How do you unwrap gifts on Christmas morning? I have observed two basic methods over the course of my fifty-one years. The first is to rip the wrapping paper off with reckless abandon, paying no attention to the beautiful adornments on the outside, in order to get to the gift inside as quickly as possible. The second is to slowly and meticulously peel back one corner of tape at a time in order to preserve the beauty of the package itself. I confess to typically being of the “get to the gift inside quickly” variety of gift-opener. The loss of two close family members within the first five months of this year caused me to travel a path of grief, but I have eventually come to picture this journey as a gift whose underlying beauty is only revealed through a painstakingly slow unwrapping process.
I know it may sound strange to think of grief as a gift, but I believe our wise and loving Heavenly Father has a higher purpose for our sorrow than just earthly heartache. As the holidays approached, I tried to prepare myself for the emotions that would inevitably come with seeing places now empty that were once occupied by loved ones. Eating banana pudding, our family delicacy, will be bittersweet without the interjection of playful bickering over who gets the last bowl. Cheering for the Longhorns and Cowboys will be less exciting without the company of one of their most devoted and enthusiastic fans. Singing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve will sound much different without two of my favorite voices joining in the chorus. Perhaps others reading this post made similar preparations this holiday season. I found the process to be easier as I considered the gifts revealed when I peeled back the grief.
In pulling back the first corner on the package, I discovered a Savior who identifies with me in the middle of my sorrow. Isaiah 53:3 describes Jesus as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Grief is defined as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.” We are made in His image, so as we experience grief we can be assured that He will not leave us alone in it. He, too, knows what it is like to experience suffering, distress, sorrow, and pain. And as He identifies with me, I am to find my identity in Him alone. My identity is not in my family, my position as a pastor’s wife, or my job, but in Him. Colossians 3:3 says, “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” If I try to resurrect myself and place my identity in anything else, I minimize what He did for me. I am thankful for this most precious gift from my Savior.
When I peeked under another section of the wrapping, I found the freedom to receive grace from God and fellow believers. 2 Corinthians 12:9 states, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.‘” In a difficult moment recently, I was wisely counseled to ask God for just enough grace to get me through each new day. I am learning to voice that request to Him daily. Unimaginable freedom is found in the realization that I don’t need to see three, or four, or ten steps ahead. God is already there and has a plan for me if I will just press into Him, trust, and obey. I don’t have to be strong, for He is my strength. I am also learning that it’s okay to lean on others within the body of Christ when I’m hurting. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called upon to bear one another’s burdens. I am thankful for those who have been obedient to God’s Word and come alongside me in my grief.
Another portion of the gift of grief was revealed in learning to rest in God alone. Psalm 62:1 says, “I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.” My physical, emotional, and spiritual restlessness throughout this year left me completely exhausted. In a recent early morning quiet time, God directed me to the verse above. I was convicted that much of my weariness comes from failing to rest completely in Him. In striving to deal with the crises of everyday life on my own, I failed to enjoy the peace that only He can provide. Sometimes I just need to sit still in His presence, quiet all the other distractions around me, and allow Him to renew my soul. I am thankful for the restoration He provides when I humbly enter into His presence.
Psalm 30:5 says, “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor, a lifetime. Weeping may stay overnight, but there is joy in the morning.” We can look forward to the joy that comes when we finally unwrap all the gifts God has prepared for us. He promises a lifetime of favor in exchange for momentary sorrow. I don’t completely understand why our Heavenly Father sometimes refuses to let us quickly rip into the outer wrapping to discover what He has for us inside. But I do know that as He unveils His precious gifts, He is patient and careful with us. Only He knows what His ultimate purposes are as He works in and through our lives. God knows exactly which gifts each of His children needs, and wraps them up perfectly inside our grief. As I continue my journey, I’m learning daily to be appreciative of the gifts, but even more so to grow deeply in love with the Giver Himself.