The chair sits empty at dinnertime. There is conversation and homework. There is the sound of giggles and forks hitting plates. We watch the sun go down through the window across from the empty chair.
We pretend not to notice the chair during special occasions. We stuff the absence down as deep as we can and smile through it. Guests have learned not to ask about the empty chair. We tiptoe around it in the mornings before school.
At nighttime, we nervously pass by it on the way to the kitchen only to meet it once more on our way back to bed. I often stub my toe on the leg of the empty chair when I am sweeping, but that isn’t where it hurts. We pretend not to notice the grown up crying. We act like we are all ok and tune out the painful silence.
We bear the alienation that the grief brings. We pretend to pass the chair the butter or refuse to eat at the table at all. We exhaust everything we have to change that chair, but some things cannot be changed. Some things are permanent. Some things are gone forever.
Some empty chairs don’t even hold hope. Some chairs don’t want to be filled. Some empty chairs force us to wait in what could be possible, but is probably unlikely. Some empty chairs are like cold tombstones and failed traditions. Some are chilling reminders of how things used to be and will never be again. They’re open wounds that just won’t heal. Some are just waiting for a return.
As I gaze at the chair in the light of the Christmas tree, I realize that this year feels a lot like the last. Sometimes we have to find peace in knowing that the empty chair means the former occupant is where they feel the most happy and free. Sometimes we find solace in knowing that they have reached their forever home. Sometimes we see empty chairs as tangible evidence that a life’s purpose is being served.
That view isn’t always easy. A lot of days it isn’t even possible. If you have an empty chair this season, I am praying for you. Whether you are separated from your loved one by death, conflict, divorce, work, or the military- your pain is valid. Your grief is real. That chair is empty.
These are the things we don’t like to talk about. These are the feelings or the truths or the circumstances that we hide the most, but they never really go away. We get better at playing our parts and looking to the future. We get better at normalizing what is not normal at all.
But maybe we can stop. Maybe we can allow ourselves the opportunity to weep over our empty chairs. Maybe we can throw them against the walls of our minds. Maybe we can parade them through town.
We can always take those chairs to God. Your pain and your suffering do not discredit your christianity. Your sorrow and resentment do not remove your God. Your struggle and strife do not show a lack of faith. Smiles are not more Godly than tears.
I feel we often believe that to be good Christians, we have to always be joyful. Taking your pain to God, falling at His feet, even yelling about why you’re disappointed is still being a Christian. He sent His son to Earth.
Remember the season. That is the ultimate example of His desire for relationship. Jesus walked with us. He felt pain with us. We are known. We are accepted. Perfection is not expected. Persistent joy is not expected.
Look at your empty chair, Mama. Look up to your God. Let Him meet you in the most humble, real, and emptiest of spaces. His own son was born in a stable. Not a joyful, singing palace. Not a smiling mansion. A stable.
God can use any setting and any state to do profound things. Let Him. Look around at those other chairs…the ones that have bodies. They feel it too, Mama. We can all fellowship in both joy and grief. We can both celebrate and mourn. You are not alone, dear friend. I am there too.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.