Grieving at Christmas
So, I just got home from a remembrance service. The goal was to remember people who died this last year and acknowledge families in pain. The service was beautiful, but as I was there I sat in two roles. I sat as a Pastor there to help the service and light a large candle. I also sat as one having lost someone holding and lighting a small candle for my grandmother who had passed in May. So, as I sat I reflected on both roles I was playing, and thought of the hard questions. I would be lying to say I did not tear up in the service thinking of my gram, yet I also kept together for the sake of others.
Holidays are a hard time for families because the grief they have is very real. Traditions that center on the passed person no longer can happen. Songs that brought them joy in Christmas past now cause a string of memories that start to overwhelm them. So, what are they to do?
Here even the Church and the Christian are in a weird place. On the one hand Solomon says there is a time to mourn (Ecc.3:4), but Paul’s says not to mourn as they who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). So, which is it? Is mourning a loved one a sin?
I love a quote used at the service tonight. “Grief is love with no place to go.” For a Christian and non-Christian this is pretty consistent. In mourning first, we must ask what is it?
Mourning is the expression of grief given form and that form is wholly unique to each person. Some write to the person, some cry over pictures, some do actions in memory of the dead. All of these are forms of mourning. None of them are sins but, they are how we express our love that no longer has that person. Now, if that is mourning then what is the difference between Christian and non-Christian mourning that Paul is speaking of?
We hold that the soul of all mankind is eternal. Our hope found from that is that when a person passes from this life and is a Christian that person is not fully gone. Paul says to us “ Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  For we live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 NIV) So a Christian who has a loved Christian die has this hope. Their friend is gone, but not forever. What is harder is for the non-Christian
The Bible is not always a pleasant book. One such place is it states that not all people will be in Heaven. Those people are in a place far from God and frankly no Christian even likes mentioning the place commonly called Hell. So now we find the hardest question of the Bible. If my friend dies and did not know Jesus, how can I get over my mourning?
Firstly, to deal with this question is to ask another. Can I know for sure who has gone to Heaven or Hell? The answer is yes and no. You can be assured of your own salvation based on your belief in Jesus and on the Holy Spirit inside you. You, however, cannot fully know anyone else’s heart or what God may do on a deathbed. The most bitter person on Earth may accept Jesus before death and be saved. But that is not for us to judge or even consider.
So, then what are we to do? I have done several funerals now. Only one was a known Christian. That was my grandmother. The rest had much harder stories. One had Alzheimer’s and could not recall anything, another I only met once on her deathbed, the last in many respects drank often and had some grudges. So how did I deal with it?
I deal with it by again asking what mourning is. Then you express it and makes ways for it to be expressed. There is obviously more joy if I knew the person as a Christian because I have hope to see them again but, even then I would mourn. The love still has no place to go.
So, if you or a loved one is dealing with a grief and you don’t know if the person who passed was a Christian or if you have doubts, they were saved don’t think in that terms. Think instead of what the current problem is. A person or you are upset because they/you have a love lost to them. A heart aching for something it no longer has. I would urge you to do the following.
First share the hurt. Others lost this person as well and as you talk together and cry you can build each other up and support your broken hearts.
Second, redirect the love. This can be done in the normal ways of mourning mentioned before like writing to the person or doing something in their name. The only thing to not do is nothing. Doing nothing is worse than grief without an outlet. Love must flow out even in pain just as Jesus showed and poured out love by His death on a cross. So, must we express love even when it hurts to do so.
Third, focus on God. Now this seems counterproductive to most. “God is the reason the person died” many would argue. The Bible says to us God is Love (1John 4:16) and so if you are mourning and you find a need to let that love out, why not go to Love Himself? Pray and cry, talk to God as you would talk to anyone about the person you lost. And then just sit in the silence for a moment. As you sit in silence or crying consider all the best memories with that person. Then as you end thank God, thank Him because you had this person in your life.
I know this won’t help everyone. Grief is personal, and the holiday season will sting for many this year. But as you go remember even in your pain the words of Jesus, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matt 5:4)