The refreshing freedom of real
I just got off the phone with a dear friend that just is not so pumped up about the Christmas season. And she’s not alone. Many people are loaded down by expectations they feel, many of which are self-induced. Many people are just worn out from the year. Many others are grieving.
I think of the dear woman who lost her adult son in the prime of his life, the children who are going to one home for Mommy and another for Daddy for the first time this year, the dear ones who had their home stolen in war, the spouse remembering her long-since passed dearest, and the young ones who are in prison in a country not their own, probably caught up in a form of trafficking. These are just people touching my world. It’s hard to walk around in a world of merriment when your heart is broken, battered, or just plain exhausted. Even scars that seem long since healed are often scraped open afresh during the holidays for some reason, as we notice again the empty chair that we long to be filled.
Grief is Not a Taboo Topic
Grief is not spiritual hypocrisy. It is not unwelcome at Christmastime. It is a significant and necessary part of life in a fallen world, and it is supposed to be something we feel comfortable doing together, any time of year. Grief is actually a key to helping us truly revel in the real joy of the season.
God does not require us to be happy all the time. This holds true no matter what season it is or what expectations we think others might have of us (or even what expectations we have of ourselves). I think that is sometimes followers of Christ can get confused about this due to the culture we live in and the culture some churches create. Followers of Christ are part of a long tradition of people with a history of honest conversation with God together. The Psalms outline this conversation in four categories, with the third, lament, making up the largest category of the entire Psalter (Peterman and Schmutzer, 2016, p. 111):
Lament is Meant to Be Part of Our Life Together
-Even, and Especially During Holidays
Unfortunately, “In the competitive denominational marketplace of the twenty-first century, somber doesn’t sell. We prefer to sin and repent, lament and die in silent privacy” (Towner, 2003, p.33). Yet, God shows us through the Psalms how to worship God appropriately. Lament is the part of that which acknowledges that life on earth does not line up with the wholeness and perfection of life as God created it and will ultimately restore it to be. It is meant to be done both privately and in the community of believers.
Most of life is lived in the ‘painful and yawning gap between the liturgical affirmation of God’s absolute sovereignty and the empirical reality of evil triumphant’ (Levensen 1988) So worship must encompass both praise and pain, honestly brought to God. Peterman and Schumtzer, 2006, p. 107
What is Lament?
Lament is raw emotion in a wide variety of forms, in which followers of Christ cry out to God and voice pain to God. It is a dialogue with God, built on a history of relationship and trust. It is also meant to be done corporately, with other believers.
Biblical laments come in movements. The first movement is some expression of pain, and the second is a a declaration, sometimes in whisper form, of trust. There is always an element of confidence that God has or will act.
Wait- Aren’t we Commanded to Just be Happy?
No. Happiness is a positive emotion that is in response to circumstances, so it is often fleetingly temporary. God calls us to “be joyful always, pray continually, giving thanks in all circumstances…” and in life when sometimes we struggle to figure out God’s will, Paul goes on to add, “…for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Doesn’t that mean we should always wear a smile and have only positive things to say? Well, no. No, it doesn’t. While happiness is temporary, joy is deep and abiding. Piper, one I respect as a leading authority on the topic, defines Christian joy as “a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.” He explains each part of that definition Here. The language of the Bible shows us that grief and joy, lament and praise go hand and hand throughout the Bible. They are comfortable together.
Shouldn’t We Feel Comfortable Together, Then- With Both Grief and Joy this Season?
God designed our place of community with other believers to be a place where we, in community, communicate together to God as modeled in the Psalms with praise, thanks, lament, and trust. This is worship.
Those Not Meant to Be Left Behind by the Lights and Glitter
As you light your candle during a Christmas Eve Service or simply stand to worship God on any given Sunday, you are likely standing very near to someone who:
- lost a spouse or parent to cancer.
- has recently attempted suicide.
- just lost their business.
- has an aging body and nothing to retire on.
- just found out about a spouse’s affair.
- lost a child.
- doesn’t know how they can make it another day.
Don’t let these people be lost in all the twinkling lights and merry greetings. Go past the greetings with one another. Be real this season. It is refreshing.
The Most Worshipful Christmas
We can worship God together, for the gift of His Son, sent to mend the brokenness of this world caused by sin. We can grieve together the depth of destruction and loss caused by sin. Indeed, we must grieve it, or else the sweetness of the solution is dulled. We can in the same breath rejoice in the way Christ has already changed the world by His coming. And, we can together long for the day when He will return and restore all things.
The real meaning of the season is not simply about kindness or giving. It is about a Savior. He was born. He suffered and died for a world crushed under the weight of sin and drowning in sin’s aftermath. He made a way for us to know God now, in our sorrows and in our joys. He is coming back to make all things whole again. From beginning to end, the real meaning of the season welcomes grief and joy together, and tears of both kinds. May we welcome that in one another to make this a truly worshipful Christmas.
Has Anyone Done a Great Job Sharing in Lament with You or Someone You Know During the Holidays? Please Share What Made That So Helpful In the Comments.
Peterman, G. & Schmutzer, A. (2016). Between Pain & Grace: A Biblical Theology of Suffering. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
Towner W. Sibley. (2003). “‘Without Our Aid He Did Us Make'” Singing the Meaning of the Psalms.” In A God So Near, ed. Brent A Strwn and Nancy R Bowden. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbraums.