The holidays can be a lonely time. For me, they were very lonely.
December had come again, crisp with anticipation. Christmas was coming and my on-again-off-again crush had weedled his way back into my thoughts and emotions. Blame it on holiday sentiment, but I was entertaining an unlikely affection that had little to no basis in reality. It was a small flame, but I needed its warmth.
It's so much worse being single at Christmas. For the past decade I've wistfully listened to the Mariah Carey song "All I Want For Christmas is You," longing for someone to want. At times I've even manufactured someone, just to dull the nagging impression that no one wants me.
When we're bereft of romantic possibilities, we believe things like that — that nobody wants us. And it's easy to take it a step farther to nobody ever will. Sure, I would never have said that out loud or even believed it on a conscious level. But when you're lonely, there's something sinister underneath that whispers, "Nobody wants you. You are not the kind to be desired."
Though friends and moms and friends' moms assure you that you are "a catch," the proof is in the Christmas pudding, as they say, and you wonder why — if it's true that you're so loveable — no viable suitors seem to have gotten the memo.
You can convince yourself for short, sparkly moments that you are indeed fabulous and confidence is bolstered. Dress-up Christmas parties and holiday events provide those hope-moments of meeting someone Hollywood-style. But when nothing ultimately materializes you crash down to reality: "So it's really true. I knew it. I'm alone."
Home For Christmas
For me, these defeating thoughts have swirled like snowflakes in my brain each holiday season. There's a deadly combination of sentiment and romance wrapped up in Christmas that makes one's heart nearly explode with desire for companionship.
A lot of the coping mechanisms for singleness seem to fall to pieces during the holidays. We all know Thanksgiving and Christmas are about families sitting around tables and Christmas trees, exulting in the warmth of each other's love. Such images intensify one's longing for love and belonging. A few years ago, one single friend confided, "One of my goals is to have a boyfriend by Christmas."
Christmas has made me do some crazy things when it comes to the pursuit of love. Go on doomed-to-failure dates. Rekindle interest in long-ago buried crushes. Waste time texting and e-mailing guys who are impossibly wrong for me. Weak attempts to feel desired and wanted.
Ultimately, though, my self-manufactured romance is intensely unsatisfying. So much so, that I inevitably crash in utter misery and self-pity sometime between Christmas and New Years.
Isn't it true that all our own efforts to get things end in disappointment? I think of the biblical account of Abraham. God promised him a son, but as the years passed Abraham began to lose hope. Eventually, he gave in, slept with his concubine and had a son with her to try to make God's promise happen.
Many times I have been tempted to do the same thing: give up on God's plan and make something happen my own way. Whether settling into despair during a lonely holiday season or depending on my own frail attempts at Christmas romance, I've been guilty of losing sight of God's promise.
The thing is, that ugly feeling that I am unwanted and unloved couldn't be farther from the truth. Christmas is a reminder of that. God loved me so incredibly that He became a man so that He could experience what it's like to be human. He experienced rejection and loneliness. And ultimately, He gave His life so that I could have a relationship with Him. He chose me to be his daughter, so I never have to be alone.
That truth is as sweet as that little swaddled baby I picture in my mind, but it doesn't change the pain of waiting. Whether you're waiting for a promised son or someone to share life with, having faith for what you cannot see feels unbearable at times. Christmas, for me, has been one of those times. The promise can seem far away.
Comfort and Joy
Last Christmas, I woke early to the excited squeals of my nephews and the urgent shushes of my sister-in-law. Smiling, I emerged from the guest room and hurried into the living room to watch their Christmas delight. They danced around in anticipation of the joy set before them. Joy not yet realized but so close they could taste it.
The ancient believers were commended for the faith that produces this kind of joy. "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1). The promise. Just as my nephews pranced around, practically feeling in their hands the toys concealed by sparkly wrapping paper, I, too, had cause for joy. A hope and future found in the greatest gift giver of all.
At times this joy can feel bittersweet. In his book Surprised By Joy, C.S. Lewis makes this distinction about joy:
It is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.
Even when it is mixed with longings and sadness, joy is far superior to any happiness or pleasure I can secure for myself.
A Christmas Miracle
As I snuggled up on the couch with a blanket and watched my nephews tear into their gifts, I had no idea that my future husband was experiencing his own melancholy Christmas back in Colorado. That we would meet for coffee three short weeks later.
Though my attempts at holiday happiness had been futile, God knew what I needed. Though I was weary of spending Christmases alone, God knew that it was the last one. And though I glimpsed the promise dimly, He was already fulfilling it.
Perhaps Christmas is a gift in this way. It offers a season when many of our self-sufficiencies are stripped away and we are forced to refocus on where our hope lies — our eternal salvation through Jesus and the joy and anticipation of what the Father will do for us, and more importantly in us, in this life. Longings for good things we do not yet possess can push us closer to the Savior.
Abraham got his promised son. In fact, the patriarch pretty well redeemed his lack of faith when he was willing to sacrifice Isaac — the promise. Hebrews explains the reason behind his apparent change of heart: faith. Abraham trusted that God could do a miracle and raise his son from the dead to fulfill His promise (Hebrews 11:19).
That is the same God I serve. The same God who loves me and promises to do good for me. The same God who desperately wants me, to such a great extent that He sent His Son to redeem me. That is never more true than during the season in which we celebrate this profound gift.
At Christmas, more than any other time of the year, I need to feel God's love and desire for me. I need to remember the promise. Then, like my nephews, I can dance in anticipation of what God will do. That's all I want for Christmas.
Copyright 2009 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.