Last week my article, “Alone for the Holidays” was reposted. When I was single, Thanksgiving through New Year’s were some of my loneliest days of the year. One year after my last single Christmas, I wrote:
“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.”
This was true for me every Christmas. And I don’t wish to downplay loneliness by presenting some kind of four-step plan for ridding yourself of it. My intention is to offer some practical advice for getting through and having a happier holiday.
1. Be with people. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is the No. 1 way to ward off loneliness. If you don’t live near family and most of your friends are out of town, it might be tempting to wear pajamas and curl up with Netflix come Christmas. Don’t. Find people to be with. Reach out to families you know, and see if you can stop by with cookies or join them for a meal. Community is good for the mind and soul. If you’re an introvert, like me, the effort may not seem worth it, but spending time with people is balm to the lonely heart.
2. Do something for others. In “Making it a Merry Christmas,” I wrote:
“Many of my holiday disappointments have stemmed from selfishness. Things don’t go the way I had hoped, and I start feeling sorry for myself. Instead of thinking about how to secure the perfect gift that would make Mom’s life easier, I grumble about the ugly pajamas I receive.
“Putting others first, with no thought of what you’ll get in return, is a rewarding experience.”
Each year, when I visit my family at Christmas, I’ve tried to look for ways to intentionally bless others. This year my siblings and I are taking shifts to help my mom prepare meals and clean them up (she loves doing the cooking but not being stuck with all the mess). You can also branch out beyond family and friends and see if you can volunteer to serve a meal at your local Rescue Mission or visit a nursing home to visit with the elderly (many of whom may not have visitors).
3. Do something for yourself. I have always been the type to take action rather than lament later that something didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. For example, I’ll plan my own birthday party before I’ll go uncelebrated (and feel sad about it). The same principle applies to Christmas. Do at least one thing you really want to do. For me, a special family tradition was going to see a movie on Christmas Day. So each year I was the champion for making that happen. Regardless of how the day turned out, I could count on that highlight (that felt like Christmas to me). Another friend likes to use her gift cards to go shopping the day after Christmas. One year my housemates and I held a fancy New Year’s party for our friends so the day could be fun and festive. It’s better to plan to do a few things you’ll enjoy rather than feel sorry for yourself later, which can intensify loneliness.
4. Remember God’s heart for you. In the aforementioned article on loneliness, I referred to “the promise.” Some have mistaken that to mean I was saying that God promised to give me a spouse. That is not what I meant. I meant that God had promised to give me abundant life with or without a spouse. His Word is full of wonderful promises that are for all believers. The promise is that as I follow Him, He will do what is best in my life. I recognized that even though I didn’t have the spouse I had long desired, God had a good plan for me that I couldn’t yet see. And His heart is for His children to replace loneliness with community. In my singleness, I often remembered Psalm 68:6, which says, “God sets the lonely in families” (NIV). This season you may not feel like that is a true statement for you, but you can believe that God desires to meet you in your loneliness and give you hope.
I can’t promise that you won’t feel lonely this Christmas. I can promise that God is there for you and He cares. Seek out others, serve, pursue meaningful celebration and remember God’s love for you. And with His help, some of that loneliness will dissipate in the warmth of community.