Monday, December 2, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: Let the Ashes Lie by Abby Norman

photo by JenniferUpton

For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.

Maybe you aren’t looking forward to the holidays. Maybe just thinking of being merry and bright leaves you cold and dead inside. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This Christmas something is desperately wrong, and everyone around you is celebrating, caroling, acting like this world isn’t desperately broken. Acting like your world isn’t desperately broken.

A part of you wants to pretend. There will be people who will ask you to. They will ask you to pack up your grief and move it out of the way. Come on! they will say. It is Christmas! As though Christmas is some sort of magic hurt eraser. There is a part of you that will wish it is. There is a part of you that will want to pretend, maybe if you pretend the hurt isn’t there, it will really go away.

Instead of a magic grief eraser, you are finding this holiday season full of cheer to be a hurt magnifier showing you exactly how everything should have been, and how it is definitely not that anymore. Maybe you will watch a Hallmark holiday special where everything turns out in the end, and it will take everything you have not to throw your hot cocoa mug at the TV, because you know a stranger’s car will not break down outside your door and miraculously save this season for you.

There is no saving this season for you, everything is too far gone.

Your whole world burned down around you, and now, now people want you to sweep the ashes under the rug to make room for the holiday cheer! Please, please, if you do nothing else this holiday season, let the ashes lie. There is room for both in your life. Holiday cheer and the ashes of life need not be separated from each other.

There is deep and aching beauty in these ashes all around you. I know it hurts to have them out like this, rather than sweeping them quickly to the side. But ashes, if you let them lie, can lead to fertile ground. Beautiful and meaningful holiday traditions are often born out of the ashes of this life. After all, Jesus was born out of the ashes of this life.

I know what you’ve seen. I, too, was raised on the sanitized nativity, the pageant without all the messy bits. No one likes to mention at the Christmas Eve service, that Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt as a baby boy genocide was taking place. Or that Jesus came down to earth to die, his mother inexplicably cursed as she was blessed. After all, Jesus came down as a baby in a manger to heal the brokeness that is so raw in your life right now. God gets it. Christmas can handle our ashes.

The honoring of the ashes of our life makes those same places holy, beautiful, redeemed even. If we let them. If we are willing to let our ashes lie. Packing them up, pushing them away, hiding our pain leaves it stale and bitter, and still there year after year. It is okay to grieve and celebrate at the same time. It is beautiful even.

I know that you have been told to pack your grief away, to hide it under the rug. I know it would be tempting to do it, to just pretend it hasn’t all burned down. This season I pray you let the ashes lie. See what might sprout from this fertile ground.

I have goosebumps pricking grateful up and down my skin from reading Abby's powerful words.  And I agree with her -- that God gets it, that Christmas can handle all this ash, and that maybe, just maybe, if we let those ashes alone, something beautiful will grow up there in that place where there is so much anguish.

What do you think?  Have you been letting others convince you to sweep the ashes away?  How's that working?  Or, how would you like to try leaving the ashes where they are this year?  I am with you and for you, friends.  Let's honor the ashes and the ache, together.

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Abby Norman lives and loves in the city of Atlanta. She has two hilarious children and a husband that doubles as her copy editor and biggest fan. If two in diapers and a full time job teaching English at a local high school don’t keep her busy, you can find her blogging at accidentaldevotional. Abby loves all kinds of Girl Scout cookies, and carries a dream of one day writing a book about teaching in her heart.  


  1. This is absolutely beautiful. I found the tear between grieving the death of some of my babies and celebrating with my living children to be so very painful, especially that first year. I wished it were one or the other, but the both was very hard. I do feel like something beautiful came of it, though. I love the ashes. <3

  2. I'm with you, Abby. Let's honor the ashes in our lives. A path to true redemption, and freedom from the weight of carrying the facade. Thank you for this.

  3. So much, yes. Let the ashes lie. And, the beauty in them. God can handle it. Christmas can handle it. It is so why He came for us. Thank you.

  4. I have many ashes from this year. I think I will do a ceremonial burning of the words and people that cursed my life this year and put the ashes in a pot to fertilise new life. Thank you for such a great post!

    1. A ceremonial burning! Paula, I love that.


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King