In December, we gathered at Shamrock's Pub for Theology Pub. Our theme? Grief. It made sense, since the deep, dark months of winter AND the weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year tend to do a number of those of us experiencing grief. We called in a professional for this one. Karen Stevenson, licensed therapist with an Masters of Divinity to boot, graciously donated an evening to our community. I started referring people to Karen a few years ago because a number of colleagues said, "There is no one better." I believe this statement and when you come looking for a therapist, I will send you to Karen. One of the things that I took away from this Theology Pub is the community's role in grief. We aren't meant to actually carry grief on our own. We can't "handle" it...alone. We need others to bear witness to it. Sometimes, this means asking a friend to listen (without advice or feedback. Without waiting for their turn to speak. Just to receive it without judgement or jumping in to fix it). I hope that you have people close to you that you can call and ask for an hour of their time. If this just doesn't seem possible, there is no shame in paying a therapist to play this role. In fact, it's a healthy move.
I have a group of colleagues that I retreat with for 24 hours every single month. We spend a huge chunk of that time sitting together, telling our stories. We each get a turn to talk--and the other four just listen. We have been at this retreat practice for two years--and most months I think it's part of what keeps me in this line of work. (Shout out to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and their amazingly generous grant program--which makes this possible) (And to my family for bidding me adieu every month).
Another incredibly helpful thing that Karen advised...before every holiday gathering or vacation...think about what it is you want and need. What do I want out of this vacation? What do I need out of this vacation? If you are in a relationship with someone who will be sharing this holiday or vacation with you--have the conversation together. In the end, you might not get what you want and what you need from it--but at least you are aware of it.
Something that under-girds Karen's approach is Jesus commanding us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. First, you need to love yourself--which means your feelings matter just as much as everyone else's. Think about how one individual can control/diminish/railroad the entire gathering around your holiday table. Boorish Uncle Mike doesn't get to monopolize the room because your feelings matter as much as his. Or your sister doesn't get to drink too much every single year and say wildly inappropriate things around the youngsters. There are strategies you can use--and now you have an entire year to work on them before another Christmas rolls around.
Much gratitude and thanks to the open hearts who gathered at this Theology Pub--and for Karen's ability to meet us all where we were at that night.