By Barbara Milligan
For some of us, the holiday season is painful. We’ve lost someone dear to us. We’ve suffered from a broken relationship. We’ve lost financial stability or a cherished dream. Or we’ve experienced some other trauma, crisis, or deep disappointment that makes this season difficult. Whatever it is, we might try to put on a happy face, hoping the feelings will follow. Or we might avoid social interaction so we don’t risk spoiling someone’s party.
I lost my husband last year, one week before Thanksgiving. Although he had been ill for many years and his death was no surprise, I was not prepared for the depth of the pain I felt. I cried nearly every night. And still do. How could such a loving, sensitive, creative person be gone from this world? It didn’t make sense. And no amount of focusing on how he’s free from his suffering and is enjoying God’s presence and yes, I believe I’ll see him again, took away my longing for his physical presence right now, my missing hearing his voice right now.
I especially dreaded experiencing the holidays without my soulmate. Strangely, alongside that dread I also sensed a glimmer of hope: Advent, the season of “God with us.” I looked forward to it, not because it might cheer me up, but because I understood Advent as an invitation to come to God with all our feelings, in all their rawness. Uncensored. Unjudged. And with God’s full attention and compassion.
I believe that Psalm 34:18 is true: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” So, I’ve been trying to welcome my unwanted feelings. I’m not good at this. It’s sometimes hard work and I’d rather distract myself. But God is helping me to face each feeling that arises and to welcome it.
I also pray for an open spirit to receive gifts of God’s presence with me. And soon I start recognizing those gifts. I tend to receive peace, comfort, and sometimes even joy right alongside the grief. God’s gift might be someone’s kind word or an offer of help, or it might be something personal that only God could do.
Among my favorite things about this season is the return of migratory ducks to my community. One recent morning when I was feeling especially sad, I again asked God to open my spirit to receive good gifts. When I opened my eyes, I noticed several ducks swimming in a nearby lagoon. They didn’t appear to be our usual coots or mallards, so I looked at them through my field glasses. How surprised and grateful I was to realize I was receiving a gift from God—my first sighting of migratory ducks this season. And they were a breed I had never noticed before.
Coincidence? I don’t think so. Instead, I believe God was saying to me, I hear you. I see you. And I am with you in all your feelings.
May you receive many good gifts from God during this Advent season. May you experience “God with us” in all your feelings.