by Catherine Gray

I’m writing this article whilst sitting in a popular chain of coffee shops and in a seat that I often covet but is usually taken before I get there. Today I was overjoyed to see it was available, so I sat down wondering why this cozy corner made me so happy.

And yet, the reality of my wonderful seat in my wonderful hidey-hole in a public place, turns out to be completely overrated. I’m distracted as I’m closest to the drive-through. My laptop is on a funny angle because the table isn’t a helpful height. And the most interesting thing is that every now and then I can hear running water. Sometimes even rushing water.

I look for it (not very hard – I just look up and don’t move because I really do have a brilliant seat), but it remains a mystery. It is perplexing and concerning and yet not pressing enough to make me do anything about it. Is this perhaps what we do when it comes to our own well-being too?

It’s also pouring rain today. Pouring. And no one is rushing in. We are used to it now. Ready for it. Head down, get on with it, stick to the normal speed. Heat waves and droughts feel like they happened years ago.

A dad gets out of a car and instead of hurrying his child along or running in holding him, he has picked him up from behind and kept him at arms’ length. He gets the child to where he needs to be with no words and no rush but with a practiced move that is the path of least resistance.

I wonder if this is how we are doing life now, with all the things we are holding… that our minds and bodies are holding even when we aren’t consciously aware of what those things are? We know there is rushing water somewhere inside that shouldn’t be there. We know we need to move quicker or slower because of the circumstances but we are on autopilot or doing the opposite of what would be our norm because we don’t have the energy to do anything else.

Chests feel tight and sore with the weight of the loss and anxiety. Guts feel squirmy with excitement for all the possibilities and what ifs. Both of those things feel too much, too unknown, and too big to really lean into in case one doesn’t happen or the other ruins us.

Last Christmas – grief came to me like a thief in the night. A total surprise. An unwelcome guest. Now, I’m no stranger to grief and I know there is no way to predict how or when it will wash over you, but this grief was particularly sneaky. It had been lying dormant for a year and related to a specific trauma that I thought was done with and in the past. Ha! How I laugh about that now. How I smile at the thought that I never understood why anniversaries of devastating events were worse than other days.

You see, that wasn’t how grief had affected me before. It flooded in whenever it fancied. It lasted (and still does) for differing amounts of time. I may go past red-letter days and not even realize they had happened. On other, less meaningful days, I was floored by the enormity of it all.

But can’t we say the same about joy? It comes all of a sudden. It can be a surprise, an overwhelming whole-body experience that we can’t hold back. We don’t know how long it will last. It affects us deeply but also touches everyone we come into contact with.

My main observation of that, (and this), period of life is that whilst one or the other can feel all-consuming, often they both arrive at once. The most incredible answer to prayer and the most devastating news in the same 24 hours. The most wonderful friends and family and the most deeply hurtful circumstances all intertwined.

How can I dance and sing of God’s arrival in human form when all around me there is death, destruction, and despair? How can I give grief the time and space it needs when there are so many good news stories to hear? How do I walk in step with those around me when our own joy and grief moments are not in sync?

I think the Sunday school answer is the only one here – Jesus! Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to this world. He still is.

He is King of the rollercoaster of life. He’s been there, done that, written the book on it. This month we get to celebrate His beginnings.

He also knows every ending. In death – the ending that we all ultimately fear is actually the ending that will transport us into the most joy we have ever known. Everlasting joy.

I might not have much experience of that joy this Christmas. I might see lots of it. It’s bound to be eclipsed by sadness at some point, but that’s not the bit that will last. I can sit with it, learn from it, ask for help with it and still celebrate with other people during that process.

The world is changing but it’s not yet ending. We need both an ability to live hour by hour in this interim, but to still be able to live with hope and vision for what comes afterward.

We are in this together. There’s going to be pain and anguish, but that’s only half the story. Seek out the other bit. Don’t be blinkered to it because it’s easier to be consumed by the bad news. Acknowledge the bad stuff. Notice what you feel and what you need but then tell someone that and go on to notice or find something good. Change the narrative that everything good has been taken from you and start telling people what you are grateful for, and what you are dreaming of and pass the message on that we are all capable of bringing something useful and encouraging to the table.

What is it that you are uniquely placed to do at this time? Pinpoint it, research it, make wise decisions about it but then just get on and do it! Don’t be afraid to try and keep some things normal – that’s good too! Don’t be afraid to spark action into some things that have been lying dormant in you for a while – maybe they have been waiting there for such a time as this! Don’t be afraid to dream of a big, big future where progress has been made in many things.

And don’t be afraid of grief and joy being roomies for a while. They can cope with that, and so can you