“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.
There’s a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables…”
For three Christmases now there has been an empty chair at my table. That chair sits empty the other 365 days a year, but at Christmas time it’s glaringly obvious that it’s vacant; that my family is incomplete.
The Christmas movies, and carols and commercials tell us how Christmas is supposed to look. Tables filled with food and family. Trees covered in tinsel and lights. Presents perfectly wrapped and ribboned. Not empty chairs, or unlit trees, or presentless Christmas mornings.
How do you celebrate when the husband leaves, or arms ache for a child they can’t hold, or the bank account sits empty? How do you sing Joy to the World when your world is filled with grief?
I keep searching for the comfort. The metaphor in the midst of the missing. The thing to fill the empty chair. I think I’m supposed to say that Jesus fills the empty chair, fills the empty places in our hearts. But, He doesn’t. If He did then my heart would be overflowing, and it isn’t… it’s aching. Aching for something I can’t have. And as much as I pray and as much as I seek Christ, the empty chair and the empty heart remain.
So does that mean Jesus isn’t enough? No. I don’t think it does. Jesus is enough. He is all we need. But that doesn’t mean He fills every empty place, not that He can’t, just that He doesn’t. Some seasons Jesus allows emptiness to fill our days.
That doesn’t mean He abandons us to our grief… no, He enters in. He enters into our messy, less than, imperfect, empty places and sits with us. Not in the empty chair, but beside us as we face the emptiness. He gives us strength to face the empty places. Strength to accept the reality of the brokenness. Strength to face the injustice of this world we live in. He gives us permission to grieve our loss. Permission to be angry at the unfairness of it all. Permission to be weak and tired and needy. He doesn’t demand that we pull ourselves together, or put on a brave face, or pretend like everything is just fine when it isn’t.
He is the God who comforts us. Who draws near to our broken hearts. Who binds up our wounds. He’s not afraid of our empty places, even when we are.
The truth is; this Christmas may not be as full as we hoped it would be. This Christmas there might be empty chairs at the table serving as reminders of prayers unanswered. The truth is Christmas isn’t always merry and bright. But if it weren’t for the miracle of Christmas and the baby that came to dwell with us, our empty places would be unbearable. Christmas reminds us that the baby who came to bring peace in the midst of chaos will come again to bring us to dwell with Him where there will never again be places of lack and longing. Until that day, I pray that you (and I) will find Him close and comforting in the empty places of life.
Emmanuel, God with us, come.