WHY THE CHURCH NEEDS TO WELCOME BOTH JOY AND PAIN FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Church ministry leaders, check out these ideas to extend sensitivity and extra care to those experiencing grief, loss, and loneliness during the holidays.
Without realizing it, our holiday messages of Hope & Joy can push hurting people away. Here are 12 Ideas to include and encourage those who aren’t so happy this year. A little extra sensitivity and a few intentional elements can make a difference.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS MEET HOLIDAY DEPRESSION
Our American society strives to celebrate Christmas as the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. But for most, the Hallmark Movie plot is fantasy, not reality.
When the Christian Church starts singing Christmas carols and hanging the greens, we need to remember the majority of worshipers aren’t living the dream, so to speak.
- Many elderly live alone and experience social isolation
- Way too many families are broken, with troubled relationships, abuse, or neglect
- Financial hardship is becoming the norm instead of the exception
But for some reason, when Christmas rolls in, we are often pulled to denial. Instead of showing light as it gives hope to darkness, many want to deny that darkness exists at all.
People have told me you’re not supposed to be sad at Christmas.
I believe Happy & Sad co-exist. Joy & Pain. Laughter & Sorrow.
In fact, light is seen the brightest only in the darkest of places.
HOW THE CHURCH MAKES HOLIDAY PAIN WORSE
At the very least, the Christian Church needs to be more sensitive during the holidays.
In our well-meaning attempts to focus on the joy of the Savior, we sometimes put on a happy front and fail to acknowledge life’s tough stuff.
That’s not authentic.
And it’s not healthy.
- We talk about family gatherings in front of the family-less
- Sing only of joy when people are in pain
- We offer giving opportunities (instead of service opportunities) to the financially strained
LET’S NOT TRY TO HIDE THE REASON CHRIST CAME
Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.”
A light shining through darkness is a light that can’t be denied.
Neither can the darkness be denied.
So instead of turning Christmas into plastic smiles that deny the existence of anything less than cheery, let’s embrace the fullness of God’s message. That He walks with us through it all. Teaching. Loving. Guiding. Strengthening. Providing.
Jesus said in John 16, “… in this world you will have trouble, but I have overcome the world.”
If we don’t make space at Christmas time for the expression of sadness, loss and loneliness, we are only living in the shadow of the true light God has for us.
12 IDEAS FOR SENSITIVITY AND OUTREACH TO THOSE HURTING DURING THANKSGIVING, ADVENT, AND CHRISTMAS
Great for Worship Leaders, Youth Groups, Women’s Ministry, and more!
I have a friend who lost a child at a young age, and then a husband, and then a sister. She shared with me that even now, decades later, when she hears the first holiday carol in the stores it feels like someome hit right in the gut.
We cannot know the loss of those around us, and we cannot avoid every pain, but the church unintentionally alienates hurting people through simple things like word choice and larger things like programming decisions.
A few intentional steps during the holidays can make a big difference in our communities.
1) Acknowledge loneliness, grief, and loss during worship or at events
Don’t shy away from praying for comfort, healing, and guidance during the happy holidays. Include intentional moments of silence. Keep in mind those with no families or families far away. Those experiencing pain and loss: divorce, death, fertility struggles, financial hardship, addiction, relational discord, and illness.
2) Celebrate the season of Advent (even if you’re not Catholic!)
Advent is a season of waiting. It’s all about the anticipation of Christ. Celebrating Advent adds so much depth and opportunity for teaching about the context of Christ’s coming. It acknowledges the darkness that needs the light of a Savior.
3) Teach the fullness of the Christmas story, not just the baby in the manger
The story of Christmas begins with creation and doesn’t end with the child in the manger. Christmas is not a stand alone event in God’s story. The Christmas story is hope for the hopeless. Trust for the scared. Acceptance for the unloved. Redemption for the discarded. Guidance for the lost.
4) Change your verbiage and teach your leaders to be sensitive to the hurting
Don’t say “we know everyone’s excited for Thanksgiving” or “we know you all want to get to the presents under your tree” or “go enjoy Christmas with your family.” Please remember, in your midst there are people who are alone during the holidays. People who have no money for presents. Have no tree. Are on the verge of divorce. Are struggling with infertility. Who haven’t yet shared their diagnosis.
5) Set up a Holiday Prayer Tree or a Wailing Wall
Put a special Christmas Tree in your welcome area. (One year, we created a Wailing Wall.) Next to the tree place a small table with pen, paper, and mini-clothes pins. Encourage worshipers to write a prayer request and hang it on the tree.
6) Create a Memory Wall to honor those who are gone
Invite worshipers to write a memory or even hang a photograph of someone they want to remember or thank God for during this season. It’s a beautiful reminder to be thankful and that God has been at work in our lives, past and present. Even if they are gone or far away, they are part of our celebration.
7) Host a Give-Away Baking Night
While most people appreciate home-baked goods, many people don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to make special treats anymore. Many elderly or single moms would be floored by a gift of homemade Christmas Cookies. Baking with friends makes it a fun event, builds fellowship and shares the joy.
8) Pair up Families with the Family-less
Encourage those who are in town for the holidays to open their home to an extra guest or two for a holiday meal. For some people, this can be a beautiful extension of the church family. Whether they are alone or simply unable to travel to see family and friends.
9) Create a Holiday Care Team to Reach Out with Phone Calls
Even when invited, many who live alone or are hurting don’t feel comfortable joining another family’s gathering. However, a phone call or even a text can let someone know they are not forgotten. Creating a Holiday Care Team is a great way to extend thoughtfulness with something as simple as a phone call.
10) Host a Thanksgiving Feast or Christmas Dinner
Have a special dinner at church (or someone’s home) for anyone who has no plans. It doesn’t need to fall on the actual date. Depending on your church demographics, this may become a special tradition for the bachelors in the church. Or a family hosting a feast for young adults who are far from home. Or the youth group providing a meal for widows or single moms.
11) Have Fun with the 12 Days of Christmas Gift Drop-Off
Choose a few households to gift with 12 days of anonymous presents left on their doorsteps! This is a fun way to spread some joy. Look it up online and you will find many versions. (Youth groups have fun with the covert drop-offs!)
12) Host a Blue Christmas Service
Also called the Service of the Longest Night, this worship service is a focused time of acknowledging loss while embracing the hope of the promise. It typically takes place on the Winter Solstice, the evening of the longest night of the year.
EMBRACE BOTH HAPPY AND SAD FOR REAL CHURCH COMMUNITY & GROWING DISCIPLESHIP
So, while the rest of our modern culture is drinking wine with Hallmark Movies and masking broken relationships with holiday ham, let’s do something counter-culture.
As God’s church, let’s lead our communities to embrace real life, both the happy and the sad, and walk through it all with Christ leading the way.
His light shining in the darkness.
Let’s welcome the sad, the disappointed, and the lonely in the middle of a season they may dread.
- Meet real physical, emotional, and spritural needs
- Deepen relationships within your church family and the community
- Grow in true discipleship as we invite God into our pain
If you have other ideas for reaching out during the holidays, would you share them in the comments below? I’d love to hear!