Yesterday was the winter solstice. For us northerners, it is the longest night of our year. I turned on our lamps at 2:30 in the afternoon, the sun was nearly gone by 3:20 p.m. but the light stayed even after the sun had disappeared for a while. It was pitch dark by 4 o’clock.

Here begins the longest night. We wouldn’t see the sun here again for a long while. Of course, when I was younger and living farther north, the days were even shorter, the nights even longer. Up in northern Canada, friends report a never ending night on this day without even a glimpse of sunrise or sunset.

We turn on our lamps, we curl up with blankets and books, we light candles, we make friends with the stars, we put the kettle on. What has to be endured might as well be enjoyed.

***

We have had a busy week so we’re behind on our Advent candles. This sort of thing used to bother me a lot – if this is the way it should be, lighting one candle every Sunday before Christmas, then this is what it should be! But now I roll with things a bit more, I’ve learned that Advent wasn’t created for more stress and turmoil and frustration and feelings of less-than: it was inaugurated because we’re all tired and longing and a bit of a mess and broken-hearted. So if I don’t manage to gather everyone around the table until the Wednesday, it’s okay, really. We will gather, the candles will be lit, the point isn’t the ritual, it’s the truth the ritual preaches to us.

Our candles were all lopsided. I bought the wrong size this year and so they don’t fit snugly into our brass Advent wreath; the candles list and sway and drip gobs of purple or pink wax all over the place. But we gathered after a simple supper of farmer’s sausage and perogies because there are two things living in Abbotsford has taught us to eat and enjoy: Mennonite food and Indian food. We praise God regularly for our neighbours who introduced us to both the delicious comfort of cabbage rolls and incomparable joy of paneer pakora.

We lit our crooked candles for hope, for peace, for joy, and then finally for love. We read our Scriptures by candlelight from the phone screen, dirty dishes still on the table, the toddler hollering for more “tookies!” (her word for cookies) occasionally.

And at the end of the meal, our son Joseph prayed. He said, “God, we thank you for coming to us with love and joy and peace and hope you always wanted for us. We still want everyone to have that. Not just when you came then for Christmas but today and forever and for everyone.”

***

I know these days can be hard for so many of us – you may be tired, heartbroken, estranged from loved ones, yearning for more, settling for less, broke, afraid, betrayed, rejected, struggling, addicted, disillusioned, lonely, isolated, thwarted, doubting, numb, any or all sorts of things that aren’t showing up on the easily resolved Hallmark Christmas movies or the shiny-happy-Jesus-people. Or maybe they are just better at hiding it, who knows.

There is something about Christmas that makes the unbearable even more painful, isn’t there?

Last night, watching the candles burn on the longest night and hearing my son pray, I thought of you in particular, broken-hearted ones. I wanted you to know that I praying for you this Christmas in particular.

Your sorrow isn’t overlooked by God, I know that.

***

A Prayer for the Broken-Hearted at Christmas :: Sarah Bessey

Years ago, when I was broken and burned out and exhausted, I remember my father calling me and telling me that he was praying for me. He sent me the bible verse that he was praying over me, it was Matthew 11:28 which is from one of Jesus’ sermons: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I remember how it felt when he said, “Sarah, I know you’re tired and worn out and burned out on religion. I’m praying that you will recover your life. I’m praying you’ll take a real rest. I’m praying you’ll walk with Jesus and watch how he does it, that you will learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Remember that if it’s heavy and ill-fitting, if it’s a burden, you don’t need to hold it. I pray you’ll keep company with Jesus and learn to live freely and lightly.”

I’ve never forgotten how it felt to hear him say those words to me.

And I’ll never forget how long it took to live into that answered prayer.

***

So come close. Here we go. I pray that God would be near to you, a strength to you. I pray for comfort. I pray for a friend who knows, a friend who sits with you, a friend who doesn’t try to jolly you up.

I pray for endurance in your heart and in your mind and in your soul and in your strength, I pray for perseverance beyond what you think you can bear. I pray that you would be someone who does not give up but continues to take up the space you need. I pray you will know how to ask for what you want. I pray for a community that meets you where you are at.

I pray for comfort. I pray for warmth in your home. I pray for candles and for lamplight, for good books and for movies, for long walks in the darkness lit only by street lights or stars. May your voice crack with tears when you sing anyway how there is a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices because you are longing for a bit of rejoicing. May you fall asleep humming good songs of hope. I see you trying to sing in your sorrow and I think it’s one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen.

I pray for courage. No one ever told us how much courage it takes to have a broken-heart, did they? No one told us how brave we would have to be to simply carry on. And yet here you are. I pray for courage to rise up in you so that you can get up out of bed for another day and do what you need to do to carry on. I pray for an appetite to eat good food and I pray you’ll go to bed on time and sleep well, I pray you’ll be good to your own self in the midst of all this. I pray for your hands to find work you enjoy doing and for creativity to give you a respite.

I pray for you to find the intimacy of the Holy Spirit in these days. I have often found that it is in the wilderness and in the darkness and in the loneliness that the Spirit draws near. I pray for the active and intimate presence of the mystery of God to be close to you in ways you couldn’t name or explain or understand. I pray for dreams that will comfort the hours of sleep you are given.

I pray for peace in you and through you and about you. I pray for glimmers of reconciliation. I pray for bad jokes and for the kind of laughter that makes you want to whoop and pound the table a time or two. I pray for friends who become family and I pray for family to become friends.

I pray for God to be near to you in ways you never could have expected. I pray that this will give birth to a great compassion in you, a love for our suffering world like you’ve never known.

After all, now you’re in the company of the people of the unanswered prayers: we can hold both hope and grief together.

I know there is something for which you cannot even pray, there is no faith left in you: I pray for that unnamed thing, too, I have a bit of faith and you can have it. I don’t know what it is in you but I know you carry it and the better thing is that God knows.

I have always been so thankful that Jesus is described in Isaiah as a man of sorrows, a man acquainted with grief. This is a man I can let into that inner chamber of grief: he is acquainted with my sorrow and he will deal so gently, like a good mother, with our broken-hearts.

I pray for hope to rise, unbidden and unforced and surprising, like a flower breaking through the cement in a parking lot. I pray for you to tend that tendril of hope like a gardener, protect it, let it grow wild and unexpected into the places you least anticipated.

I pray for opportunities to serve others in your life. I pray for Jesus to bring you people into whom you can sow your inexhaustible love and your flagging energy. I pray for eyes to see the company of the broken-hearted around you and that you will become a place of rest for each other.

I pray you will find something or someone to love in these days.

I pray for real reciprocity of relationship – that for everything you receive, you are able to give someday. I pray for the prayers of children to be spoken over you. I pray for the love and joy and the peace and the hope of Advent to be yours. Maybe this isn’t your season for celebration but the good news is that Advent and even Christmas isn’t just for the ones who feel happiness; it’s also for the ones who are afraid and wondering, who are refugees and who are broken-hearted. You, as you are right now, were written into the Story from the beginning and you have a place here, you belong at this Christmas table.

And I dare to pray for joy for you. I pray that everything you are sowing in grief, you will reap in joy. It will be a different sort of joy, we both know that. There is the uncomplicated joy of those who haven’t suffered and then there is the joy that is born of suffering, the joy that is deeper for the loss that preceded, the joy that is in seeing redemption and yet knowing the scars you bear from the wounds are beautiful to those with eyes to see.

And may the Light break through the darkness to warm you and guide you somehow.

We have turned towards the sun now. The days will imperceptibly grow longer again. We won’t be able to notice the moment it changes over but now we know what we’re spinning towards, one day at a time, one morning probably sooner than we know, we will wake up to the long day of light.

Amen.

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  • Amy

    Sarah, thank you for this sincere prayer that has breathed life into my day.

  • Katy Rodriguez

    I needed this so much. I miscarried our third child at the end of November. Everything hurts.

    • Meredith Indermaur

      I am so, so sorry for your loss.

    • Oh I’m so terribly sorry. Prayers are with you, Katy! xo

      • Katy Rodriguez

        Thank you.

  • Meredith Indermaur

    Last year, I buried my mom 2 days before Christmas. Three weeks later, one of my oldest and dearest friends passed away unexpectedly. I’ve been numb until *this* Christmas season, and now so much feels so sad. This post really ministers to me in a way nothing else has in this raw, strange season. I’l be forwarding it to a friend who just buried her father. Thank you, Sarah.

    • So sorry for all you have lost, Meredith. prayers are with you!

    • Jenn

      I’m so sorry for your loss! Praying for you!

  • Curtis Martin

    This should have been marked NSFWUYHAODYCC – Not Safe For Work Unless You Have An Office Door You Can Close.

    Than you for this.

  • Lorraine Peters

    Thank you Sarah you are such a gift .

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    I love you, Sar. This is so so beautiful.

  • Thank you.

  • Sara Newcomb

    Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

  • Melaney G Lyall

    Thank you. with open hands, open mind and open heart I receive these prayers for my brokenness and for my Coast Salish communities…
    Blessings to you this Christmas.

  • Gary Ware

    Once again, Sarah, God’s anointing flowed thru you to us. Thanks for being a willing vessel.

  • Daniela

    My first thought was to forward this to everyone I know that is hurting, but as I read it, I realized I needed it too. I really needed to hear this. Thank you Sarah. So timely and beautiful.

  • Heather D

    This is beautiful, Sarah. Thank you for praying this over us. And for giving me words to pray over others.

  • These are so beautiful. I love the prayer for courage. We often forget it can take work to find joy or to create it. When we are so tired and so ready to just sit back, I’m praying for the courage to create those moments of joy and not let any slip by. Thank you for your beautiful words!

  • April Salvant

    Thank you for allowing God to speak through you, Sarah. So timely and true for all of us broken-hearted folks. He is near. xo

  • Thank you, for this. That one line, ‘there’s something about Christmas that makes the unbearable even more painful’ – yes, oh yes. So much so. I have been dreading it because of that, but now I feel because that has been spoken and acknowledged, that actually it is a little more bearable. Thank you

  • Jenn

    I teared up reading this one. Your timing is impeccable. There is a church here in town that does a “Blue Christmas” service on the winter solstice and your essay would have been a fitting read at it. There is such huge truth in here that I can’t help but share it. Thank you for stretching yourself and recognizing that there are many of us who needed your prayers.

  • Jennifer Greenleaf

    “After all, now you’re in the company of the people of the unanswered prayers: we can hold both hope and grief together.” (wow) That is such a beautiful word-picture of connected-ness…one that I must go and cry-template for a while today…. Thank you for connecting.

  • Gina

    Reading this 10 days late, but isn’t that His timing sometimes? I sobbed through this entire thing as I start 2017 with the likely loss of a friendship. Our friendship was concentrated joy–kindred spirits–and it all seems to be unraveling quickly in just the last few days. I am so heartbroken; it surprises even myself. I will probably need to read through this prayer for the next several days, weeks. “I know there is something for which you cannot even pray, there is no faith left in you: I pray for that unnamed thing, too, I have a bit of faith and you can have it.” …Thank you, Sarah.

  • Karren Neden

    Well, I’m a little late in seeing this, but maybe the timing is right. I love your insightful, compassionate view of the grieving heart. I will read more of your writing, but I can tell you’ve felt some heavy grief, ached with the pain, and viewed life from the foggy, hopeless view. I lost my wonderful husband of 44 years to pancreatic cancer on July 4th, 2016. He was my rock and my world has been shattered ever since. The evil cancer took him in 3 and a half months, and left me broken. We had great faith for God to heal him. But God chose not to do that. So I especially know what you meant when you said, ” After all, now you’re in the company of the people of the unanswered prayers: we can hold both hope and grief together.”

    We’re not even to the date yet on the calendar when he became ill, and he’s been gone 8 months. I grew up hearing that sometimes deaths in families seem to come in threes. Well, in January my sister-in-law passed away. Yesterday we buried my ex-sister-in-law who I loved, and today we buried my brother. Life is so hard at times. It’s times like this when I have to lean on Christ and just let Him carry me. Life becomes a blur and you just have to pray for hope and joy for the moment. A moment at a time. I am grateful our Sovereign Lord knows how grief feels, and He does care for us. We can’t see Him, touch, Him, or eat dinner with Him, but I know He’s here. My faith in God is the main thing keeping me going right now, helped by my wonderful family and loving friends who care. Thank you, again. for your heartfelt writing. May God Continue to Bless You!