For some, holidays are raucous, joyful celebrations with family and friends. For others, the holidays are reminders of something or someone that has been lost. They are neither joyful nor celebratory; instead they are painful and difficult to endure. The stress and anxiety during the months of November and December may cause even the most joyful among us to experience sadness and loneliness.
With the holidays fast approaching, I thought it might be helpful to refresh us on how to best navigate the challenges brought about by the holidays and how to minister to women who are hurting—especially as it relates to loss.
If you or someone you know is grieving the loss of someone you love, may I first say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” The church I attend has a fantastic workshop for those who are grieving; it is called “Rebuild—Finding Life After Loss.” It is my privilege to regularly lead a workshop for this ministry. Here are some tips I’ve gleaned for handling the holidays after loss.
Have a plan. Look ahead at the calendar and identify the specific occasions, days, or moments that will trigger your pain and intensify your grief. Choose ahead of time how best to handle those moments, perhaps by limiting your exposure, setting a boundary, not attending, or attending with a friend by your side who will be tuned in to your cues for help.
Our loss is not the boss of us. Remember, our circumstances do not have the power to ruin our lives without our permission. Rehearse and repeat that to yourself.
Grieve purposefully. Grieve in a way that honors your wiring. Engage in stillness, journaling, prayer, meaningful conversations with a friend, or have a good cry—all for the purpose of taking the edge off your emotions and honoring the depth of your loss.
Develop the art of pre-grieving. Look ahead to what will be the more difficult days and make plans to pre-grieve. Mark the calendar and set aside a day or two before the “difficult day” and let yourself grieve your loss. Remember, grief demands expression. If you avoid giving grief its voice, it will leak out in unexpected ways and at unexpected times.
Perhaps you are not facing loss during this season or helping someone else through it, but you will find yourself around a table or two with friends and relatives you haven’t seen for a long time. For most, this can create anxiety, fear, and stress. If that’s you or someone you know, here are five simple ways to hit the refresh button on your listening skills. Most of these I shared in an article I wrote recently, but I believe they bear repeating.
1. Turn off all technology. The TV, the phones, the tablets, or anything with a screen! It’s hard to be fully present in any conversation with those kinds of distractions. The best gift you can give someone is your full attention.
2. Maintain eye contact. It sounds simple and obvious but really, how many times has someone asked you a question and just as you were answering, they looked away at something or someone else? Listening involves looking. Listen not only to their words but their body language as well. Are they tense, relaxed, exhausted, fearful, or anxious? These are all clues and cues to help you with number three: asking questions.
3. Ask questions. Invite them to go deeper into their story by asking clarifying questions. Not sure where to begin? Instead of starting a question with “How’s your job?” try, “Tell me more about your job.”
4. Practice “active listening.” Regardless of what you hear, suspend judgment and refrain from making critical opinion statements. Resist the urge to turn the conversation to yourself—even if you have a relatable anecdote. Be generous of spirit in the way you listen. Be vulnerable and willing to understand the story behind the words of the other person. Listening without judgment does not mean you have to be in agreement with their statements; it simply means you are willing to let them be heard and respect their humanity.
5. Listen. Just listen. Don’t solve or fix it. Listen to what they are saying and let that be enough. If your follow-up response is, “you need to…,” stop yourself. Instead, respond to what you are hearing and the emotion behind it. Sometimes only two words are needed as a follow up: “I’m sorry.”
The encouragement from Scripture is this, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19, NIV).
That’s how I want to be known! Will you join me in praying this verse through before every family gathering or time with friends this season? And will you join me in praying that God will continue to bind up the brokenhearted and pour out His comfort this season and beyond?
Kaye has a Masters Degree in counseling from Liberty University and is a crisis counselor for Women’s Events through LifeWay Christian Resources. Whether speaking, singing, or listening, Kaye’s passion is to help others find intimacy with Christ and soul transformation through the living pages of His Word. Kaye met and married her husband Chris in Austin, Texas in 1987. They have two daughters through the miracle of adoption, Madison and Cami. They live in the Chicago burbs where they are both on staff at Willow Creek Community Church. Kaye is also a contributing author for the LifeWay resource, Women Reaching Women in Crisis.