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When Grief is the Grinch…

When Grief is the Grinch…

It’s been three weeks since we bought the tree and set-up the lights. Since then, we’ve had hot cocoa, made salt dough ornaments, visited the  Nativity Ballet, enjoyed the extended family’s Christmas party and attended a Christmas breakfast program at the Church. We’ve opened a few presents, donated to the poor and watched more Christmas movies than I can count. I’ve sang the songs, snapped the pictures, and basically gone through all the motions of this joyous holiday season.

We’re less than 72 hours away from the big day and I can’t help but wonder…

…When, exactly, is it going to start to feel like Christmas?

I’ve gone through the motions and bought all the basics. I’ve shopped and decorated, planned and partied, gifted and given. I’ve done everything required. In short, I’ve done everything that has always made Christmas, well, Christmas.

But I haven’t enjoyed it, not really.

It’s like I’ve been watching the whole Christmas season – the whole year, really – from a distance. As though I’m not living it, but watching someone else live it. Like a really bad movie, it’s all action and no heart.

Grief is the worst kind of Grinch. It’s not ugly and obvious and green… but it sneaks into the heart and eats away happiness and builds up walls and rejects all that Christ and Christmas have to offer.

This has been, without a doubt, the single most grief-ridden year of my life. I began the year with a sense of impending doom, knowing that I would soon welcome our final child into our family and thereby end the most beloved chapter of my life. I thought that was more heartache than I could bear, but I had no idea just how many endings I would experience this year. Although I seem to have survived intact, I know that deep down I haven’t even begun to process the accumulated grief of all these difficult experiences.

And though I’ve managed to dodge and avoid those emotions for most of the year, nothing makes them more obvious than the void of Christmas joy and spirit in my soul. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t reach it. I can’t feel it. I can’t force it. In many ways, I am still bound by bitterness, un-forgiveness and the unending grief for all I’ve lost. I am still so hurt and so angry, so bitter and sad and just plain upset. Ultimately, my heart is so full of grief that there just isn’t room left for the goodness of Christmas.

My heart is just too full of sorrow to make room for my Savior.

But this isn’t the first time that someone said there wasn’t room for Him.

That first Christmas night in Bethlehem was marked by rejection, pain and grief. Under the oppression of Rome, the entire Jewish nation toiled and suffered. The decree of taxation was just one more burden these people were asked to bear. It was, however, an exceptional burden for one young woman who would soon deliver her firstborn son.

I can picture Mary riding uncomfortably for hours, journeying to Joseph’s city to be taxed. She left behind her home, where she could’ve perhaps given birth in relative comfort and peace. As she rode along, wincing with the constant bumping and bouncing of the donkey, she undoubtedly worried about what they would do once they arrived. She must’ve craved a comfortable place to rest.

I can see her shifting uncomfortably atop the donkey and trying to hide her tears as Joseph plead with the innkeeper to let them in. The innkeeper, already so busy with planning and serving and doing, was already frazzled and perhaps unaware of what he was doing. He had a business to run, a family to care for, customers to tend to. Scripture doesn’t give us much detail, but perhaps there was in his life some hidden grief that prevented him from finding time or room for these people in his inn or in his heart.

The tears must’ve flowed when Mary’s beloved husband led her to the stable and tried to make her comfortable among the animals and filth. Surely she grieved, reflecting on what might’ve been and wondering if she had utterly failed God by bringing his Son into the world in such a lowly place. A stable, she surely mourned, was no place for a King. As labor began, I imagine her crying, at least in her mind, This isn’t what I had planned! This isn’t how it was supposed to be! This is more than I can take! I can’t do this. After everything else I have been through, God, WHY must I also endure this?

And yet, God was there. It was exactly has He had planned it, exactly as it was supposed to be. And He walked right alongside Mary, through that troubling challenge and onto the next and the next.

Christ came to a world that had no room for him, and yet had a desperate need for him. From the lowliest stable to the mightiest mansion, Christ came to heal all those who would hearken unto Him. That is the ultimate message of the Christmas season.

And that is what I almost completely missed.

In these busy days there are many who have time for golf, time for shopping, time for work, time for play—but no time for Christ. Lovely homes dot the land and provide rooms for eating, rooms for sleeping, playrooms, sewing rooms, television rooms, but no room for Christ.

Do we get a pang of conscience as we recall his own words: “The foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20.) Or do we flush with embarrassment when we remember, “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7.) No room. No room. No room. Ever has it been.”

-Thomas S. Monson

But in my effort to avoid my own grief, I have perpetually kept myself distracted with projects and tasks and to-do lists. I thought if I kept myself too busy to think about these painful things, I would be too busy to hurt. It worked pretty well all year long, until now. Until the season when we’re supposed to slow down, rejoice and enjoy our families. Until I realized that I was still too full of grief to enjoy the goodness. Until I realized I was still so focused on avoiding my hurt that I couldn’t focus on embracing my Healer.

I didn’t want to let my sadness affect myself or others during this busy Christmas season, when we all focus on fun and friends and family and giving and getting and going. I didn’t want to be the raincloud, dripping melancholy and sadness over everyone’s joyous holiday. I didn’t want to be a Christmas-ruiner. A Grinch.

But I suspect that this bitter battle with grief and sadness has brought me closer to Christ and the gifts that Christmas is truly about.

It’s not about family and friends smiling and having fun together. It’s about so much more than that.

Christmas is about Christ, the Master Healer. It is about celebrating the love and forgiveness and healing that He offers each one of us. It’s about celebrating the new beginning of His birth, the promise of His ministry and the hope He brought to a grieving world.

“He who was burdened with sorrow and acquainted with grief speaks to every troubled heart and bestows the gift of peace: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”… His gift is bestowed individually: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him.”

The passport to peace is the practice of prayer. The feelings of the heart, humbly expressed rather than a mere recitation of words, provide the peace we seek.

-Thomas S. Monson

When I recognize His role as Healer and Heart-Mender, I am empowered to let go of my own heartache and pain.

I’ve finally realized that I don’t need to be okay.

Being okay is not my job.

Making ourselves okay is not something we’re even capable of. If it was, we wouldn’t need Christ to heal and comfort us.

My job is opening the door. That’s all. I just have to open the door.

All I have to do is let Him in.

I can do that much.

And now, I think I’m finally ready to face Christmas... heartache and all.

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