Everyone is quiet, looking at the wall, or their hands, avoiding eye contact, avoiding the unsaid.
The ones who are experiencing their first holiday alone—without that husband, or child, or parent—it cuts deep.
The group leader directs our attention to the theme “Getting through the holidays without your loved one” and asks, “Any ideas?”
It would be nice if the answers could be so simple, like an instruction manual with numbered steps for “How to get through the Hurt at Christmas.”
But life is messy and no one really knows the answer. The topic veers off in another direction, while souls bleed and rain pours.
Then the rain turns to snow and we head to the cemetery to remember. Among those who face fresh hurt, the most wonderful time of the year turns into the hardest time of the year.
Didn’t someone say that each year gets easier?
I remember my little boy’s curls and like Mary, I ponder these things in my heart, tucking it away into deep places of the soul–the memories of eyelashes and the scent of bath soap and skin.
But when I walk the stores at Christmas and see the little footed pajamas for little boys—my heart gets rung out just a little.
I will never get to see my boy in little footed pajamas.
Will the pain ever really go away?
We put on our smiles and say Merry Christmas anyway.
Without really feeling it.
Avoidance is so much easier than actually dealing with it. Than saying I hurt.
Christmas makes us remember what we’re missing, but everyone is afraid to say it. For those whose pain is fresh. Those facing their first Christmas alone. Their first Christmas with an empty chair, an empty bed, no gifts under the tree with that little one’s name.
Like an old faded nativity we hide in the closet, we stuff all that pain, all that ugly, and only put out the shiny new ornaments. We plaster our smiling faces on Christmas cards and post Christmas greetings that make us the envy of our friends.
But don’t confuse this with joy.
The life we post on Facebook can be as false as a Pharisee’s prayer.
These trappings of happiness are not joy.
The baby born in the most unpretentious of places reminds us that it’s not the impressive people who win in the end. It’s not the smartest or richest either, or those who have the most followers on Twitter.
In the unexpected places, we find what everyone else is looking for.
In a stable, we find a baby. In a peasant girl’s arms, we find the Messiah.
In the gloom of this broken world, joy can be found.
A sad heart can sing hallelujahs.
All those wreaths at the cemetery tell us that. They speak volumes.
Those snow covered grave blankets covering our loved ones—we don’t forget.
But we don’t stop celebrating either. We know what’s coming in the end.
The beauty in this broken world is that we can still find joy in the waiting.
We rejoice when we don’t feel like rejoicing. We are reminded of this in the Bible when Paul says,
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 )
It’s no mistake we’re told to rejoice twice. In the hustle and bustle of things, it is easy to skip over this command—to stop listening.
Some things bear repeating because they bear living.
The word “rejoice” is the Greek word “chairo,” meaning to be glad. It refers to rejoicing in many circumstances, including the joy we have in the midst of suffering. We know how the story ends—that Christ’s redemption will make all things right— and this gives us chairo in the waiting.
He says chairo twice so we hear it; so we know the underlying emphasis: This is important.
Pain can make us wrapped up in our own brokenness instead of living the Gospel.
We stop listening to His voice–the one that tells us Advent is here, the Messiah is coming and not just the baby, but the Jesus who will come again and make all things right.
Even when nothing is right, the promise of redemption gives us cause to rejoice.
When we bend the knee or bow the head in prayer, something happens. Worship can lead to chairo. Though we may not feel like it, though our hearts are heavy, sometimes doing the action will bring about the praise.
If our lives are joyless, then we need to go out and live joy.
Paul’s life was an example of chairo despite his circumstances. He lived joy—not just when times were good.
We are given the same command:
Live joy. Always.
Experience chairo in the everyday.
Stepping out into the dark after our grief group, I walk next to my girl through the rain, our hearts singing hallelujahs in the night.
Chairo for the story yet to come.