A note from Kelly King: I can’t believe it’s November and the holidays are just around the corner. While you may be joyfully making plans, Kaye Hurta reminds us today that we should be sensitive and aware of those around us who are hurting. How will you minister this season to those who have experienced great loss? Today’s article offers some suggestions.
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.
The stress and anxiety during the months of November and December may cause even the most joyful among us to experience sadness and loneliness.
If you or someone you know is grieving the loss of someone you love, may I 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 grieving during the holidays:
1. 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 to best 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.
2. 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.
3. Grieve purposefully…in a way that honors your wiring. Engage in stillness, journaling, prayer, meaningful conversations with a friend, have a good cry—all for the purpose of taking the edge off your emotions and honoring the depth of your loss.
4. 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 to 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.
Here are five ways to hit the refresh button on your listening skills as you gather with friends and family this holiday season:
1. Turn off all technology. The TV, the phones, the tablets—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, anxious? These are all clues to help you with number 3: 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. 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. 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).
Will you join me in praying this verse through before every family gathering or time with friends this holiday season?
And join me in praying that God will continue to bind up the brokenhearted and pour out His comfort this season and beyond.
Kaye Hurta 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.