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Dec8WedA pastoral response for those experiencing loss, grief or pain during this season. December 8, 2021 by Major Marlene George
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“I’ll have a blue Christmas without you, I’ll be so blue just thinking about you. Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me … I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas.” This song, made famous by Elvis Presley in 1957, is about lost love, but it seems to express how many people feel at this time of year.
In addition to the emotional pain of a broken relationship, the lyrics evoke the absence of a loved one for those who are bereaved and grieving. The journey of grief can be long and complicated, and the Christmas season can be a trigger for waves of grief to resurface.
Grieving is a reaction to a significant loss and can evoke many “blue” emotions. It is not uncommon for people to experience volatile emotions such as anger, hate, blame, terror, resentment, rage and jealousy. These emotions are outward expressions of deeper feelings of pain, helplessness, frustration, fear, hurt and a strong sense of yearning, longing and sorrow. This cluster of emotions can make many people feel unable to engage in traditional Christmas celebrations.
Still others feel “the blues” because of difficult circumstances—unemployment, financial stress, infertility, sick children, troubled teens, the care of aging parents, a recent diagnosis of cancer or another life-changing disease. With these life stresses come a multitude of emotions that can leave us feeling “blue,” with the ever-present threat of despair and depression knocking at our mental-health door.
And this Christmas, as we approach two years of the impact and strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all fatigued.
One way churches have tried to provide a pastoral response to those experiencing loss, grief or pain during a season of relentless cheer and family-centred celebrations is through Blue Christmas reflection services.
A Blue Christmas service typically occurs on or close to December 21, the longest night of the year. It provides a sacred space to acknowledge and validate those struggling through the “long dark night of the soul,” in which memories of past experiences, coupled with the pain of present experiences, can leave people estranged and isolated. The Blue Christmas service offers collective consolation in the form of worship, inviting participants to bring their pain and anguish, hold it in this sacred space and then offer their pain to Christ, realizing they are not alone on this journey.
A Blue Christmas service can include reflective music, prayers, readings, Scripture relevant to suffering and to Advent (a time of waiting for hope to arrive), acknowledging God’s presence for those who mourn and for those who struggle. The lighting of candles is often used as a symbol of the light of Christ, and additional candles represent the love and influence of the one who is gone. Sometimes pictures of loved ones are brought to the service as a memorial. The purpose of the Blue Christmas service is to remind participants that God’s Word comes to shine light into the dark places of their lives and to assure them that they are not alone.
If there is no Blue Christmas service offered in your community for those who are struggling in this way, perhaps your church congregation can be a beacon of light in the darkest night for hurting people in your neighbourhood. It is important to get the word out to the community (including funeral homes, seniors’ resource centres, mental-health services and other churches) that your church is offering this service. If your church congregation is interested in initiating a Blue Christmas service in your community, there are many resources available to assist you. Don’t have a blue Christmas alone—there are many who will come alongside and bless you.
Major Marlene George is a pastoral services officer in the Canada and Bermuda Territory.
Resources for a “Blue Christmas” Service
Loss, Healing, and Hope (The United Church of Canada)
If You’re Hurting at Christmas (Sacraparental.com)
Acknowledging Our Pain (Godspacelight.com)
Photo: FotoLesnik/iStock via Getty Images Plus
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