The Grief Grinch

We are approaching an exciting time of the year – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. Times of celebration. Times for friends and family. Times of joy. And for some, times of incredible sadness. The holidays will be hard because someone with whom previous special days were shared is gone. To paraphrase Tennyson’s In Memoriam, “Never Christmas wore to New Year’s but some heart did break.” If you have never experienced that, I would be tempted to offer congratulations, but I will not. They would probably simply be premature. The name of the Grinch who stole Christmas year-in and year-out is grief.

Perhaps there is an ache inside you this year that intensifies each time you think of turkeys or mistletoe or presents under the tree. Perhaps your wish is, not so much to have HAPPY holidays this year, but just to survive them. You hear the Psalmist say “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He is my rock, my salvation, my fortress, my deliverance…” Hmmm.

[Eyes heavenward] Well, God, deliver me from THIS! Can you arrange it so November 15 will be followed by January 16? If not that, at least give me some SURVIVAL TIPS to help me manage this year.

I have good news. You have been given some survival tips. The lesson from John’s gospel this morning provides some – resources for dealing with grief at the holidays or any days. Follow the story and see how it works out.

You remember the situation: Jesus had received word that His good friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, had died. By the time Jesus and the disciples got to the family home in Bethany, great numbers had already arrived. After all, Lazarus had been dead for four days by now, and the normal period of intense grief for Jews in first century Palestine was a full week. There was plenty of weeping and wailing going on and plenty more yet to be done, and it was to be done by as many people as possible. It might appear to you and me as a little contrived – all the noise, the really excessive displays of emotion…but if the tables were turned and they had the chance to watch what WE do in the same situation, they might consider our reserved behavior a sign of disrespect for the dead. All the wailing was their way of doing honor to the deceased. At any rate, there is one thing that is common to both cultures: the gathering of friends – a marvelous resource for coping with grief in the first century or the twenty-first.

David E. Leininger, The Grief Grinch,


Let Him Go!

During these past twelve years that I’ve been involved in the ministry, I have had the wonderful experience of watching as Jesus called men and women out of spiritual death into new life. I have never lost the wonder and excitement, the emotion of that kind of resurrection, and I pray that I never will. But then I’ve also seen loving, caring people reach out and embrace and welcome these strangers in their midst, helping them to meet new friends and develop new habits (like coming to church on a regular basis or coming to Sunday School). I’ve seen them provide encouragement to find and use their unique gifts in the ministry of the church. Whenever I’ve seen this happen, I have recalled Jesus’ instructions to the crowd of onlookers at the resurrection of Lazarus: “Unbind him, and let him go.” When we encourage newly resurrected Christians to become a vital part of the faith community, that’s what we’re doing. We’re taking off the grave clothes, participating in the miracle of new life.

Johnny Dean, Death Stinks,


The Greek philosophers were the ones who talked most about the immortality of the soul, and they used a beautiful analogy to explain it. They saw the soul like a homing pigeon taking to a far land and when it is release, it always instinctively and unerringly returns to its true home. The soul they say is like that bird. In this life, we’re living in a foreign land or in a cage, death, therefore, in this view is a release – freeing the soul to return instinctively and unerringly to its true home. Now that’s beautiful, but it’s not Christian. It’s in much of our poetry and in much of our hymnody, you get some hints of it in the Bible, but that’s not primarily the teaching of the Bible. The primary teaching of scripture is not the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body and eternal life. The Bible does not affirm that immortality is part and parcel of what it means to be human, but the Bible rather talks about eternal life as gifts – the gift of God in Jesus Christ to those who respond in faith to him.

If you’re going to live beyond death, the Bible says, there must be a resurrection of the body. A resurrection of who we are as we are as persons, yet made new by Christ himself, who even now sitting upon the throne, keeps saying, behold I am making all things new. When Paul was confronted with what people felt to be the preposterousness of this idea of the resurrection of the body, when you consider what happens to the body in death – he said, we will have a resurrected new body. And just as the Greeks had an analogy to talk about the immortality of the soul, so Paul had an analogy to talk about the resurrection of the body. He said it’s like a farmer, planting a seed in the ground, and the shell of the husk falls away and new life appears. So we die, to be born again into new life.

Maxie Dunnam, All This and Heaven, Too,


A Time for Tears

Stanton Delaplane, the columnist, often wrote a very gay column, but one time several years ago, he wrote in a different mood. He said:

“No life can run smoothly, but how can I tell this to a ten year old girl? The other night we came home and the Siamese kitten was dead. You could see what had happened. I had had some steaks delivered on top of the deep freeze. The boxer dog had managed to push the door. The cat had gotten up and torn off the paper. The dog had managed to jump up and pull the package down. He must have been into it when the cat came down and tried to get into it, too. Oh, they had eaten and played together for three months now, but this time he just grabbed her by the neck, gave one shake, and she was dead.

“And so, there is trouble in Paradise today. Though we must all grow up from ten years and realize that kittens must go, I keep thinking if only I had come home a half an hour earlier. If I had closed the door tight, or if I had put the steaks into the deep freeze. For this morning, the little girl is miserable, the boxer is miserable, and I am miserable – and there is nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, that I can do about it, nor anyone else can do about it.”

No, Mr. Delaphane, there is nothing that anyone can do about it, except weep. I find that this world is that kind of place, and it fortifies my soul to know that Jesus found it that kind of place, also. In at least two places recorded in Scripture, our Lord is confronted by circumstances where the only appropriate reaction seemed to be to cry. To us, that is a fact of tremendous importance.

In the first place, if Jesus wept, then weeping is realism and not sentimentalism. If Christ, himself, was left, upon occasion, with no weapon for the warfare of life except a sob, then how ridiculous of me to think that I can go dry-eyed through the days of my years. How stupid of me to set a goal for myself to wink, supposedly gaily and bravely, at the experiences that caused the Lord of life to weep, and to weep bitterly.

A Time for Tears, Louis H. Valbracht


Mercy and Empathy

There are people crying all around us, people approaching the point of desperation. But many of their cries go unheard. The noise of the self-oriented machinery of our culture is drowning them out and they are dying. The world needs the merciful. We all need someone who will identify with us. Someone who will hear our cry, listen, have empathy, and care. We all need to have an attitude of mercy and to be the recipients of such an attitude!  As Shakespeare said:

The quality of mercy is not strained;

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is

twice blest, It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.

Wallace H. Kirby, Beatitudes: Programs and Promises, CSS Publishing


New Priorities of the Kingdom

A holy man was engaged in his morning meditation under a tree whose roots stretched out over the riverbank. During his meditation he noticed that the river was rising, and a scorpion caught in the roots was about to drown. He crawled out on the roots and reached down to free the scorpion, but every time he did so, the scorpion struck back at him. An observer came along and said to the holy man, ‘Don’t you know that’s a scorpion, and it’s in the nature of a scorpion to want to sting?’ To which the holy man replied, ‘That may well be, but it is my nature to save, and must I change my nature because the scorpion does not change his?’



A Religion Worth Nothing

A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.

Martin Luther


Sometimes We Just Need a Blessing

The problem with our society is that we don’t understand the power nor the dynamics of giving a blessing. We underestimate its power and we are not in the habit of giving empathy. Few people are tuned in to your feelings of rejection. Most ignore them completely. Many simply “stuff” them, hoping that they will go away. We are a people that want to fix or problem solve.

We want answers and a rational explanation for everything that happens. Or, we believe that hard work and discipline will make everything turn out right. Do you think that the skier that crashed on the ski slope was not disciplined? Did he deserve to slip and fail because he didn’t work hard enough?

I heard a story this past week that illustrates how our society treats personal rejection. A man with a critical illness was lying in a hospital bed, desperately wanting some word of encouragement. A nurse said to him, “you just need to work harder.” This man had undergone multiple surgeries and is critically ill. What he needed was a “blessing.” What the skier who crashed on the slope needed was a blessing.

Keith Wagner, Overcoming Rejection

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