Grief versus Thanksgiving
By Barbara Henderson
Here we are approaching Thanksgiving, so you may wonder why I am writing about grief. It is because grief seems to dominate the Thanksgiving and Christmas season for many people. People spend times that are supposed to be filled with joy ‘grieving over joys departed’.
( Line from ‘Tell it to Jesus’ http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/t/e/tellitto.htm I cannot recommend this song highly enough. It proclaims a real solution to a real problem. Tell it to Jesus – as loudly and as long as it takes.)
Spending times set aside as times of joy grieving is a recipe for disaster. Everyone needs a time that they set aside their grief and focus on the daily benefits that God is giving them continually, as well as specific blessings and gifts that are given at different times. Salvation is a gift that is given once, but it has daily benefits. It is like a child born into a practicing Christian family. It was a blessing to the child to be born into that family. It is a continual blessing to the child to be raised in a Christian environment by Christian parents.
In Nehemiah 8 we are told of the people of Israel who had returned to Jerusalem and were listening as the word of God was read to them. They understood the word of God and the law. The people wept when they understood how they had failed God. Then Nehemiah and Ezra and all the Levites that taught the people said,
‘This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.
Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our LORD: neither be sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:8-10)
The people were sorry for their sins. But, it was a holy day, and they were told not to mourn or weep. They were instructed to have a good day themselves, and send good things to those who had nothing. They were given the formula to do this. They were to rely on the Lord. The joy of the Lord was their strength.
Now, here we are facing a holiday season that should be filled with Joy in our salvation, eternal security, eternal destiny, eternal companion, eternal guide, and all the good things that God has promised to us. No earthly grief or burden can nullify these blessings. By God’s strength we can rejoice in our present circumstances.
Now, I do not want to make light of any grief that anyone might be going through today. It is real, and it hurts to the point of mental anguish. When dealing with grief or loss, whether it be the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or just the loss of a treasured possession or position in life, we need to see and consider the example of Job. ‘In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.’ Job 1:22
When dealing with grief, people often waste time blaming God and being angry at Him. This separates them from the balm of healing that only God can give. If you were sick you would go the physician who could help you and heal you. You would not blame the physician that you were sick in the first place. That is what happens with Christians who do not take their grief to the Lord. They begin to blame God Himself for letting grief come to them in the first place. This separates them from the healing power of God.
Second, we need to understand that there is indeed a time to mourn. Ecclesiastes 3 says,
1. ‘To every thing there is a season, and time to every purpose under the heaven:
2. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and time to dance;
We definitely are allowed a time to mourn and grieve.
God does not expect us to set aside our grief and mourning on our own.
Psalm 147:3 says, ‘He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.
God wants us to take our grief to Him so He can heal our broken hearts and bind up our wounds.
So, according to the Bible, we have a time to weep, and a time to mourn. But that season is not eternal. Praise God, the season of mourning and weeping is not eternal. That season will turn, just as summer turns to fall and fall to winter and winter to spring.
My personal experience is that mourning and weeping over a loss tends to come and go a little. The season of initial grief and loss is always the worst. Then it comes again, but not quite as bad, and so on. When grief overwhelms you, just through it, but don’t let it become your way of life. After my sister died I had a few ‘melt downs’ at the oddest times. Just a few minutes before she died I was talking to her on the phone about the coming Easter weekend, and what I was going to get at that the grocery store before going to mom’s house. Less than an hour later we got the call that she had died. I suppose it was because we had been talking about me going to the grocery store, but after she died I was pretty prone to have an overwhelming sense of loss in the grocery store. That resulted in a bucket full of tears, and me just leaving the store without getting through the check out line. Now, I know that is sort of nutty, but that is what happened. Now, almost fifteen years later, I can go the grocery store anytime, and only cry at how expensive things are.
If you have a recent or long past sorrow, I think the time to consider it carefully is now, before we actually get to the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. If you still have tears, cry them. If you feel like your heart needs to mourn, then go ahead. But, at the same time, begin to ask God to help you set aside your sorrow, trouble, grief, uncertainties, and any other distraction so you can go through to a time of thanksgiving and joy because of God’s eternal goodness. You need that time as much as you need a time to grieve. You need the time to laugh and dance as much as you need the time of grief.
We have heard about the stages of grief. I think they are real; but, going through grief and turmoil does not give them the right to control how you live the rest of your life. God has clearly stated that while the elements of sorrow and grief have a time in your life, so do the times of laughing and dancing. (I think dancing is a time of praising the Lord joyfully)
Anyway, the first stage of preparing for the holiday season ahead (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day) is to go over any grief you have sitting in your heart. If it takes tears to let the grief go, then cry. But make it clear to your heart that the time of grief will give way to a time of joy and thanksgiving. The joy of the Lord and His blessings will enable you to be joyful and thankful in trying circumstances.
I want to put a disclaimer here. Three years ago this month my dear preacher friend Evan New died unexpectedly of a heart attack. That left his family and friends in the first stages of grief. Of course they were not able to have what is traditionally considered a joyful holiday season. I can tell you that in the middle of an ocean of tears they were thankful that Evan was in heaven. That was obviously the consuming thought of their holiday season that year. Without the joy of the gift of God’s salvation, they might have all lost their minds. Now, this will be the fourth Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day without him. Their lives have gone on. Of course they still miss him, but grief and loss are not the controlling force in their entire lives. They don’t wait for the holiday season to approach so they can mourn over his death.
The point is that if the Lord allows a great grief to come to you during the holiday season, then it is time for you to mourn! However, that is only in the beginning. As time goes by, you do not want to turn seasons of rejoicing into perpetual seasons of grieving.
Now, a few weeks before our holiday season begins, is a good time to pour out your grief and sorrow to the Lord. Ask Him to comfort you, bear your sorrow, and strengthen you with His joy that you would have the strength to enjoy the blessings of God.
A thought on a good way to set aside your grief in favor of joy and thanksgiving is given to us in Nehemiah in a verse already quoted in this article. The people were told to send portions to those for whom nothing had been prepared. Consider those who have are in need of food as well as those who are need of hearing the Gospel. Food for the hungry in your churches food baskets and Bibles for the lost through an organization like the Gideon’s is a good way to help yourself.
In Nehemiah we are to eat the fat and drink the sweet. When we hear these words we think of the good things we eat and drink at festive dinners. The word of God is also what we should think of. Just as the meat is most tender by the fat on a big t-bone steak, the fat of God’s word is where we read of His tender love for us and find strength to go forward in rejoicing. Drinking the sweet is more than a tall glass of ice tea. It is also drinking in the good things of God that are explained to us in the Bible. N short, ‘eat’ the words in the Bible. In preparing for the coming holiday season, it is good to begin a Bible study on any subject that interests you, or any specific Bible Book that you like to read. You will find compassion for your sorrow. You will find healing for the scars left by your loss, whatever it may be. You will find strength to go forward with joy.
I do have one more thing to say. Holidays are not magical times. They are just days that have a different routine. Do not expect something paranormal to happen that transforms the next year into some supernatural fantasy world where trouble and sorrow do not come. Set a realistic expectation on exactly what is going to happen this holiday season. People are still going to be people with a sin nature. The grumpy person will likely still be grumpy. The martyr in the family will still be the martyr. The bossy controlling person will still be trying to micromanage everything. But, YOU can be different. You can follow the example of the King David the Psalmist in Psalm 71:16 when he says, ‘I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD: I will make mention of they righteousness, even of thine only.’
Honestly, times of rejoicing and thankfulness are gifts God gives to Christians that resemble furloughs from the burdens and cares of life that drag them down to sorrow and grief. It is silly not to take advantage of such wonderful gifts. Most of all, God deserves our undivided attention for seasons of rejoicing. And, something to keep in mind is that thanksgiving often precedes additional blessings.
Now, watch for my article next week on the Pilgrims, and what the grief they had to set aside before they could properly thank God for His goodness to them.