Immanuel – God with Us in Grief

(Photo by Selma Komisky)

Immanuel – God with Us in Grief

By Brittney Perez

It’s Christmas time! Christmas is one of my favorite holidays. There’s nothing like the Christmas season. It’s a time for believers in Christ to really ponder the fact that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, humbled Himself and came down from His place with the Father to become a human like us; a baby born, not in a hospital, but in a manger. It’s a humbling fact to think about. I think about how in Matthew 2:2 NLT it says, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” The prophecy given years prior had now come to pass.

What a season to worship our Lord and King! It’s truly an honor.

There are many other reasons I love Christmas. I love the decorations, the Christmas music, all the festivities that take place including ugly Christmas sweater parties, live Nativity reenactments, the food, driving around looking at peoples’ Christmas lights, gift exchanges, and the fact that it’s a time to give and bless someone who maybe has fallen on hard times to remind them of love and hope. I love Christmas for all these reasons, but for many, Christmas isn’t always cheery. It’s the opposite for many different reasons.

This year I lost someone very dear to my heart—my grandma. In 2015, my family found out that my grandma had an aggressive type of ovarian cancer. My family had experienced cancer in the family previously when my grandpa, her husband, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in the early 2000’s. By the grace of God, who I know is able to perform miracles, he’s still with us 10 years later! Finding this information out about my grandma was tough, but having experienced cancer with my grandpa, we knew the road that potentially laid ahead; that it would be difficult.

There were times where things felt hopeless, like we were fighting a losing battle, but I knew that while my grandmother was still alive, I had to live as though she was and not as though she was already gone. As my grandmother went through treatments, she was still going to school online to get her Master of Arts degree in English Literature, which she completed! My grandma was a believer and, though she was scared at times (which is totally understandable), she pressed on in faith. For over a year she was in remission, but in December of last year, we found out that her cancer had spread to her brain. That was some of the toughest news I’ve ever had to experience. We were all devastated—especially because we found out right before Christmas.

Needless to say, last Christmas was one of the hardest I’ve yet to experience. During this season my grandma’s health started to quickly decline. She was in and out of the hospital and was eventually moved to a rehabilitation center. After spending about a month there, she came home and was on hospice. I won’t forget being there practically every day. I would go to work and then go to be with her and my family. For the next three months, that was what I did. It was tough, of course, seeing her in that condition, but I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. On March 26th, 2018, my grandma went to be at home with the Lord.

With that being said, for me and for many others who have lost a relative either recently or in previous years, this time of the year doesn’t always feel joyous. If anything, it can feel rather sad and depressing at times. My grandma was the first person I’ve ever lost that was close to me. I lived with her for the first nine years of my life and she was like another mom in a way. There are times where I still can’t fully grasp the fact that she isn’t here anymore. It sometimes feels like she’s just on a long trip, but I know that’s not the case. Especially during the holiday season, you can feel the absence of that person you lost. It just feels like something is missing and you come to that knowledge that things have changed and just aren’t like they once were. It really is a difficult thing to work out in your heart and mind.

In Matthew 1:23 NLT we read this verse, “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”

God is with us. Those are comforting words for me. For many of us who have lost a loved one, the mere thought of the holidays can seem overwhelming—like you’d rather not have them come because of the sadness and pain that comes in celebrating without a loved one. One thing we need to remember during these difficult moments is that God is with us even if we don’t tangibly sense it at times. He sees our grief and He knows our pain.

As it says in Psalm 139:1-2, “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” I like how the psalmist states that God is “familiar with all his ways.” He doesn’t just say “some” of my ways, or “a few” of my ways. No, he says, “you are familiar with ALL of my ways” (emphasis added). The same is true for us. God is familiar with all our ways. He formed us. He sees what we go through in this life and during this season.

In John 11, Lazarus, the brother to Mary and Martha, dies. We find later in the chapter that Jesus goes to comfort Mary and Martha in their grief. In verses 32-35 we read, “When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ’Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ’Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ’Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept.”

Reading this passage of Scripture truly blesses me because it reminds me that as Jesus saw the weeping of Mary and the Jews with her, He sees me and you as well though this difficult time of grieving. He is moved in spirit for us. Jesus knew what it felt like to grieve, having wept over His friend Lazarus, and also having felt sorrow overwhelm Him to the point of death (Matthew 26:38 NIV) in the Garden of Gethsemane. For me, it is such a comforting fact to know—my Savior knows what it felt like to be troubled in spirit. It shows me that Jesus knows our frailty and emotions as people.

If you are experiencing grief this holiday season due to the passing of a loved one, my prayer for you that that you are comforted by the fact that God is with you. The very meaning of His name, Immanuel, implies that. We will have moments of grief. I know I have already and will during various times this season, but I pray that grief doesn’t overcome the fact that God is with us during this tough season. Jesus has so many things He wants to reveal to us. May we be able to celebrate this season and remember the precious moments we were allowed to have with our loved one and know that our grieving is seen by God. It is not absent from His sight.

He is with us.