The holidays can be no holiday for many people in our congregations. For those of us that are single, alone and especially for those that have lost loved ones, Christmas becomes an intense time of feeling the loss that we have experienced. As a pastor, and as a Christian single, I am challenged with not only dealing with my own heart issues concerning this time of year, but I am responsible for making sure that those within my flock are not left without comfort or resources to help them during their need. It is with this in mind, that I want to share with you both the things I have learned over the years that have helped myself and others deal with this time, but also what a dear friend and fellow pastor has shared as well on my website.
Things To Remember When Ministering To The Grieving During The Holidays
Probably the most important thing to remember when shepherding the grieving during the holidays is that what the person needs is not to be cheered up or help fixing the problem. The problem will never be fixed. It will never "get better" over time. It will become less emotional and less painful but it will never be better. You can never tell a mother that the loss of her son or daughter will get better. It won't. It just won't hurt as intensely as it does currently. So when you come alongside them to help them through this time, your job is not to fix the problem, it is to walk by their side as they experience the loss.
Romans 12:15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.
Be observant of those in your congregation. Many people express grief in different ways. Not always is it in tears. Many times they will isolate themselves or become despondent or depressed. Some will become angry and lash out. Others will act out in unhealthy ways and even go on a binge or express rebellion to God. Familiarize yourself with the stages of grief. These stages are.....
- Shock and Denial.
- Pain and Guilt.
- Anger and Bargaining.
- Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness.
- An Upward Turnaround.
- Working Through the Realities
- Acceptance and Hope.
Knowing what stage your parishioner is in is helpful in understanding how to walk with them. If they are still in denial, it does no good to try to help them work through the realities. They are not ready yet. And if they are angry, it does no good to quote scriptures at them. They will not receive them. Be a gentle pastor that understands how to walk by someone's side rather than to try to fix the problem. It will be fixed but not with a simple answer or solution. It is a process that they must walk through and as their shepherd you are called to walk by their side in the valley of the shadow of death.
Psalm 23:4 New Living Translation (NLT) 4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
Finally, if you are able, gently and lovingly help them to refocus. They will never be able to recapture what was lost. However a gentle shepherd can help them refocus and redefine the holidays so that instead of them being a reminder of what is no longer there, they can start using the time to bring a blessing out of tragedy.
Isaiah 61:3 To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.
The most loving thing a pastor can do is help people turn their ashes into something beautiful; their mourning into a blessing. With that in mind, I would like to share with you some of the very practical tips that my friend Steve Sjogren, the author of the best selling book Conspiracy of Kindness, has shared on my website concerning how to pastor those that are grieving during the holidays.
Practical Ideas To Minister To The Grieving At Christmas
If you want to minister to a large percentage of your folks, figure out a way to convey some practical thoughts that will make an adjustment. Send an email, weekly ezine, or just build these into the end of a message…
- When you’re with friends and relatives at Thanksgiving-Christmas, while others are sharing what they’re grateful for / are celebrating, instead of focusing on your past and sense of loss, tell a funny story about the loved one you are missing! Close by making a toast to the memory of that person. Smile. Laugh, tears – it’ll be okay.
- Don’t be afraid to make changes to long-standing traditions. Keep a couple of them, then try on a few more to see how they fit. Repeat next year.
- Realize there is a difference between “Celebrating” and “Observing.”
- Find a better focus. Here’s the biggest adjustment you can make to fight a negative focus – do something aimed beyond yourself. Reach out to the Needy for example. If you need an idea, go to an inner-city soup mission and serve in a practical way. “Soup ladling therapy.” Maybe buy a few dozen donuts and give them out to those who have to work on Christmas Eve / Day. Tell them this is a simple way to bring the amazing love of Jesus who is madly in love with them. If you are chicken to go by yourself, ask a few friends until someone agrees to come along. Bless those you touch with a 10 second prayer. They’ll probably say yes.
What The Grieving Want You To Know
Even in my little church, I have those that are missing loved ones this holiday season. When I knew I was going to do an article about ministering to the grieving during the holidays, I asked one of my grieving mothers who lost her son, sister, uncle, and father all in a 4 month period what she would want people to say. Her name is Carol Thomas and she is our worship leader at our church. Here is her advice to those that would want to reach out to those that are hurting this holiday season.
- If you have a story about the one I lost, please share it with me. If you have pictures, please give me a copy just in case I don't have one.
- Please talk about my loved one. They were important to me and I need to know they were important to you.
- Please don't shy away from me even if it is uncomfortable. Just give me a hug and tell me that you are sorry I am in pain. That is all that is needed.
- Don't expect me to get back to "normal" on a timeline. None of us that grieve are on a schedule. We are all unique in how we grieve.
- Please don't tell me they are in a better place. I might be able to understand that mentally but my heart is the heart of a mother and it says there is no better place than at my side.
- Please don't tell me that God won't give me more than I can handle. The pain is so intense that I feel like I am drowning and those words make me want to resent God for giving me this to handle in the first place.
- Please just say your sorry. Don't try to empathize and say "I understand". To me, nobody understands. At this moment in my life I am so raw, I can't relate to your understanding. I just need someone to weep with me.
- Finally, please don't ask if my loved one was a Christian. What if I have to tell you no? How is that a comfort to my heart? Their eternal destiny is already settled.
It is my prayer that this article has been a help to you as you shepherd your own congregations. Jesus was sent to heal the brokenhearted and since we are His under-shepherds to His people, it is our responsibility to reach out to those that are hurting this holiday season. Whether they are grieving the loss of a loved one or the destruction of a marriage, we can be His hands extended to them.
You can find many more Bible teachings on my website Taber's Truths.
To find out more about Pastor Steve Sjogren, go to kindness.com