On December 29th, 2018, just a few weeks before beginning my last semester of seminary, my mother suddenly passed away. I was 25 years old, my mom was 54. The six and a half years of theological and pastoral education prior to my mom’s passing taught me that the church was meant to be a place of respite for those who mourn. Yet, when I found myself needing the church to grieve, I could not find any space for my grief within the walls of my church. That first year after my mom died, I felt like I no longer “fit in” at my local church, and at my core, I wondered if God even saw or cared about my suffering.

During the first Advent season without my mom, I desperately needed a space where my grief, God, and Advent could all meet and be reconciled. I thought that space would appear easily, after all, isn’t Advent the season where we celebrate that God himself became human to not only see our suffering, but also experience it first hand? Unfortunately, that reminder never came, every week I found myself silently holding back tears while the rest of the congregation sang “Joy To The World”. I felt so alone, and I am sure my loneliness broke God’s heart.

As I began to heal and share my testimony, I found that a lot of other grieving people, including my own congregants, find the Advent season especially difficult. This realization caused me to create Liel, an organization that delivers practical, faith preserving, grief resources to a bereaved person’s front door. This year, I launched the “Advent Grief Box”, a grief resource that contains five devotionals and activities to help a grieving person know that they are seen and loved by God during the Advent season.

I never expected to be called into grief ministry, yet, this year over 100 “Advent Grief Boxes” have been distributed to people all over the United States. Pastors have given them to grieving congregants, parents havebought them for their children, therapists for their clients, husbands for their wives, the list goes on and on. But, each person simply wants to let someone they love know that grief does not disqualify them from Advent, and that just might be the only gift they actually need this Christmas. If you are grieving this Christmas know that your grief does not disqualify you from the Advent season. At the manger, there is space for those who grieve and suffer. Just as Jesus was born in the midst of a dark night, God can bring you peace in the midst of your suffering.

Rev. Kalina Smith, an MDiV graduate from Princeton, is the Assistant Pastor of Three Rivers Wesleyan Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  She is also the owner and creator of Liel, where she offers her Advent Grief Boxes to individuals in need of encouragement and support.