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.
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.