Site icon Liz Mannegren

When the Holidays Aren’t So Merry or Bright

This time last year I was waiting on a miscarriage.

Nine weeks pregnant, I arrived at the ultrasound with a baby bean in my belly and a heart full of anticipation. And then, with a few fated words, the dreams that I had carried so close to my heart began to crumble once more.

“Maybe you’re not as far along as you thought…”

The ultrasound technician quietly snuck out to consult a doctor and I was left alone. Music floated softly through the room, and lyrics to the song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” assaulted my ears and ground against my wounded heart. Wrapped in a cheap, blue gown, I listened and I wept. It felt far from wonderful.

The doctor’s results were inconclusive and I was told to wait it out. For two weeks, I wrapped gifts and hung lights and attended holiday parties. With anxiety and secrets tucked behind an ugly Christmas sweater and a holiday smile, I waited to see if the baby would grow.

But mostly, I just waited to miscarry.

And then, surrounded by an emergency-room decked out in tinsel and paramedics in Santa hats, the wait came to an abrupt end. The world around us was celebrating the birth of a baby, and we were simultaneously mourning the death of one.

The holidays aren’t always easy for those who grieve. With mittened hands and frost-covered boots, we roll mounds of snow into men with carrot noses and hunt for perfectly-sized evergreens. Surrounded by twinkling lights, we sip hot chocolate and eggnog, and let ourselves watch ridiculously-cheesy holiday movies. And all the while we are reminded of those who aren’t there with us.

We are reminded of the holiday jammies we left hanging on a rack in the store – never to be filled by little feet on Christmas morning.

We are reminded of the warmth of a hand that we will never again hold; and remember the voice that once mingled with ours as we belted out-of-tune carols and songs about sleigh bells.

We are reminded of all the things that could have been, and all the things that never will.

So to those who are grieving this holiday season, I see your tears.

Amidst the glimmer and the sparkle of December, I see the pain that no amount of tinsel or giftwrap can cover up. I see the hurt that comes with a month of celebration and joy; and the season of waiting that bears down upon your soul so painfully.

Last year, as I waited for my body to release its hold on another precious child, the doctor told me not to get my hopes up.

To wait without hope.

But that’s the exact opposite of what this season calls for.

We enter into this season of advent with expectant hearts. Just as the Israelites waited for a coming King, we too wait for Christmas morning, eager to celebrate the birth of the promised One. We live in this tension of promises fulfilled but not yet complete: the gratefulness of a child born in a stable, and the longing for that King to return once more.

As we prepare our hearts and reflect on that tiny baby in a manger, we wait with the hope of one who knows that this is not how things will end. We long for the day when tears and death will be no more, and when the gaps of separation are threaded closed again.

This season is a time for family and togetherness, and it’s difficult when you feel as if you’re missing out on a part of that. But it is also a season to simply come and kneel before the manger, worshipping the child who came to make all things new. The One who came to restore and to heal, to bring peace and comfort.

Grief during the holidays isn’t always a comfortable topic. But God is not a God of the comfortable or the expected — and this is one of the things I so dearly love about Jesus’ birth story. It’s chalk full of unexpected: a virgin pregnancy, angels, sudden trips, and a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid to sleep in a manger. And then, there’s the incredible fact that the very first visitors to the manger were shepherds. Shepherds! It thrills my aching heart to know that God called these lowly, sweat-covered, sheep-smelling, shepherds to be among the very first to kneel before the infant King. All they had to offer as they knelt down on that dusty, hay covered floor was their praise and adoration. No gold, frankincense, or myrrh – just themselves.

So for those grieving this Christmas, know that it’s okay to mourn. We don’t have to have it all together. We don’t have to bring anything to the stable. We are called to worship, just as we are.

Sometimes this means celebrating and worshipping with tears on our faces and hearts full of longing for what is to come. Not every Christmas is going to feel “merry and bright.” But this sense of waiting and longing is still a very important part of advent; and these weary, aching hearts give us unique insight into the heart of the celebrations.

So this Christmas, it’s okay to arrive at the manger carrying our griefs and wounded hearts. In our sorrow, we can lay our souls bare before the Saviour of the world and simply say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.” 


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