Guest Blogger: Jim Flamming

Jim Flamming was pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church for 23 years.  It was during his tenure that the television ministry began, and soon the church and its gifted preacher were known throughout the region.  Since his retirement, Dr. Flamming has focused on three things: teaching, praying, and writing.  He is currently serving as a professor of preaching at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, as Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist Church (and leader of our Empowering Prayer Team), and recently published a book called Healing the Heartbreak of Grief.

Jim Flamming has been a regular source of encouragement to me, and along the way he has become a good friend.  I asked him if he would consider sharing some thoughts about dealing with grief during the holiday season, and he gladly agreed.  I hope you will learn from what he has written and forward it to your friends and relatives whose hearts are heavy at Christmas.

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The Invisible Christmas Basket of Grief
by Dr. Peter James Flamming

Gifts come in many forms at Christmas. I’ve noticed lots of baskets appear during this season – baskets with flowers, with food, with beautifully wrapped gifts to put under the tree. There is another basket, the invisible basket of grief. One who has always before joined in the celebration is absent. For many, Christmas is a mixed batch of memories, joy, and grief.

Those who have never been there may not understand the silent inner pain of loss. There is a “neveragainness” about grief – never again to be with that person around the tree, or to see the joy of their face when a gift has been opened, or the laughter at the Christmas dinner. Absent is the voice that blessed the food at the dinner table, or the smile when the Christmas story was read, or the fun of getting the tree put up and decorated. It is the “neveragainness” of grief.

Does anything help us with our grief at Christmas? I think so. These three have helped me and you may find them helpful as well:

First, try replacing the sharp edges of grief with the soft memories of gratitude. While what has been can never return, there are priceless memories that no one can take from you. They are treasures. Claim them. Remember them. Give thanks to God for them. No one else on the face of the earth has those memories. Embrace them as only you can. 

Second, when the sharp pains of loss overwhelm you, spend a little quiet time turning the trauma into a prayerful tribute. The loss you feel is a tribute to the one you have lost, and to the relationship you enjoyed. It is a tribute to the memories that dwell within you and are not erased. It is a quiet even spiritual hug for the love you had and still have for the person you so cherished. In our troubled world, the relationship you shared needs to be treasured and saluted. When your head is bowed in grief, lift up your head with tears in your eyes, and salute the years that you had together.

Third, do something. There is healing in tasking. In early grief the rule is, “just do the next thing.” Do what? Whatever needs doing. Pay bills, wash the dishes, make the bed, make the phone call. In later months and years add a new dimension, particularly appropriate at Christmas time. Do something for someone else. It is a small shadow of what our Lord did for us at Christmas, but it has the same love of Christ motivating it.

Finally, Christmas is not only for the joyful. Christmas is for healing the broken hearted. As we gather around the manger of our Lord, we can blend the pain that we feel with the healing we embrace. Christmas has many baskets, including grief, but none is so powerful as the basket that includes the manger, the Christ, and the hope that He brings.

7 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Jim Flamming

  1. I read this with those “tears of gratitude” of which you speak, slipping down my cheeks … on Mother’s Day this year my last remaining sibling and dear younger brother True (Truett Allen) left us for his next journey; I remember Johnny Adams and him playing tag in the FBC parking lot while waiting for parents to finish whatever SS task they were doing! Both of us were active in First Baptist youth things from 1943 onward until we grew into “Forum” status. My first husband, Bill Doub, and I met at FBC during Vesper Club days; we were married in the Chapel (now our library), and he was buried in May of 1977 from the current Chapel, as were both my parents who taught a variety of Bible Study groups here; my late husband, Matt, and I enjoyed our FBC friends although we shared more in UR Chaplaincy ministries together. These loved ones are, of course, real and painful losses, but more than that they have been great blessings in my life, and my FBC church family has been a part of my extended family all these years. At 81, I (like everyone else) have no idea how many days I have, but I know that each one is a blessing and one in which God’s love for us can be shared as we live, sharing that love with all whom we encounter. With Christmas love to all …

  2. Christmas!! What other word brings to mind so many different toughts. Memories of Christmases through the years bring smiles as we recall those special “things” we wished for and received, like my first “cowboy suit…a “Hoot Gibson” model in the box by the mantle; that first two wheel bycycle, an orange Elgin from Sears, Roebuck..and Santa. Taking part ifn the Church’s Christmas Pageant. And those joys of family celebrating the birth of the Christ Child together; the true and foremost reason that brings Joy to the World!

  3. This year I have lost 3 good friends to that horrible disease, cancer. Each of them women my age that left children who adored them. I cannot imagine how they are feeling this holiday season, I only know I am sickened by their loss.

    I pray for these children and spouses that they can hold themselves together and move forward to 2011. I pray for each of them every day. They all hold a special place in my heart, as did their mothers. Thank you Dr Flamming for the direction and steps for grief, I can use it as well.

  4. What a thoughtful and timely blog! Many of us experience a mixture of feelings during this season, certainly one of joy but also a slight underlying depression due to the absence of loved ones. In my case my father was buried on Christmas eve following a brief, unexpected illness. Years later one of my younger brothers was buried on Thanksgiving eve. Though we do not consciously review all of this, it is there. Dr. Flammings’s comments are comforting and his suggestions practical and helpful. Thank you, Dr. Flamming and thank you, Jim.

  5. Dr. Flamming was my Pastor for most of those 23 years. I am so glad that he is still active and pray for God’s richest blessings upon him, Mrs. Flamming and their family.

    Please pray for God’s peace and blessing for Dr. David J. Wood, Pastor of Hebron Presbyterian Church in Goochland County and his family. His father, Richard J. Wood, recently went on to be with the Lord.

  6. Thank you for sharing this from Dr. Flamming. I lost my father three years ago this week. This has really spoken to the grief and emptiness I continue to feel particularly around the holidays.

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