Kay Warren: Stop Sending Cheery Christmas Cards

David Virtue david at virtueonline.org
Fri Dec 12 13:30:36 EST 2014

Kay Warren: Stop Sending Cheery Christmas Cards
When you don't mention our son's tragic death, it only hurts more

By Kay Warren
DECEMBER 10, 2014

Christmas 2013 was our family's first without our son Matthew. I could
barely breathe. I stayed away from the grocery store and the mall,
fearing I couldn't hold it together in either. The Internet became my
friend as I shopped late at night, without sentimental mall music
stirring up memories of Christmases past--when all three of my children
were alive.

But every day, the Christmas cards arrived.

When I opened the first batch of cards, shock washed over me. Photos of
beautiful, happy, intact families cascaded onto my kitchen table. Most
were accompanied by a greeting wishing me a joyous Christmas. Some had a
signature and the message, "Hope you have a great Christmas." Others
included a standard family newsletter, listing the accomplishments,
vacations, and delightful family moments that had filled their year. I
grew astonished, then angry, as I realized that none of the cards
mentioned that our precious Matthew had died violently six months
earlier, leaving us definitely not having a joyous Christmas.

Eventually I left the card-opening to Rick. The cards remained unopened
in the traditional iron sleigh that has held our cards through the years
until after Christmas Day had passed. Weeks later, I tore through them,
angry tears pouring down my cheeks as I separated them into three piles:
ones that didn't mention our grief, ones that did so with a short,
"Praying for you," and ones that included soothing, loving, and
thoughtful words of compassion and empathy. The third stack was the

Recently I opened the first Christmas card of this season. I wondered if
perhaps I had been oversensitive last December--so immersed in our
family's loss at the time that every expression of happiness was like
scraping an open wound. I hoped that I'd feel differently this holiday
season. When I opened the card--an artfully designed print on heavy
paper stock, printed with a signature from a pastor I don't even know--I
threw it away.

Last week I wrote about this experience on Facebook. I asked readers to
consider sending a plain card to grieving families (instead of an
obligatory "happy family" photo). "Tell them in a few words that you are
aware of how painful Christmas can be and that you are praying for
them," I wrote. "Yes, it's inconvenient--it will take more time than
your rushed signature, and it will require entering into someone else's
loss, mourning, grief, and anger."

I ended the post on behalf of grieving parents everywhere: "If you
aren't willing to modify your way of sending cards for a while, please
do us a favor and take us off your list." Hundreds of folks resonated
with my words and spoke of similar experiences. Others were deeply
offended and let me know.

Piercing Reminder

I'm slowly learning that grief is both universal and yet as individual
as each person who mourns. Psychologists note that most grief journeys
include shock, denial, anger, resignation, and acceptance. But it's not
linear, as though it was a clearly marked path for everyone. The
feelings come and go. Some days you think you're doing well until
something triggers a wave of emotions that make you wonder if you'll
feel like yourself again. There are better days, even good days. And
then, after a couple good days, a tidal wave of sadness can knock you to
the ground.

For me, grief has meant screaming and wailing and weeping and moaning
and writhing. Grief is crying so hard that snot runs from my nose into
my mouth. Grief is sobbing so hard that I throw up. It's lying spent on
the couch, too weary to lift my limbs up the stairs to bed.

I'm thankful there are biblical models for such raw outpourings. It was
customary for God's people to tear their clothes, cover themselves in
sackcloth and ashes, and cry so loud that all could hear. Matthew
2:17--18 (NIV) tells us that the Israelite mothers whose baby boys had
been killed by King Herod were in "mourning and great weeping, Rachel
weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her
children are no more." Throughout the Psalms, King David freely records
his anguish, anger, confusion, and sadness. Paul said his depression was
so deep, he despaired of life. And Jesus grieved so heavily in the
Garden of Gethsemane that he sweated drops of blood.

By and large, Americans are uncomfortable with such raw emotions,
perhaps especially coming from a pastor and his family. As a pastor's
kid (and now wife), I have learned about the "walk on water"
syndrome--that pastors and their families are expected to keep doubt,
struggle, grief, and anger to themselves, lest anyone think they are
less than perfect. May I gently point out that we are not superhuman or
above pain, as none of the biblical heroes of the faith were, either.

In traditional cultures throughout the world, the louder the mourning,
the greater the love shown for the deceased. You might counter that
that's not the way Westerners handle grief. You are right, of course.
But acknowledging this leaves me wondering: What are we supposed to do
with our feelings when the people we love end their lives violently? How
are we to feel when someone we love is murdered? When those dearest to
us are ripped from our arms through an accident or illness? Are we
comfortable with hard grieving at first, but less so when the grief
doesn't stop after a few weeks or months or years?

Some are hardened by grief. They lose their ability to share in other's
happiness. That's not where I am headed. I am doing my best to "rejoice
with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn" (Rom. 12:15).
Since Matthew's death, I've attended the weddings of friends, baby
showers, graduation parties, birthday parties (well, most of them),
because life goes on and it's not all about me. At the same time, it's
been less than two years since our son took his life. There are still
moments when the happiness of others is a piercing reminder of what we
have lost and will never have again.

One Foot at a Time

Meanwhile, I am grateful for family and friends who keep walking with us
on the path of grief. There are those who enter fully into our tears
when we need to cry, who make us laugh at ourselves and at life, who
gently inspire us to keep seeking beauty from these ashes, and who point
us--with their lives more than their words--to our eternal hope and
home. It may seem counterintuitive, but it is possible to be in deep
grief and yet experience the joy of the Lord. In fact, it is the Lord's
joy that enables me to keep choosing to engage life and ministry even as
I live with a broken heart.

I'm praying for all who mourn today for any cause. May we find in the
Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ the fulfillment of the words that
Zechariah prophesied long ago:

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God's Sunrise will break in
upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.
(Luke 1:78-79, The Message)

[kay warren] Kay Warren, cofounder of Saddleback Church with her
husband, Rick, is an international speaker, Bible teacher, and former CT
columnist, as well as the author most recently of Choose Joy: Because
Happiness Isn't Enough (Revell), about which she spoke to CT this March.
This article is republished with permission of Christianity Today and
the author

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