A single friend of mine recently posted a picture of herself at a holiday event. She wrote about how looking at the picture — of her by herself — reminded her of her alone-ness, and that she isn’t where she wanted to be at this point in her life. I admired her boldness in so honestly sharing these vulnerable feelings and resonated with much of what she wrote, though I often hesitate to say it myself.
For singles, what is it about the holidays that makes us think more about our dissatisfaction with where we are? What is it about this time of year that reminds us of how lonely we sometimes feel?
Traditions and expectations
Maybe it’s the emphasis on family and tradition. My childhood Christmas memories are so ingrained in my memories that there are certain Christmas songs I like only if they are performed by a specific artist. Her old album, that is — not that new, re-released version. Maybe some of this longing is fueled by an eagerness to pass on the traditions that have always meant so much to us, or even make our own new traditions. Maybe.
Or maybe loneliness is driven by cultural reminders. Christmas songs, movies, and even commercials revolve around family, tradition, or finding a significant other just in time for Christmas Eve. In the now-classic rom-com “While You Were Sleeping,” Lucy is destined to have a lonely Christmas Day at work — until her secret crush walks by. Countless Hallmark movies show the similar, familiar story of the lonely single or disappointed ex-fiancée drowning in her loneliness until an attractive acquaintance or stranger somehow enters (or re-enters) her life.
I wonder if stories like these fuel our expectations for this time of year. Do we expect more out of November and December? Do we look for our circumstances to magically change like St. Nicholas inexplicably visiting every house on Christmas Eve?
Three little verses
In the book of Luke, there are three verses dedicated to telling the story of Anna. We know very little about her, but we do know that she was an old, widowed prophetess who spent literally all her time praying and worshiping at the temple. When Mary and Joseph took eight-day-old Jesus to the temple for ceremonial religious reasons, Anna was one of two people who are recorded as having met the infant King.
Think about that. Anna was an elderly widow. In many ways, she was that culture’s lowest of the low. But when God planned for His Son to make His first appearance at the temple, He planned for Anna to be there to greet Him. Luke records Anna’s response: “And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
As far as we know, Anna’s circumstances never changed. She likely remained at the temple, and probably didn’t live long enough to see Jesus begin His earthly ministry. But Anna had met the Promised One, the baby who was called Immanuel: God with us. For Anna, that was enough. No matter her circumstances, she wasn’t alone.
Immanuel is one of my favorite names for Christ. God with us. How crazy unexpected is it that the God of the universe would call himself one who is “with” His people? Not above them. Not out of their league. Both of these are true, but when God chooses the name to reveal himself, He tells us to call Him the one who is with us.
Lonely no more
There are many lonely people at Christmastime. Those who are grieving. Divorced. Not speaking with certain family members. Those who live too far away to see family on Christmas this year, or whose family members made other plans for the day. In times of quarantine, social distancing and travel protocols, there are probably even more lonely people than usual.
Feelings of alone-ness can pop up more easily around holidays, so there may be no better time to remind ourselves of why we even celebrate Christmas. Waiting in the middle of less-than-desired circumstances is the perfect picture of Advent. Even if our circumstances never change, as Anna’s likely never did, Jesus is our Immanuel. With us. wherever we are, whatever life stage we are in.
The Christmas season doesn’t guarantee any of us a Hallmark ending. But we have something much more hopeful and fulfilling than any snow-covered, hot-chocolate-filled movie set: No one is ever alone in Christ.
Copyright 2021 Lauren Dunn. All Rights Reserved.