My Lovely Friend,
I’ve had this tugging on my heart lately, thinking about you, my friend, who have suffered a great loss, whether it was the loss of a loved one or the loss of a marriage. God has opened my mind back to my childhood, back to the holidays, even though I don’t have many Christmas memories as a child.
You see, I am a product of divorced parents. My parents split up when I was ten years old. While I am not divorced or haven’t suffered a great loss like you, I can only bring in what I’ve learned or experienced as a child of divorced parents as well as what I have learned by witnessing how you live this out on a daily basis. So, friend, this is my letter to you. I hope you find a wee bit of encouragement and hope as you read this.
God put it on my heart to ask my mother some questions since she has suffered the loss of a marriage and had to raise my sisters and I, entirely on her own, with no help from my father. She struggled financially and emotionally. I wasn’t sure how she would react to my asking or if it would be a tough subject for her, even though it has been many years. So, in my obedience to God, I reached out to her. And she was happy to answer. Phew!
After my mom and dad divorced, it was only two years later that my grandfather passed away. Two years after that, my grandmother passed away. This brought strife among the family, so her oldest brother decided he longer wanted to be in contact with them for 10 years. My mother admitted it was a very difficult time and admitted she hasn’t fully gotten the Christmas spirit back, after going through all of this loss. So, with this in mind, I’ve had you on my heart. Holidays. Yes, they will be different, but I don’t want you to lose that Christmas spirit you have had.
You have suffered a tremendous loss or you may be experiencing the worst year yet. I don’t claim to be an expert or to know everything that you’re going through. I can only give you my heart, my hugs, and my support. I humbly offer you my listening ear, my hand to hold, and my simple presence. My heart hurts for you and with you as the holidays are now upon us, bringing so many memories, making it difficult to get through the day… the hour…without tears streaming down your face.
I wanted to let you know that I see you. I see how strong you are, even though you may feel weak right now. I see your struggle. I see you barely breathing and functioning. I am certain that God sees you too. He knows you. Every beautiful part of you. He is collecting every tear in a bottle. I know this time is painful for you. I know you feel lonely, but you are not alone. You are loved so very much by God, and me!, and friend, he is with you every step of the way through the hard, the ugly, the hurting, the pain, the tears, the stress, the worries, the memories, good or bad. Here’s a couple things I’ve learned over the years and from the memories of my childhood:
Don’t Numb Your Pain
I’d like to encourage you to recognize what you’re feeling. Put a name to it. Write it down in a journal. Tell the pain it is not going to rule over you. Give it to the Lord. He will see you through the storm. He will carry you over the rough waters. People cope with pain in many different ways– shopping (um, hello! Picture me, raising my hand!), eating (guilty at times), drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. I encourage you to not fall into these traps. They may feel good for a moment, but that moment is only temporary, friend.
I share this because this is what my mother did. She turned to alcohol to numb her pain and depression. I am not sure my mother knew of any other way to cope, that’s why I wanted to make sure you knew there are healthy ways to get through it. The Lord has options for you. Turn to a friend if you are not sure what to do. Have someone pray for you, even if it is just over the phone. Reach out to your church. Your family. Pray for God to bring the right people into your life to help you get through it. Write down your prayers. As a child, I witnessed my mother drink her pain away. I don’t recall her having a girl posse to come alongside her. We didn’t belong to a church. We didn’t have much family. With each loss, my mom’s pain got worse and when the holidays came around, it was difficult. Now that I think of it, I suffered a loss as well, the loss of my mom to her pain and depression.
I often wonder how different things could have been, had our holidays gone a whole different way. I think maybe I don’t remember much because there probably wasn’t much to even remember. I had to ask my sisters about it and they don’t remember any fun Christmases or even spending Christmas with our father. I recall one Christmas when my mom took us girls to a Chinese restaurant for dinner, most likely the only place open, because she just wasn’t in the mood for Christmas. This memory makes me think of the scene in A Christmas Story, you know, Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra, Ra Ra Ra Ra. We didn’t end up at this restaurant because a turkey fell on the floor for dogs to devour it. We ended up there because Christmas was just too much for my mom to handle. She just couldn’t get herself to a good place emotionally or financially to “do Christmas” that year or the years to come.
Getting Through Financially
I know you are probably looking at your checkbook or credit card statements to see how much you have available to get those gifts on your kids’ Christmas lists. Christmas is a month away and you’re probably feeling a little stressed. Rather than going into more debt or putting things like the PG&E bill (we got lots of 48 hour notices, because my mom would push it off) until the New Year, be honest with yourself and your kids. Of course, this will depend on their age and understanding, but kids are pretty smart. You’d be surprised how much they learn by simply observing you while you’re looking at your checkbook or looking at the bills. Perhaps they hear your prayers, asking for God’s provision to get you through the holidays, to help you get the kids something to open on Christmas morning.
Do what you can with what you have. Keep it simple. Keep the focus on Jesus and the gift he brought to the world. This is the message of Christmas. It’s not about how many gifts are under the tree. It’s not about the size of your Christmas tree or that you even have a tree. One simple thing you could do is to create a coupon book. Create coupons for a date with your son or daughter – dinner, ice cream, a movie, or a trip to Target. You could give them a coupon for each month if you like. I would have loved this as a child. I would have loved more time with my mom, a single mother working full time. I think that’s all kids want anyway. More of YOU.
We all know that times are busy around the holidays with parties, parades, and events. As you get those invitations, think ahead about the ones you will attend and plan to tell your friends that you will try to make it. Give them the heads up that if your grief comes in with flying colors on the day of the event, you may be staying home. Think of a script that you could tell your friends or family if you need to leave a party early. Having these conversations prepared in your mind ahead of time will alleviate the stress by not ignoring your feelings of grief. Your friends will understand that it takes time.
If you have kids, keep the dialogue open with them in the days leading up to the holidays. If the holidays are split between you and your ex, talk about it with your kids. Kids get discombobulated when there is a sudden change. Imagine your son or daughter playing nicely with their cousins, and you tell them it’s time to go now. Then they go to your ex’s house and their cousins are already playing and they have to try and fit in. This can cause kids to get a little angry. Talking through these scenarios with your kids around the dinner table or in the car helps them to process what the day will look like. I didn’t have to split up days between my mom and dad because my dad wasn’t present. My mom never really talked about my father but this doesn’t mean I wasn’t left with questions and confusion about what was going on.
Alone For The Holidays
If you find yourself alone for a holiday, whether you have kids or not, take the time for yourself. Do the things you normally wouldn’t have time for because of work and parenthood. Catch up on your favorite TV series, go to a movie, or read a book (or, two, maybe 5). Kids often feel guilty when they see mom or dad spending a holiday alone. Share your plans with the kids in an uplifting manner. Tell your kids, “While you’re away, it’s going to be a fabulous time for me to catch up on my reading and to celebrate Christmas. I’m going to have a great time. I’ll be praying for you. Remember, I want you kids to have fun, because I am going to have some fun myself. Maybe I’ll even take a bubble bath.” When we assure our plans in a fun and uplifting manner, it helps them not to feel guilty and it gives them the freedom to enjoy their Christmas.
Remember Christ’s Suffering
We celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas day, but we also celebrate his suffering on the cross. We celebrate the fact that he took all of our sin and suffering upon his shoulders and was crucified on the cross. For you. And for me. Jesus was half man and half God. He suffered just like you and me while he was on this earth. But…he was raised up three days later to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us, to comfort us, to ease our pain, to give us wisdom, and to let us know that we are not alone. Your pain will not last forever. Remember Jesus and his pain. Have hope in the eternal life he promised us.
As you are mourning your loss, as difficult as it may be, share the good times with your girlfriends. Tell the funny stories and share your favorite memories. As a friend, I love to hear this. It helps me to know your loved one, as well as know you better. It equips me to be a better friend in supporting you through this hard time. If you laugh, it’s okay! Laugh and giggle away. Laugh ’til you pee your pants. I’ll be right there with you!
I’d like to remind you that good memories can come through the pain. Dinner at the Chinese Restaurant brings a funny memory to our minds. What does it say in James 1:2, “…when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy?” Now this may sound crazy to you. You’re probably saying, “Say Whaaat!” I just counted all the biblical references to joy in my Bible and there are…oh shoot, let me count them again…there are like 62 of them!
Nehemiah 8:10 tell us, “…Don’t be dejected and sad, the joy of the Lord is your strength!” ; Psalm 42:4 says, “…Singing for joy and giving thanks”. You’re probably thinking, “Thanks. How am I going to give thanks when my heart is hurting so much?” I’m so glad you asked. God is so good. What does it say in 1 Thessalonians 5:18? “Be thankful in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” Thankful in how many circumstances? In what circumstances,? ALL. The last time I checked, all really means ALL. This is God’s will for you. This is what he wants for you and for me.
Choose joy. Be sad. Cry a little. Choose joy. Talk to a friend. Let them hug you. Choose joy. Allow your kids to see you choosing joy. This will speak volumes to them at the age they are now and as they get get older and suffer a loss of their own someday. I learned this as an adult by watching all of you, my fellow Christ followers. So, I’m cheering you on to keep doing what you’re doing. You are a light to all around you! Even when I see you on the bring of losing it, when you can’t talk about it, or when you want to just stay in bed under the covers. You are a light shining so brightly and beautifully, don’t let that light ever go out.
This season is all about joy. You have it in you because you have the Holy Spirit in you. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Tap into that joy. Tap into other’s joy when you can’t muster any up. Pray and ask God to help you see the joy in the every day things. To see and experience the joy in the mourning and suffering. You have it friend. Believe it. Your joy can and will take over the pain.
Let me leave you with a few verses from the Good Word:
“My suffering is good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71)
“Sing for joy, O heavens! Rejoice, O earth! Burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on them in their suffering.” (Isaiah 49:13)
“In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore you, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.” (1 Peter 4:10)
“I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.” (Jeremiah 31:13)
Hugging you so tight,