Hope for the Hurting at Christmas4 min read

Christmas is proclaimed in song to be the “most wonderful time of the year.” Yet, for many people who are grieving, it can be an especially hard time.

I knew Ann Gould, a member of Bethlehem, Saginaw from a few casual conversations we’d had, but also because her 94-year old mother had been on the Alaska Mission Trip team with me this past summer. Gould had been our chauffer to the Detroit Metro airport before the trip, and her stories made me grin. I was impressed with her outlook on life, considering the deep loss she suffered when her son Kristopher died in February, 2011 in Afghanistan. Despite this tragedy, bitterness was not her constant companion.

I recently met with Gould and asked what it’s like to grieve as a child of God, especially this time of year. She shared, “Little things that people did for us the first Christmas after Kristopher died meant the world to me. He died in February, so the fact that people remembered his death ten months later was comforting. Some people brought presents to the house and sent special cards. This was also the first year that Bethlehem had a Hope for the Hurting service.”

I asked Gould what she remembered from that first service. “I wasn’t the only one crying,” she answered, “and if you know me, you know that’s not my style to cry in church.”

We shifted our focus to the present and I asked her why she still attends this special service every year. “Time goes on,” she replied. When asked whether it gets any easier, she paused for a moment, deciding how to answer. “No. I had to accept that this was the new normal. The loneliness is hard, and going to Hope for the Hurting helps me deal with isolation. Everyone who attends the service has lost something, and we feel each other’s pain. No words are needed; we just give each other hugs. We see that other people care. Going to Hope for the Hurting makes me able to meet the challenges of the holidays a little more easily.”

Fueling Up

I asked her to share her wisdom with those who are hurting. She took a deep breath and answered with this bittersweet truth: “Sin did an awful thing to us, but we are still God’s children. Pastor Buckhahn gives a message of hope: God comforts us. He uses different ways of healing to draw us closer to Him to feel that comfort.” Then she smiled and said, Hope for the Hurting is premium gas to fuel up for Christmas Eve, because sometimes that service is hard.”

“God comforts us. He uses different ways of healing to draw us closer to Him to feel that comfort.”

When asked what she would you say to someone who is hurting during this season, she said, “First, talk to someone. Then accept help. If your heart is open, your church can help.” But what if your heart is not open and you are still angry? “Then you need to put your name on the prayer chain list and ask for people to pray for you that you move forward and let go of your anger,” she said. Bethlehem, Saginaw’s website has a link to request a prayer, and you can either leave your name or be anonymous when you make the request. This makes things easier for those who want prayer but aren’t ready to ask for it in person.

Gould added that Bethlehem sends Stephen Ministries’ books on grief every quarter after a loved one dies. “These are very helpful because they come just when they are needed. I read mine and passed them along to friends who needed them. And pastors and Stephen Ministers are there to help you too. You can talk to them; they listen and pray.”

Because I like lists, I double-checked that this is what Gould had said to do when you are grieving:

  • Talk to someone;
  • Accept help if your heart is open;
  • Request prayers for yourself if your heart is not open (you can go to Bethlehem’s website to ask for confidential prayer);
  • Read books on grief (you can find the ones from Stephen Ministries here);
  • Talk to a pastor or Stephen Minister if you need more help;
  • Join Bethlehem, Saginaw for its yearly worship service of hope and comfort designed for those who are hurting during the Christmas season. Beautiful hymns are sung, prayers ascend, and there is an opportunity to light a candle in memory of a loved one. You can find more information about Bethlehem here.

Gould confirmed this is what she recommended. I told her that I had my own share of grief, and that the Christmas season can be hard for me too. We cried and laughed together and shared a deep and abiding bond that comes from knowing the absolute truth that God is in control, and it is the hope of heaven that brings comfort and joy in the midst of earthly pain and sorrow.

“It is the hope of heaven that brings comfort and joy in the midst of earthly pain and sorrow.”

Photo courtesy of Elisa Schulz Photography

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About the Author

Stacey Stahl is the wife of Rev. Michael Stahl (teacher of theology at Saginaw Valley Lutheran High School). She is mother to Alannah and Jaden, and the Communications Coordinator at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Saginaw.

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