Grieving with gratitude at the holidays: a guest post by Brooke Taylor

Photo of Brooke - by Mere KentBrooke Taylor lives in Michigan where she resides with her husband and is enjoying a new season of life as she mothers her now five-month-old daughter. She holds an MA in Educational Ministries from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and serves as an adjunct worship leader and assistant chaplain at a Christian mental health institution. Brooke is also beginning her first year in training as a spiritual director associate. To contact her, send a message through facebook. I sat alone on the couch with a mini-lit Christmas tree bringing some light to my family room, as I ate a microwaved Turkey dinner. This would not be the first time that I would have a quiet night around Christmas. Being single after going through a painful divorce was something I didn’t ever think I could get used to. Add in two feet of slushy snow outside and a cloud-filled day, and I knew that my “seasonal” depression was going to kick in. I had come to dread the holiday season because of the many bad family memories that were associated with it. I really missed someone to share the joys of mistletoe. How was I going to deal with disappointment around the holiday season in the face of all the merry expectations? Now, several years later, I can look back and see the disciplines I’ve developed to keep the season bright.

I meet regularly with a spiritual director. Often I am asked what that means. My director does not tell me what to do—she describes herself as a follower of Christ who gently walks alongside me in my spiritual journey. As I heard it said from a director recently, “I will help you stand there and help you know directions, but I will not give you direction on where to go.” The Holy Spirit’s job is to direct us and the director is there to aid us—to help us hear where God is at work. I shared my frustrations with my director. She listened and reflected back what she was hearing. I was beginning to see that I was not grieving my losses and they were hurting my communication with God.

Although I often talked about how God was at work in my life, I was struggling to spend time alone with God. It was easy to talk to my director, but hard to speak to God. I stubbornly refused to take the first step and share what was truly on my heart with Him. I was burying my pain to “keep face” with God in a way I thought a good Christian would do. I had not addressed some serious setbacks.

My director helped me see through this rough season in my life. She pointed me to King Solomon, one of the wisest men to live, who wrote that there is a season for everything… “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecc 3:4). I learned that God gives us permission to grieve and even grieves over us at times.

But the question is, do I give myself permission to grieve, and how can I do it?

During a silent retreat (which allowed time for speaking with a spiritual director), I found the space I needed to take my disappointments to Christ. I needed to name my pain, move toward burying my past hurts, and then wait for what was next. I believed that Christ would resurrect new dreams for me. As I took each of my worries to Him, we began to communicate better in our relationship. I realized how much he had done for me. I started to grieve with gratitude – acknowledging my pain openly, but also holding onto hope that God was still at work in my life in good ways.

I like to journal. It is one of those amazingly safe places where I can speak my heart and also be faced with reality. After meeting with my director, I began to focus not just on my grief but on the people and things for which I was thankful. I began to see that Christ was at work in my life in many surprising ways and to rejoice in His goodness.

The holidays are becoming easier for me to face as I seek to remember the spiritual discipline of grieving with gratitude. After eight and a half years of being single, I have married again and been blessed with a new baby girl. God has opened my heart to love—and risk—again. Love always comes with risk in relationship. I know that no matter whatever hardship I may face, God will always be there for me. He is someone I can always trust, and he desires that I be real with my pain. I still face occasional blue days, even with these many blessings. I then try to remember with gratitude God’s many good promises. Isaiah 30:18 says, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion, for the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!” This is a promise that I can be thankful for in any season.

 What emotions threaten to color your holidays this year? What have you discovered about journeying with God through your grief?