Passing through Portalles, NM, you can’t help but notice the sign at the edge of town boasting that they are home to 17,000 friendly people and three or four old grumpy men. After you get over the initial shock, laughter follows as you consider how they determined this “fact” and just who the grumpy residents are.
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau starred in “Grumpy Old Men,” a comedy which humored us with the antics of two older men trying to win the favor of Ariel, played by Ann Margaret. These men were neighbors who were constantly at odds. The arrival of a beautiful woman took their rivalry to new heights.
We laugh at movies which are pure fiction, and giggle at towns that stress their friendliness with a tongue-in-cheek nod to the presence of a few grumpy residents. Yet, movies and billboards portray the reality that grumpy people exist. We probably know some…and sometimes they are looking back at us from the mirror.
Churches, and Christianity, are not guarantees that life will suddenly become a bed of roses. As long as we remain on earth, we are subject to the emotions and stresses that are common to the human experience. We are disappointed when people let us down, frustrated when everything seems to be falling apart, and saddened by losses. We get grumpy!
In the midst of holiday festivities, there are individuals who are struggling to cope long enough to get through. For some, the prodigal is not yet home and they look forward to a future Christmas with the whole family together and whole again. Others are dealing with terminal illnesses or the ravages of Alzheimer’s in a parent and struggling with the knowledge that precious few years may be left. Add to this those who are mourning a recent or distant loss of someone special, those who are separated from family by miles and more money than can get them home, and others who struggle with still being single or childless for yet another holiday that features more families in the ads that one can stomach.
And they are in our pews, probably smiling and laughing, but hurting inside just the same. In the midst of holiday cheer, they are grumpy and may feel pretty “grinch-like” at times. And, they may feel guilty if they admit it.
Give them permission. But give them something more valuable. Sometimes, all they need is someone to LUV them, it’s the best gift you can give:
- LISTEN – really pay attention and identify the feeling expressed.
- “You seem overwhelmed / worried / etc.” (identify the emotion)
- UNDERSTAND – seek to discover the real issue.
- “so you are feeling ______ because_____”
- VALIDATE – agree with what you can, acknowledge their reality
- That would be frustrating / worrisome / etc.”
THEN, stop right then and pray with and for them. Let them know that you support and encourage them. Offer to help them through the season by some tangible method (phone call, meet for coffee, shopping trip, make cookies together, etc.).
Finally, do remind them that God does know their struggle and that He promises to be there for them.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Cor. 4:7-9, ESV)
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35, 37-39, ESV)