Longest Night: Living with Grief Through the Holidays

december-009It’s the Longest Night of the year and in a few hours we will gather here at University Congregational United Church of Christ as people will do in many other places, to light candles for where we need hope on this longest and darkest of nights.

I wish I had something big to offer, something large enough to meet the holes and the losses that this season is for some of us.  And yet the gifts of these holiday seasons are small.  Gifts that can seem all so inadequate, yet all that we are given.

What can I offer, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.

If I were a wise one, I would do my part;

But what can I give you?  Give you my heart.

(In the Bleak Midwinter, verse 4

Christian Rossetti, alt.)

december-2014-021I have come back to singing “In the Bleak Midwinter” often this season.  It seems to be a carol written for times like ours.

And so I offer you a few small things, little things for the meeting of these days.   Mostly, and most importantly, my heart and prayer goes out to you and is with you this season, and will be with you these days. And I offer to you, all that I have, a few stirrings of my heart.

Like some of you, there have been years that I would just assume this holiday season be over.  Like many of you, there are years that I have looked back on many losses of many kinds.  Years that it feels a bit beyond me to imagine singing, “Joy to the World!  The Lord is come!” on Christmas Eve, just a few days hence.  How will I be ready to sing out “joy” this year?  In the Christian tradition, these weeks before Christmas are marked as Advent, a time of emptying as we prepare to make room for the Christ child.  And oh, we all have been emptied of so much this Advent season.  Lost so much.  Had so much taken from us and fear more being taken.  Deaths, job loss, terrorism, war, uncertainty, health crises, financial stresses…the list goes on.

In the various faith traditions of this season, little lights are lit – on the menorah, on the Advent wreath.  In Christianity, we traditionally light a candle each of the four weeks before Christmas – the candle of hope, the candle of peace, the candle of love, the candle of joy.  And finally the Christ candle on Christmas Eve, a sign and celebration that God is present here with us.   Just little lights.  And little words to meet the still growing darkness of these days:  “hope”, “peace”, “love”.  Words that seem all too fragile or even a little beyond us, like “joy”.

december-2014-043I remember this year, the little gifts that were given in times of crisis and change.

In time of war, enough oil given for the lamps.

In the midst of a season of oppression and death, a little child is born.

Little gifts that come in sad and trying days and times.

december-2014-036Not big gifts, but little lights and little words to meet us in these days. Little gifts I can often miss if I try to look for something too big these days.  Little gifts I can walk right by, stumble over if I don’t keep watch for them. Little things.   But little things that finally are what we are given, sometimes all we are given and that even can be enough.  Enough to meet us today.  Right now.  Where we are.  Not enough to take away the grief and pain now and forever, but enough for now.

And that is the hope and prayer of this season I fall back to.

That little things be given to us – little signs of holding and hope and love each day.

And that we live in the hope and promise that tomorrow little things will be given as well.

Enough to meet us for today.

Enough to meet us for tomorrow.

december-2014-032I pray that we all may keep our eyes open, our hearts open, our wonder open to the surprise that comes in little gifts.

Little gifts that even, and finally, may be the greatest gifts of all.   Gifts that are sparks of the eternal – those gifts of that hope, and faith, and love that cannot but spark out and be found in many surprising ways.  Even now.  Even tonight.

There are times when

all the stars are torn from our skies,

and the morning will not come.

We try to make our way in unlit passages,

frightened, desperate and despairing.

We cannot see,

for wherever we turn

the night continues.

And yet, it is

into this impenetrable night

that the Child is born.

Tearing through the seams of darkness,

the Morning Star appears

in our eyes and in our hearts.

The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great Light.

( “Morning Star” from Searching for Shalom by Ann Weems.)


10 thoughts on “Longest Night: Living with Grief Through the Holidays”

  1. Thank you Peter; I truly needed this today. My little brother passed away December 27, 2014, and there are still days that I find it difficult to breathe. As a nursery school teacher I find it particularly hard to stay cheery and upbeat when all I want to do is cry. I had a good cry today, and oddly after reading this I feel a bit better. Christmas blessings to you.


    1. Dear Karen,

      My heart is with you this night. This is a time of year for many of us filled as such with grief, memory and yes, tears upon tears. Know in all you are holding that you are held. Know love, prayers, compassion with you, that holding of all that we might well call the Love of God, And yes, perhaps, in small ways of light know along the ways, know that it really might be true.
      Thanks for writing,


  2. Perhaps it’s because I was born on the longest night that I kind of savor the bittersweet. I don’t feel grief, per se, but more of a quiet peace and remembering of loved ones no longer here with us. I do like your reminder to cherish those little things, to hold onto hope, and love, and joy. We are not alone. God bless you.


    1. Carol – Happy Birthday! As we remembered tonight at the worship service, in the darkest time of year we remember the surprising gift of a child’s being born. And we celebrate you and all you bring and share in our life together as church. We are indeed blessed!



  3. My mother’s favorite hymn. Can’t sing it without tears and joy. So many memories of both, but the ones that are the strongest are the ones of joy.


    1. Thanks Deborah – And what a gift to have the memories of joy sing strong over the years. May we all keep our eyes out for the small lights, gifts, that are here.



  4. Peter, I so appreciate your thoughtfulness and humility in this lovely blog. Sometimes our grief is so great that we do, indeed, have to be nurtured by small things. When I was going through my divorce years ago my sister hung a calligraphied quote next to my bed, It said, “God gives us daily blessings.” And, in very small and faint script it said, “Look for them.” I did that as a daily practice for at least a year. It was so helpful. I realize that I need to return to that practice. Thanks for the reminder. Blessings, Carol


    1. Thanks Carol for your story. What a beautiful gift from you sister you received years ago. And yes, I with you this year need to go back and remember- and look for the gift in the small things.

      I love this blessing from Ted Loder that reminds me of this way –

      How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.
      I would be silent now, and expectant –
      so that I may receive the gift I need –
      so I may be the gift others need.

      Thanks Again,



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