Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Dual-Hearted Christmas

Title: A Dual-Hearted Christmas
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 16 Dec 2010

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

MAIN POINT: We can still celebrate Christmas, even when we are grieving over the loss of a loved one. The key lies in hope. What about living bold fruitful lives ourselves, and let this be our Christmas gift to them, our loved ones who have passed away?

As we near the end of the year, I cannot help but detect a deep sense of heaviness among many of my Church members. News of people getting sick comes unabated. Some have cancer. Others have a terminal illness. Yet, a number of people are grappling with the loss of loved ones. If there is one word I can use to describe the mood as we approach the festive Christmas season, it is the word ‘heavy.’ Bad news, accidents, sickness, cancer, retrenchment, death and dying are all potent ingredients to produce a heavy heart. One friend I know has to fly back home to be with a beloved who is dying. Her work is known to be especially tough and busy toward the end of December. Asked why she is able to leave all of these, the answer is simple.
Work can always be delegated to others. Work opportunities always have a future possibility. Money can always be earned back. However, there is only one life. Once that life is gone, it cannot be delegated or recovered from the grave.

How true it is. I feel for Church members who are experiencing a particularly tough December. Missing loved ones is already tough in itself. Having to remember their death anniversaries smack in the middle of a fiesty December party atmosphere traps one’s inner being into a state of confusion.

  • Is it ok to party?
  • Is it right to celebrate anything at all?
  • How do I celebrate the birth of Christ, in the light of the remembrance of the deaths of loved ones?

1) Heavy-Heartedness
Simply put, the question to ask is: “Is it possible to see hope in the midst of a discouraged or depressed mood?” The quick answer is “Yes. It is possible.” An unknown writer once said:
Hope is grief’s best music.” (source unknown)
If the death of a loved one marks the beginning, and joy of seeing them eventually being the end of the journey, hope is the fuel that sustains one through the journey of grief. It is possible, even necessary to maintain hope in any situation. Without hope, there is no effective living, only persistent moaning. Without hope, one resembles a baby crying over spilt milk. Without hope, when a person dies, the rest of the family dies with him/her. Without hope, a heavy heart throws endless burdens on a tormented soul.

One couple I know has recently lost their daughter. Each time they see the belongings of their deceased sweetheart, they break down in tears. December is their daughter’s Anniversary month. The only way out seems to be a constant barrage of activities and work so as to drown out the voices of sorrow and the remembrance of pain. During times like these, they need encouragement, not reprimand. They need understanding, not unsolicited advice. Grieving is not a problem to be solved, but an emotion to be recognized and accepted. Yet, it is possible to find some light in a darkened mood of heaviness. Let me suggest a two-pronged approach toward trying to recover hope when we have lost loved ones.

2) STEP ONE: Detachment from False Hopes
Firstly, suffering from loss and the remembrance of it, teaches us in a real way that the things of this world is not as important as we hold them out to be. Marcia Ford writes:
People who have suffered loss often learn to hold on lightly to what they have because they’ve experienced the reality of losing loved ones and possessions and opportunities in a heartbeat.” (Marcia Ford, Finding Hope, Vermont: Skylight Paths, 2007, p31)
I call this first step a ‘detachment’ from false hopes. I remember doing a new coat of paint for a friend’s house. The first thing is to get rid of the old layers of unwanted paint by scraping it out as much as possible. Imagine painting over uneven patches of paint on the wall. It would make the new wall and the new coat of paint even more uneven. By removing the old paint, we essentially prepare the wall for a fresh coat of paint. When we lose loved ones, at least, it should remind us that we too are mortal beings. We need to spend whatever available years we have to invest in activities that matter, that are more important. How tragic will it be for a person on his death bed to spend more time regretting for things he has not done instead of giving thanks for has been done.

3) STEP TWO: Re-attach to True Hope
Detaching ourselves from false hope itself is not enough. When we clear out a room of rubbish, what is there to make sure we do not fill it again with unwanted stuff, or more rubbish? If the first step is to dissociate ourselves from the materialism of this world, the second step is to ATTACH ourselves to the hope that is out of this world. Ford urges us to consider the word: “eventually.” Just think of the following by beginning with this word. EVENTUALLY: _____

  • “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes;”
  • “There will be no more death, or sorrow, nor crying.”
  • “There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
  • “Things will get better.”
  • “Truth will triumph.”
  • “Justice will prevail forever.”

There is much wisdom to learn from the loss of loved ones. Such wisdom can also draw out hope for us. The Anglican priest, Martin Israel, explains:
In this strange life we grow through adversity rather than through success. The greatest lessons we have to learn are those concerned with loss, not gain.” (Martin Israel, The Pain that Heals)
How true it is. Our learning senses are heightened during times of failure and loss instead of success and gain. I think of how fast successful sports teams fall the next year, after winning the championship. It makes winning the prize the easy part, and sustaining the winning extremely hard. I think of how quickly some people who got rich quick, end up in deeper trouble than before. The trouble is in this learning posture that is often diminished when one experiences success. Success breeds pride and complacency. Failure develops character and humility. Hope begins by remembering the word: "Eventually...."

4) Light-Heartedness During Christmas
This Christmastide is a time of celebration of the birth of Jesus. This alone is the reason to celebrate. Celebrating Christmas does not mean we forget the deaths of loved ones. We can celebrate the birth of Christ as well as remembering loved ones together. This is what I call dual-heartedness. Christians do have something to celebrate. They have Someone to celebrate toward. The loss of loved ones does not mean one needs to wear a gloomy face to dampen the lively atmosphere generated by party goers. We can balance a heavy heart with a light heart by cherishing hope in our hearts. A hope that refuses to be dragged down by the world. A hope that distances oneself from the false promises or deceitful riches of this world. A hope that is anchored in the Word of God, in the person of Jesus. A hope that only in God will the word ‘EVENTUALLY” come to fruition.

My fellow readers, especially those who are grappling with the loss of loved ones, it is possible to celebrate Christmas despite the heaviness of heart. Hope brings together both a heavy as well as a light heart. Hope detaches us from the follies of this world, to re-attach us to the promises of God. Hope enables us to celebrate Christmas, without having to numb our souls from feeling heavy. Hope heals eventually.

Those of us who are not experiencing any heaviness, it will be very appropriate to maintain a dual sense of awareness: Celebrating as well as being sensitive to heavy-hearted ones among us. Perhaps, the best gift we can offer our loved ones who have passed away, is to brave this world in remembrance of them. Finish what they have failed to finish. Complete what they are unable to complete. Achieve what they are not able to achieve. Continue in the legacy they have left behind. Perhaps, that can be our Christmas gift for them.

Cast the heavy burdens on Jesus, and Jesus will carry it for us. Have a dual-hearted Christmas with hope in Christ as our center.

Thought: “Saying goodbye to a loved one is not the same as forgetting them or ceasing to think about them. It is simply the way of owning the loss, integrating it, accepting its restrictions and limitations and saying yes to life without the one who has died.” (Joyce Huggett)


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