Friday, December 09, 2011
During Christmas Grief, God is Close-Gibson
Grief is an unruly visitor, and even more so when it drops in near Christmas. Surrounded by the mirth of others, the knife of loss cuts on both sides. For a time, the death of a loved one shuts normal faculties down. Leaves only what’s necessary to survive the next moment: our own breath, though every puff feels like a new wound.
One snowy November, my oldest sister’s husband sent word to our scattered family: “If you want to see Sandra again, you should come,” he said.
From separate provinces, my sister and I, along with our elderly parents travelled to the province in the middle. Beside Sandra’s bed, holding Sandra’s hand, we said the necessary things, then we watched Sandra go home.
Our faith told us something glorious: she’d gone to live with Jesus, pain-free. Our frailty told us something shattering: she’d simply gone, and far too soon. The pain of her absence sliced us, and twinned with the complexities of regret, devastated us.
Sorrow like that carves a gaping hollow in a body, making even simple things impossible. Picking up the phone. Driving a car. Answering easy questions. Remembering to eat and drink. Choosing what to wear. Making a choice, period.
Someone has said that God comes to us in the people who come to us. He came to our family through four earthly angels that year. Too close to Christmas, in a strange hospital far from home.
The angels, strangers all, arrived just after my sister died. They came simply to be with us. Their presence loaned us strength. They brought juice and coffee. Made necessary phone calls. Stayed with us until it didn’t hurt so much to breathe, until we could get up, limp on to do the necessary things.
In the dark hollows of your own crises, perhaps you’ve met earthly angels too. Maybe you’ve been one; a neighbour, a passer-by, a pastor, friend or family member, even a stranger. They come without beckoning, simply to be with the hurting. To do what must be done, even when what must be done is simply sitting together in one place.
I’ve wondered, in the years since my sister’s death, if it took that for me to truly appreciate the deepest meaning of Christmas—that God is never absent in our darkest moments. That when emotional paralysis prevents a victorious grasping onto him, he has already grasped onto us.
“The virgin will be with child, and will give birth to a Son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Matthew 1:23
What we celebrate at Christmas is God’s answer to the most universal prayer of humanity: “God, be with me. God, stay with me.”
Through Jesus within us, and those who come to us in his compassionate spirit, God answers, “Beloved, I’m right here.”
If sorrow haunts you at Christmas, remember. But if loss has carved a chunk from someone you know, go.
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