Very early on in life I had developed within me a very idealized view of the holidays. We really did not have much at all growing up; I was a child in a single-parent home. Nonetheless, my mother somehow always managed to make sure that Thanksgiving and Christmas were special times.
Eggnog. We always had eggnog from Thanksgiving to Christmas. We had a small real tree, with a root ball, that I had to plant in the yard as of December 26. We always waited till just a few days before Christmas to get it, so it could be gotten for next to nothing.
The tree had cheap plastic balls and multi-colored lights. Despite our ultra-limited resources, there were somehow always a few gifts under that tree. The claymation Rudolph Christmas special was something we never missed.
We were in church even more than our usual every Sunday morning/every Sunday night/every Wednesday night routine. That would be because of the practices for the church Christmas play.
Now, all grown up, the holiday season has lost none of its luster to me. At 46 years old, I feel more like a kid than ever from the very moment the Thanksgiving turkey gets hauled out of the oven. But I am now much more acquainted with something as an adult than I ever was as a child; the holidays are often a time of deep heartache.
Some years ago we were in the hospital all day on Christmas, mourning with some friends who lost a baby on that very day. This year, in areas that I spend a great deal of time in or near, people are grieving.
In one instance, it is from six precious children who lost their lives in a school bus crash. In another, a 16-year-old girl took her own life by jumping off of a bridge into traffic. In another, some personal friends are facing the holidays without their husband/son/father, a local police officer who was murdered in the line of duty just a few weeks ago.
There is never, ever a "good time" to the human mind or heart for such things to happen, but somehow, having them happen so near to the holidays only adds to the grief. People wonder what to say. I am not sure "saying" is always even a good option.
When Job suffered the most devastating series of losses, his three friends spent seven days saying nothing, just sitting quietly with him and mourning alongside him. It was when they started "saying" that things began to get even worse.
Doing. Doing is probably better in most cases. Doing does not let us run the risk of saying things that are probably not true and will only add to the hurt, things like "I understand." So what can all of us or any of us do?
To begin with, we can pray. We do not understand, or feel the depths of what others feel, but according to Hebrews 4:15-16, we can reach One who does. Tens of thousands of people cannot crowd into a home to offer comfort, but tens of thousands of people can reach out to the One who can give peace that passes understanding.
We can also give. There are always needs associated with tragedies. Money, blood, time, a card, a meal, whatever will be of practical use to mind, heart, or body. James 2:15-16 says, "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?"
We can also listen. Hurting people are often helped more by this simplest thing than by most anything else. And that truth brings me to something I would love for everyone to know: no matter what you are facing, somewhere out there is a person willing to listen. Talk to a pastor, a family member, a friend, even a professional counselor if needed. Please, please do not feel like you have to face the darkness alone.
Do you feel like you will be a bother? Then let me give you another way to look at it. You are simply getting help for yourself now so that you will be able to help someone else later. For their sake, get that help.
Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Mooresboro, N.C., a widely traveled evangelist, and author of several books, including a kid’s fiction book about the Battle of Chickamauga, “Broken Brotherhood.” He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.