It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving week. Henry, a caring minister, had just closed out the morning service and was standing at the church door greeting and shaking worshipers’ hands as they left. Standing in line was a 44-year-old, divorced mother of two teenagers. She was attempting to smile, but her sad eyes told a different story.
“Hi, Jeanette, how have you been getting along?”
Jeanette took hold of Henry’s outstretched hand. “Hello, Pastor. I’m surviving, I suppose.”
“Just surviving? What’s going on?”
She frowned, tears instantly welling up. “It’s just the holidays…they can be a bit depressing. Too many memories.”
Squinting and furrowing his brow, Henry knowingly nods his head. “I understand. It’s not been easy for you. Need a hug?”
“Please. That would be nice.”
He reaches his arms around her and gently engulfs her in a warm embrace. Upon releasing each other, Jeanette exhales with a sigh. She then produces a well-worn Kleenex from her pocket to dab away the tears. “Thanks, I really needed that today.”
“You’re most welcome. I care about you. Please let me know if you’d like to talk sometime this week.”
“I’ll likely take you up on that offer. It’s been a rough year.”
“Stop by the office, and we’ll visit over a fresh cup of coffee.”
Her face brightens. “Sounds good.”
Heartened for the moment, they say their goodbyes as Jeanette heads out the door.
While the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays ought to be a time of good cheer, it is instead filled with sadness and depression for many persons. This special season of the year is often not only stressful for many, but it also serves as a painful reminder of personal heartaches and losses. Feelings of sadness and despair can easily settle in.
It’s, therefore, critically important for ministers and members of congregations to be mindful of those in their church families and communities who have recently lost loved ones, struggled with debilitating illnesses, dealt with job loss and financial strain, had their hearts broken due to intimate relationships dissolving, been forced to make difficult decisions such as placing their aging parents in nursing homes or dealt with painful disappointments over the recent weeks or months.
With all the festivities, sentimental movies, shopping hype, family meal gatherings, and the hustle and bustle that generally accompanies them, Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a time of sadness, loneliness, and disappointment for many individuals. Disillusionment and despair can all-too-easily settle in if not prevented. Therefore, this time of the year presents a unique opportunity for Christians compassionately to serve, comfort, and encourage those around us who need some extra support and encouragement.
Be on the lookout for opportunities to reach out to others with your kind smile, a listening ear, warm handshake or hug, a thoughtful card or gift, or even an invitation to attend a holiday meal with you and your family.
Show the compassion and kindness of Christ and the love and grace of God. The apostle Paul captures this concept ever so vividly in his beautiful, inspired words recorded in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. Here are his thoughts about the God of all comfort to ponder and act upon during this holiday season.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ESV)
Elvis once sang, “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.” Let’s take positive measures to personally intervene in a person’s blueness and help to transform their holiday season into something positive, hope-filled, and memorable.
Ryan Noel Fraser was raised in Cape Town, South Africa. An Assistant Professor of Counseling at Freed-Hardeman University, he serves as an elder and the preacher for the Bethel Springs Church of Christ in Bethel Springs, TN. Ryan is also a nonfiction, Christian author represented by Hartline Literary Agency, religion columnist for the Jackson Sun (in West Tennessee), and certified as a pastoral counselor. But most importantly, he is a husband and dad to two wonderful teenage kids. Ryan holds a B.A. in Bible and Masters in Ministry from Freed-Hardeman University, a M.Div. from Abilene Christian University, and a Ph.D. in Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Counseling from Brite Divinity School (Texas Christian University). Follow him at @RyanNoelFraser.