Grief comes in all different sized packages. Our grief journey started with the sudden deaths of our sixteen-year-old son, Mark, and his friend, Kelly. Thirteen years later, I still wish I could erase mid-November through mid-January. Whether you are grieving loss through death, a broken relationship, a prodigal child, loss of health, holidays often magnify the sorrow.

Like many families, we reserved special gifts and fun surprises for the Christmas season. We loved all the glitz of the holiday, the lights, decorations, the anticipation of a white Christmas and our house rang with Christmas music as soon after Thanksgiving as possible. We enjoyed the special times with friends and family during our Christmas Eve Open House but we especially loved our Christmas Eve communion service. From the first year of our marriage Sharon and I had shared communion on this night of nights and it seemed to seal the life-driving force of Christ's calling.

On our way home from the hospital on that horrible July night of our son's death, I grabbed my wife's hand and whispered, “Christmas, what will we do with Christmas?”

As I prepared Christmas messages for our congregation, unfathomable grief opened my eyes to the pain and blood that surrounded the birth of our Savior, God's only son (Christmas Pain, 93-101). Sharon wrote in her journal:

Journal Entry, Sunday, December 19, 1993. Chuck's message gives me permission to step back from the glitz of Christmas without guilt. For some reason it helps me to know that the coming of Messiah was a time of pain and weeping. Jesus did not come as a conquering king but a suffering servant. The shepherds were watching over temple sheep that were set apart for slaughter as sacrifices. God chose for Jesus to be born into the rule of a cruel, brutal man. Herod had killed every member of his family that he suspected of disloyalty. The arrival of the Wise Men from Iran and Iraq terrified Herod. He was so frightened by their search for the baby who would be king that he ordered every baby boy under the age of two to be killed. Matthew 2:17-18: “Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.' ” This terrible loss was prophesied in Jeremiah 31:15. O God, you knew. You knew. Somehow that comforts me. There are no accidents. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is told that a sword will pierce her soul as a result of the birth and life of this child. O God, what did Christmas really cost? (Treasures in Darkness, A Grieving Mother Shares Her Heart, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., Page 178-179)

We soon learned that to climb out of this dark abyss, we needed to accept that life would never again be the same. We had to find a new level of normal. Friends who had walked this way before us told us that we needed to prepare for this holiday, intentionally change traditions, and focus not on what was best for others but what was best for our family. In her book, (Treasures in Darkness, A Grieving Mother Shares Her Heart, Sharon describes how we learned that the Christmas story itself can give strength through the holiday season.

Decoration-Day Meltdown

As the world around me laughed and anticipated a joyous Christmas filled with packages and food and family, I wished we could skip from Thanksgiving to the middle of January. I pleaded with God that He direct my steps through this quagmire of sorrow. I listened carefully as Chuck described the first Christmas as a season wrapped in pain, not fancy paper and bows. Blood and death covered that holy season. Eternal life could not come without such anguish.

Journal Entry, December 20, 1993. The Christmas story and Chuck's message overwhelmed me with a new understanding of who you are and what you did at Christmas. I'm trying to focus on the choice Jesus made to be a suffering servant and that what He is asking of us is not more than He Himself has done. But the ghost of grief is stalking me every minute, and I am weak in my own strength. I have so much I want to do for my family. I will not let the enemy use Mark's death to rob us of Christmas. But I don't know where to begin. Psalm 86: Give me an undivided heart - where I will not be forever torn between missing Mark and trusting you. Deliver me from the pain of the grave.