By James Monroe Potts
I knew it would happen. It happens every year. I can see and feel it coming like a storm rushing toward me. And every year, it’s as if I am transported back to that time when it all began.
During my second year of seminary, I was doing my field ed as most seminarians do. I got a text from one of my sisters telling me that my grandmother had been rushed to the hospital after my mother found her unresponsive in her home. This was just days before All Saints Sunday.
When people were saying the names of loved ones lost in the previous year in that beautiful All Saints service, my phone started to ring. I stepped away from the chancel, found a quiet place, answered the phone. It was my mother calling to let me know my grandmother had completed her baptism. I returned to the service and lit a candle for Elizabeth.
Less than ten days later, I received another text. This time from a friend letting me know a mutual friend of ours had collapsed on a Chicago bus on his way to work. The ER staff tried to revive him seven times. Alas, he too had completed his baptism. Brandon was only 31.
On the day of Brandon’s funeral, I got an email from my home church. What I expected to be an average “here’s what’s happening this week” message turned out to be the news of a beloved saint, Carolyn, who died in a tragic accident in her home.
I knew the superstition of “deaths come in threes,” but I had yet to experience such a trio in my life. School continued; the work of ministry continued; projects, papers, and planning went on.
I began to feel like things were getting back to normal. I was finishing my projects and papers for the end of the semester, and I was beginning to put together a liturgy for a Blue Christmas service at the church where I was doing field ed.
I was working on my sermon when my phone began to ring. It was my mother. I had just received a package in the mail earlier in the day, so I thought she was calling to get my thoughts about it and if it arrived okay.
We were catching up and having a good conversation when she paused, took a deep breath, and with a quivering voice, asked, “have you heard?” I respond, “No. What happened?” I knew it wasn’t good, and I could hear the pain in her voice. “Jason died,” she said.
Jason was my oldest sister’s husband, the father of my oldest nephew.
“How?” I ask. There’s a long pause, and I hear her struggling to find the words. I already knew. He died by suicide. Jason had completed his baptism and joined the saints who went before him.
Every year, the time between All Saints Day and Christmas is a struggle. It’s a time that is supposed to be filled with great anticipation for the holidays, time with family, great food, laughter, peace, and so many other wonderful, warm, and fuzzy feelings.
But every year, I struggle to live into these happy moments. The time of year that I should be celebrating is overshadowed by immense grief.
Often people look to us as pastors, leaders, and educators with unrealistic expectations that we are somehow exempt from feelings of sadness, grief, and lament. The reality is that we sometimes carry more than we can bear alone.
I remind myself frequently to feel these feelings of grief, even in the midst of Advent. I often find myself reading the book of Lamentations during this time of year. Many people find this strange, but it brings me a sense of comfort.
God’s mercies are new every morning . . . great is your faithfulness! This is such a wonderful message of hope, peace, joy, and love. God is with me in my lament and grief. God promises a new morning.
The night of weeping may endure for a long time.
Joy comes in the morning.
Friends, this time of year may be difficult. For those of you living in lament, I see you. I understand the weight of carrying something so painful while still being joyful.
Take time to rest. Take time to sit in that grief. Weep. God weeps with you.
Trust in the promises of God that joy will come in the morning.