Our hearts are never fully prepared for a drastic change. But loss does that to you — it changes your course. Over time, the once raging grief finds a softer place to live, but when special days or holidays approach, those wounds can be reopened. As a widow, that loss and change stings every inch of your life and is certainly amplified during the holiday season. Each date on the calendar and special occasion screams the absence of your loved one.
Even though it is painful to grieve, it’s not harmful. Grief is the process that leads to healing. We must walk through it, but as believers, our journey is accompanied with certainty and assurance. We have God’s promises to cling to as we grieve. His promises aren’t simply a wistful hope: the promise is Christ. The cross is a constant reminder that we are never forsaken or alone in our grieving.
I would like to offer some practical advice, first to the widow or widower and then to local churches to help those who have suffered a loss not just survive the holidays, but thrive during them.
To the widow or widower
The loss of a spouse is disorienting and seems impossible to make it through. But the Lord is faithful to walk with you every step of the way. There are several things I’ve learned as I’ve navigated the loss of my husband — especially during the holidays — that have helped me grieve, heal, and grow.
Carve out time to grieve, privately if needed. Holiday get-togethers are special, but they will be emotionally difficult. It is joy and sorrow hand in hand. It’s joyful to celebrate with family and see one another, but there will always be the backdrop of loss looming. Set aside private time in your schedule to grieve what needs to be grieved.
Slow your pace. Slow down. Too many activities only add stress. Do whatever you need to in order to reduce extra stress by remembering the holidays are a season, not just a day. Spread out your visits and responsibilities over days.
Communicate. Talk with your family sooner rather than later about the schedule. Let them know you need your pace to be slow and easy. Tell them you may need alone time, and reassure them that your absence will only be temporary.
God understands. Remember that although no person will truly understand the weight of the significance of your loss, God does. We serve a God who sees and knows every crevice of our hearts. He not only sees it, but his mercies are sufficient to meet our grief with strength. Lean into the grief, and take it to the Lord. You need his Word more than ever, so get into it, and meditate on it. Rediscover the joy of the Lord this holiday season!
To the local churches
Your fellow brothers and sisters suffering from loss need you. They need the community, care, and comfort God designed you to offer. Though the holidays are busy for you, too, please don’t miss the chance to hold out the hope of Christ. Here are a few ways I was ministered to by the body of Christ.
Engage the bereaved. What an opportunity for ministry. First, know that tears are a gift from God. They help us release emotional grief. Too often, we avoid engaging the bereaved in an effort to help them avoid tears. But not acknowledging the loss of a widow or widower hurts more than crying ever will. So, engage those who are hurting. Isn’t that what Jesus did? Sit down, look that widow in the eye and say, “How are you”? Then, listen. If he or she cries, let them. Remember their loved one together, share stories, and mostly, just listen. There is nothing more Christlike than loving one another, and one of the most loving things you can do is mourn with those who are mourning.
Encourage with the Word. Time doesn’t heal, but our God does. Send encouragement from the Word. Human words are good, but God’s Word is best. Send cards, texts, or emails of with Scripture. God grows a faith that gives new life by revealing himself in the midst of our deepest, most painful places. And we most often experience him through his Word. Be a life-giving Word-giver this holiday season. I promise it will nourish a broken soul.
Equip widows or widowers to be ministers. As a widow, I have been entrusted with suffering toward a divine purpose: to minister to others and comfort those who need comfort (2 Corinthians 1:4). Encourage your widows to minister to one another. The goal of grief in God’s hands isn’t healing — it’s holiness. Holiness is healing plus purpose. God can use your widows and widowers to minister in your church like no one else. Remind them of Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Equip them slowly and gently, as they are ready. Don’t be pushy; just watch for where God is working and help them see it too.
Hebrews 5:8-9 is one of the most profound verses as it relates to suffering. It says this, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” Christ didn’t need to learn obedience, as if he wasn’t doing something. He willingly submitted to the experience of suffering in the flesh and experienced persevering in obedience. He tasted death on our behalf and made the way for our deliverance. For those who are approaching the holidays under the cover of grief, this gives great hope. Our suffering Savior has made a way for us to hope in the midst of our hurt and minister to those around us. Cling to God’s Word this holiday season and remember the joy of your salvation. I am praying for you.