Hallmark movies. Christmas commercials. Magazine spreads. All show happy celebrations, bright smiles and perfectly decorated homes, sending an implicit message that the holiday season is a joyful time for everyone.
But for those who are grieving, the holidays can be just the opposite.
Erik Reed, lead pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, Tennessee, and founder of Knowing Jesus Ministries, understands grief well. Reed and his wife unexpectedly lost their 15-year-old son, Kaleb on Dec. 1, 2019, following Kaleb’s long battle with kidney problems.
Reed defines grief as “the right response to loss and tragedy in a broken world.”
“Everybody is going to go through trials and challenges and afflictions of different kinds,” he said. “Not everybody’s challenges are going to be the same. Some people are going to struggle with maybe a financial situation or maybe a job situation. Maybe somebody is having relationship problems. Maybe it’s a struggle in a marriage or a wayward child. It could be health issues that somebody has to learn to live with, something like anxiety or depression … things that are still very real.”
Losing a job doesn’t hold the same weight as losing a child, Reed acknowledged. However, for the person who lost the job, that trial is as real to her as the trial of losing a child.
“Don’t minimize your trials in comparison to someone else’s trials,” he advises.
After Reed lost his son, some well-meaning friends told him they couldn’t imagine going through that experience. Reed’s response was always, “You’re absolutely right. You can’t imagine it… and you’re not supposed to. That’s not how it works.”
Lean on God’s grace
Reed encourages those who are grieving to lean on God’s grace. The grace necessary for Reed and his family to endure Kaleb’s death is the same grace anyone struggling with any trial needs, he said.
“I can’t imagine going through [another’s] circumstance because I’m not in it,” he said. “I need to cling to His grace for my circumstance.”
To help others in the grieving process, Reed founded the Hopeful Sufferers Weekend, a time for those who are grieving the loss of a child to come together in community. He is both facilitator and participant in the event.
Christians need to be allowed to grieve, Reed said.
“Too many people either have this mentality or are counseled in the mentality that to be a Christian means you need to soldier on and tuck away emotions,” he said.
Following a death, it’s not uncommon to hear assurances that a loved one is now “with the Lord.” While that may be true, death still leaves a hole, he said. We aren’t supposed to be comfortable with death, he said. Death is the enemy.
Tips for coping
For those grieving, Reed offers these tips:
- Allow yourself to talk about your child or your situation; don’t act as if the loss doesn’t exist.
- Tears and sadness are expected. It’s also OK to laugh and enjoy the holidays. There is a lot to be thankful for, such as memories to be celebrated with family and friends.
- Embrace whatever mood you are in that day.
- It’s OK to either celebrate old traditions or make new ones. Do what makes the most sense to you. Neither option is inherently wrong.
For family members, friends and churches who want to help the grieving, he offers these tips:
- Be there and listen. Don’t “fill the air” with self-help tips.
- Let the person know you are there for her.
- Find ways to meet practical needs. Ask if the one grieving wants privacy or help.
- Resist the temptation to offer answers. Give more hugs than answers.
To learn more about the lessons Reed learned through his journey after the loss of his son, read “Uncommon Trust: Learning to Trust God When Life Doesn’t Make Sense” which can be found at Amazon and other booksellers. For other resources, including how to sign up for the next Hopeful Sufferers Weekend, click here.
Resources for those facing grief during the holidays
The articles below are from the TAB Media archives and offer help for those who are grieving.