The holidays are a time for recognizing our profound fullness, of purposefully dwelling on the abundant overflow we find ourselves in and being grateful for it.
Our houses and our bellies bulge to capacity, and we gleefully overindulge in food and friends and laughter. We fill ourselves to bursting with all the things and the people and the stuff that make life glorious and make the difficulties bearable.
This is a season where we inventory our lives and readily acknowledge all that is good and sweet and right.
It is about celebrating presence.
But not for you.
Not right now.
Though you may indeed have so many reasons to feel fortunate and to give thanks, what this season is now marked by more than anything else—is absence. Surrounded by noise and activity and life, your eyes and your heart can’t help but drift to that quiet space that now remains unoccupied: the cruel vacancy of the empty chair.
You’re not alone, friend. In fact, though they’re supposed to nurture gratitude and deposit peace within us, the holidays have a way of magnifying loss; of in the middle of all the celebration and thanksgiving, reminding us of our incompleteness, our lack, our mourning.
The empty chair is different for everyone, though it is equally intrusive.
For some it is a place of a vigil; the persistent hope of a prodigal returning, of a severed tie to soon be repaired, of a long overdue reunion to come. It is a place of painful but patient waiting for what is unlikely, yet still possible.
For some the chair is a memorial; the stark reminder of what was and no longer is, of that which never will be again. It is a household headstone where we eulogize and grieve and remember,; a face we squint to see, a hand we stretch to hold, a voice we strain to hear.
For some it is a fresh wound; the painful fallout of a brutal battle that we chose or had thrust upon us, one whose aftermath has yielded silence. It is a place of sometimes necessary but still excruciating separation.
This may be the first time the chair has been empty for you, or you may have grown quite accustomed to the subtraction. Either way it hurts like hell, and I wanted you to know that someone sees you and understands.
This would usually be the time when a writer might offer some silver lining goodness to tie everything up in pretty little bow; some closing reminders about how the empty chair is still a blessing because it reminds us that we had something worth grieving over to begin with. It’s the place where he or she would offer some concluding encouragement regarding the lessons the empty chair teaches us, about living in the moment and being thankful for what we have and about growing through suffering.
I’m not going to do that. You’ll learn those lessons and acquire that wisdom and find that healing in your way and in your time—or you won’t. Life is unpredictable and messy that way.
Right now, I just want you to know that I see your waiting, your grief, and your pain, and that I wait and grieve and suffer too. In that way we all sit together in this, gathered around this same incomplete table.
Maybe that is all we can offer one another: our compassionate presence in this face of this terrible absence.
In this season each of us learns to have fellowship with sadness, to celebrate accompanied by sorrow. This is the paradox of loving and being wounded simultaneously.
May we each make peace with the holidays and the empty chairs.