The Unwanted Visitor : Grief and the Holidays

The Unwanted Visitor-

I asked Laine the other day, “Laine, do you like that we have so many visitors at our house all the time?” Without hesitation she said, “Well yes, duh, we are starting a church in a gym, we need visitors.” I just smiled and nodded at my 5 year old daughter going on 30. I may not be much of a church planter, but she is for sure.

The holidays lend themselves to all kinds of visitors and the older I get the more I realize most of these visitors are welcome, but some are not. Some visitors bring us joy and happiness and others barge in with the goal of seeing us wrecked. We don't have neutral feelings about these visitors, we don’t want them near our homes, our children, or our friends. They are truly unwanted visitors. I'm convinced that the older we get the more unwanted visitors we receive around the holidays. 

No, I’m not talking about your crazy aunt, or your weird neighbor that owns 150 cats, or even that cousin that just got out of prison. The unwanted visitor I’m referring to doesn’t have a body, yet we feel his darkened presence in our midst. He doesn’t have a heart, yet we feel as if he wants nothing less than to take ours from our chest. He doesn’t have a brain, but he floods ours with painful memories of the past, and present. He doesn’t have a voice, but he screams loudly at us wanting to watch us curl into despair. He is not human, but he does a great job reminding us that we are. The unwanted guest that so often comes to our homes during the holidays is grief. 

 The first time I remember this unwanted grief showing up at my house was fall of 2007. My dad was “old” but he had always been such an active individual. As I watched him “slow down” that year I remember thinking “He is not going to be here forever...” The next year, after a short battle with cancer, he moved on from this world. The following Christmas of 2008, the unwanted visitor “grief” showed up. He didn’t stop then. For the last 9 years he has continually shown up around the holidays to barge into my house to remind me he is still around. I have a strong suspicion you know this visitor too. Maybe your unwanted visitor has come for different reasons, but nevertheless he still comes, and his favorite time of the year is Christmas. 

The Needed Visitor- 

We do our best to keep this visitor out, we really do. We tell him he is not wanted in a variety of ways. We focus on all the other visitors hoping he will leave. Or we stand up to him and tell him he has no power over us. But down deep, we know that he does, we know that we are no match for him. So we work around him. We put lights on our house, we decorate Christmas cookies, and consume too much chocolate. All the while he stands there, watching our every move. Yet, even as he glares intently into our souls, we feel as if there could be hope for us. Could it be true?

I recently have been re-reading the Book of Exodus. It’s the second book in the Bible, written by  Moses. Chapter 2 really struck me. The book opens with God’s people in away from their home land and slaves, under the control of a foreign king. The situation is dire to say the least. And then we hear words that turn around their situation in verses 24-25. “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” Exodus 2:24-25

“God saw the people... and God knew.” The struggles and pain of his people was plain to him. He saw it, and yet, he didn’t leave them to figure it out, but he acted. He didn’t act shooting from the hip, but in step with his plan all along. He knew it was time to act on their behalf. He acted by sending Moses to them. Through Moses, The Needed Visitor, He displayed his power and might, and liberated them from their distress. 

When the unwanted visitor comes into our home, isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want someone to come in and throw him out? Someone to stand up for us? Of course we do. We try to throw him out ourselves and for a time this works, but it also seems he is back before he even fully leaves. And it feels like he is never going to leave, and maybe only take vacations once in awhile.

The Hopeful Visitor- 

Whether your are a religious person or not, we all deal with grief around the holidays. Whether it be from the loss of a loved one, or a current finical crisis, or even a present sickness that has taken us or a loved one. And all of us fail at fully removing this unwanted visitor from our presence. From the Christian perspective, grief is a reminder that something is not right in the world, yet someone has come to make things as they ought to be. 

It’s a curious thing to me that Christmas brings this unwanted visitor more than other times of the year. Christmas is the story of how God saw the problems in our world, seeing all our distress, and knowing something had to be done once and for all. God comes to set things as they ought to be. He doesn’t send a representative, he sends himself. In Christ Jesus, God makes himself flesh and comes among his people to bring healing. 

Yet, in a dramatic turn of events, the visitor the world longed for became an unwelcomed visitor. The one who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and loved the orphan was cast outside of the city to die. He submitted to this willingly because he knew that this was the way to bring hope to his people. 

Jesus is making this world the world it should be. And the more than we cling to him, and trust him, the less we desire to believe the lies of the unwanted visitor. Grief is always telling us how great our lives would be if this person was still here, or if our health was better, or our finances were greater. But Jesus’ message is much greater. Jesus' message is, “I know your hurt, I have felt your pain, and I have made away for all those things to be undone, and until they are I will be with you. I have loved you since before these things have happened and I will continue to love you after them.”  

The holidays are full of cheer, laugher, and love. Yet at the same time for most of us they are also filled with incredible amounts of grief and sadness. However, Christ has provided a way to have hope in the midst of that sadness. I will aways miss my dad, and the unwanted visitor of grief will continue to come and oppresses me. Yet in Christ you and I have the hope that one day, all the things will be as they ought to be. Grief will be wiped from existence completely, never to visit anyone anymore. 

-Nathan