if you’re looking for some guidance for ordering your holiday.
But what I appreciated most was the time they devoted to encouraging watchers to serve at Christmas time and care for those who are grieving.
Advent begins in just over two weeks, and this e-course has me asking ask: “How will I bear witness to grief this holiday season?”
The Christmas Story We Tell
At Christmas, the Christian faith tells a particular story around the narrative of grief. Instead of minimizing it, brushing it aside, ignoring it, attempting to rationalize it, the story of the Nativity acknowledges the devastating darkness of death, loss, and disease. This is a darkness none can escape. The world of the Bible is not clean, simplistic, tidy. The Christmas Story is animated by men and women with heartbreaking, tragic stories set against a taut political climate and profound religious hypocrisy.
And it’s into that world that Jesus came, not as a political zealot, a sage shaman, or religious figurehead, but as the Light of the world, a light that shines in the darkness.
This story of the nativity is the one I want to inform my Christmas planning. While I love (and in some ways very much need) the good cheer, tradition and festivity that comes with the month of December, I want the nativity story of the Bible to give the most weight to how I observe Christmas, personally and in my household.
Bearing witness to grief—whether our own or someone else’s—is scary. It reminds us we’re not in control of our lives and zooms in on reality that we and those we love will die. Yet, the birth of Jesus tells us we do not need to shy away from grief’s darkness.
The Light has come.
So what does this mean in my life?
This Christmas, I’m making plans to bear witness to grief in two ways.
I’m making tangible, concrete plans to reach out to a handful of people in my life who have known grief this year. Some of their losses are unimaginable (like the untimely death of a loved one) and others are simply the types of losses that come with life (like a cross-country move).
I’m working hard not to make observing their grief afterthoughts in my Christmas planning (i.e., slating our whole family calendar and then slotting in caring for other at my convenience). Instead, this is one of my starting points for planning.
I’m also looking inward, asking God to illuminate my deepest sadnesses and fears (they’re often hiding behind my anger). I’m considering how I might respond to the promise of his light in the darkest, tenderest places of my soul. I’m doing this through prayer, the advent devotional or reading plan, and hopefully, some contemplative practices.
At Christmas, we remember two truths that are the foundation of our faith. Jesus came revealing his power over darkness, and He will come again banishing darkness forever.
In the tension of living in between these times, we endure, waiting for the night to end, fueled by memory of what God has done and faith that he will come gain. And we endure together, looking at one another’s suffering, empathizing and nudging each other toward hope when darkness threatens to overwhelm.