Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Dipping the Quill Deeper: Writing Out of Our Grief During Christmas

by Eva Marie Everson

Ask me to name my favorite Christmas hymn, and I will find it difficult to answer. Perhaps “Angels We Have Heard on High.”[1] Not necessarily because of the lyrics, but because of a memory I have of being about ten years old, dressed in a white choir robe, along with the other children in my hometown church. As our “children’s Christmas cantata” opened, we strolled in near darkness from the back of the church, down two red-carpeted aisles, toward the choir loft, each of us carrying a flickering candle, each of us singing our little hearts out. Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains . . .

But if you were to ask my favorite Christmas song, well, that’s different. I will answer without hesitation, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The melody is haunting, yet inspiring. The words, the same. And, of course, much like the hymn “It Is Well,” knowing the story behind the song makes the singing of it or, in my case, the hearing of it even more powerful. 

American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), the man who created such notable works as “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “The Song of Hiawatha” (both of which every school-aged child living in America during in the 1960s had to memorize), recorded the words to this great song during a time of personal anguish. Two years before penning this poem that would become a song, in a year that would see America divided by the start of the Civil War, Longfellow had lost his beloved wife of eighteen years after she was severely burned in a household accident. Longfellow had been devoted to Fanny, a woman he’d courted for seven years before she finally relented and said “yes” to his proposals of marriage. He never recovered from her death, once writing that he was “inwardly bleeding to death.” Then, two years later, his oldest son Charles, against Longfellow’s wishes, entered the American Civil War. 

So it was on that Christmas Day, 1863, that Longfellow heard church bells pealing a reminder of what had been recorded in Luke’s gospel . . . that Jesus had come to bring peace on earth, good will to men. But Longfellow felt no peace. He only felt his grief. Until, in his writing, he came to a startling conclusion: 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Not everyone experiences joy at Christmas. Many of us are in one stage of grief or another. In fact, even for those of us who can focus more on the joy of Christmas, as we do and in the midst of that joy-filled doing, there is a part within us that feels the deepest grief. A loved one is no

longer with us. Our happy childhood memories are fading. A family member has just received a dire medical diagnosis. The financial cost of Christmas is greater than the income to repay it. 

The list of joy-stealers at Christmas go on and on. 

Some attempt to rise above the grief associated with these things. No, they think. It is Christmas, the time we celebrate the coming of the Christ-child. I will not despair. I will not even allow my mind to go there. 

But if you are like Longfellow, you—my fellow writer and friend—will pick up your pen and your journal and you will write out of that grief. Because of it. You will give it its rightful place in your heart so that God can bring you to the same conclusions He brought our beloved American poet. 

Riding the Waves
When I was a teenager growing up outside of Savannah, Georgia, my friends and I enjoyed summer days on Tybee Island. A particularly fun thing to do was to bodysurf, that riding of a wave from where it begins to form, locking hold of its crest, and then “riding” it until loses its power and crashes along the shoreline. Our intent was to find the place—the best place, the perfect place—within the wave to “catch it.” But the fun was the crash and roll following by washing up on the shell-crusted shore, laughing and slightly injured. 

Grief, wrote H. Norman Wright, is much like riding waves. Grief . . . takes you to the tops of the waves, and then they break, and you struggle in the froth of emotion. It also brings memories. It will expose who we really are inside. Waves run out of energy. As they move closer to the shore, their power is spent, and they slowly bubble up to the edge of the sand. The more we stand and fight and rail against the waves, the more exhausted we become . . . the more you accept it, hold out your arms to it, and even embrace it, the more you will recover . . . yield to your grief.[2]

Writers are not exempt from grief and Christian writers are not exempt from it, not even during Christmastime. We are, in fact, perhaps more prone to it. But, to ride its wave, we should—we must—pick up our pens and record our feelings. Write them out as we would ride out the perfect wave for bodysurfing until, like Longfellow, the wave gives out and we find the truth within them. 

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus, as written and recorded by John the Apostle John 8:32

[1] “Angels We Have Heard on High” was written in 1862 by James Chadwick (1813-1882), Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle and is usually sung to the hymn tune of "Gloria", a traditional French carol as arranged by American organist Edward Shippen Barnes (1887-1958) which reflects its most memorable feature, its chorus. 

[2] Experiencing Grief by H. Norman Wright (Broadman & Holman Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, 2004), pg. 5.


Eva Marie Everson is the president of Word Weavers International, the director of Florida Christian Writers Conference, and the contest director for Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. She is the multiple award-winning author of 40 books and countless articles and blogposts. She is also an award-winning speaker and a Bible teacher. Eva Marie is often seen at writers conferences across the States. She served as a mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild and taught as a guest professor at Taylor University in 2011. She and her husband make their home in Central Florida where they enjoy their grandchildren. They are owned by one persnickety cat.


  1. I trust you find Alycia doing this very thing.

    1. My heart held a picture of her during the entire time I wrote this (and even then some). Her and so, so many others! Too many others.

  2. Your elegant pen expressed grief perfectly. You used two of my favorite Christmas carols and my life verse. Thank you. Happy New Year!

  3. "Grief, wrote H. Norman Wright, is much like riding waves." So true. Thank you for your timely post. Blessings

  4. Thanks for this. That song resonates with me, too (Longfellow's). And yes, I picked up my pen often this Christmas season -- the first since my daughter died. My grief is immense, my heart still raw, and writing always helps at least a little.

    1. I am so sorry for your loss . . . and I do understand. I kept a separate journal during my brother's cancer journey so that I wouldn't forget what he (and we) were going through during those long/short weeks. Now, two-plus years later, I find looking through it very cathartic in my own healing.

  5. simply well written, and well read!

  6. Thank you, Eva, for this powerful and emotional post. The older I get the harder Christmas is for me because of the people who are no longer with me. Grief is like a wound that scabs over, but once in a while you bump it, and it bleeds. Though Christmas is filled with hope, joy, and peace, it's also a time when the scab gets bumped.

  7. This was touching and beautiful, Eva. It brought tears to my eyes. You’re such an excellent writer. I enjoyed learning about the lost loves of other writers and how they dealt with it. So sad yet their sadness produced great works. God bless you.

  8. Thank you. That was beautiful and met me where I am.