The Christmas season is an important time to remember and practice Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:15.

“Sleigh bells ringing.” Christmas lights flashing, choirs singing, shoppers shopping. Gift wrapping, mistletoe, holiday parties and special gatherings all signal “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” but for many, it is not.

For some reason, it seems that the “death angel” gets especially busy around this time of year. Inevitably, some heart is broken due to the loss of a loved one between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

As a result, this period of time forever marks not joy and laughter, but for some, unbearable grief, sorrow and pain.

Others are fighting depression due to the drastic changes in the weather and seasonal affective disorder from sunny, warm and bright to gloomy, cold and dark.

Still others are struggling to explain to bright-eyed children filled with hope and anticipation that gifts will not be under the tree this year because of major financial difficulties.

Yes, as the people of God, we understand, acknowledge and rejoice that the true meaning of Christmas is wrapped up in celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – the ultimate reason for our hope, joy, peace and love in this season.

But as human beings who “hold this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7), our shouts of praise can be muted by our grief-entangled spirits.

Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) is especially important during the holiday season.

Here are five things to remember and to do as you seek to help and minister to those who are struggling:

1. Be intentional about comforting those who mourn.

Give them a phone call, give them the gift of your presence, take them a gift that will hold special significance for them.

2. Allow them to express their emotions openly and confidentially with you, without judgment.

Avoid cutting them off with trite “Christian phrases,” such as, “Honey, just give it to the Lord, He understands. Stop dwelling on it so much.” Shutting them down only causes more pain.

3. Gently encourage them to go out, and then go and get them.

It may be difficult for them to get out of the house on their own. However, if a loving friend goes over to pick them up and take them out for coffee, it may make the journey a bit less intimidating.

4. Ask them to tell you how to pray for them and then pray for them.

Don’t assume you know what they need. Offer them the opportunity to express their prayer requests and then pray right then and there with them. Show them that you have confidence in the “effectual fervent prayer of the righteous.”

On-the-spot prayer can speak to and strengthen their hearts at a time when they may need it most. This also prevents us from going our way and forgetting to do what we’ve promised.

5. Remember that your love and support can help holiday mourners to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Just knowing that someone genuinely cares can help to lift broken hearts and give them the companionship needed to take another step toward healing.

May we truly give the gift of Christ’s love during this season with compassion, friendship and our presence to those who need it most.

Chris Smith is pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Euclid, Ohio, author of “Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors.” A version of this article first appeared on her blog, ShePastor, and is used with permission. You can follow Smith on Twitter @Revcsmith1.

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