What emotions do the holidays provoke in you? Nostalgia brings us back to the happiness of positive memories. Excitement bursts with every carol and Christmas commercial. For better or worse, we begin anxiously anticipating December 25th right after Thanksgiving. Our hustle and bustle within the shopping, decorating, and attending parties can exhaust us.
Hidden among these external emotions includes loneliness. In the overwhelming polarities of this season, we find ourselves desiring deeper connectedness. Who can we share our joy? Who can understand us in our anxiety? Who can be present with us in our pain? The search to be known heightens.
The feeling of loneliness enters our lives in various contexts during the holidays:
It comes from actual physical separation from others.
It results from not feeling understood by others.
It happens when a person continually gives and serves without the feeling of appreciation.
It seems apparent because everyone else has an invitation to the party except you.
We can believe certain lies of loneliness. Somehow, feeling this emotion means neediness or ingratitude. To numb the pain, we often add to our activities, turn to entertainment, and look for distractions without ever dealing with this emotion. It’s not easy to share with others, let alone thinking they could understand us.
Christmas celebrates the miracle of Jesus coming down from heaven to earth; the Incarnation. In our reading of scripture, we can lose the human element of the story. The writers of the Gospels give us glimpses of Jesus alone. These writers account for times Jesus retreats alone to pray. His interactions with the disciples reveal how little they understood His pain. He walks alone in the wilderness of temptation.
The Incarnation reminds us that our Savior walked through the loneliness. When Hebrews describes Him as High Priest, identifying with us in our weakness (Hebrews 4:14-16). He has been where we are, not to tell us to get over the pain but provide His presence to us in those moments.
Loneliness reframed becomes an invitation. Not easy to receive, but a moment to recognize the content of our hearts and become more aware of God around us. I think sometimes our struggle with loneliness comes from distracting ourselves from it rather than entering into it. Thomas Merton in No Man is an Island says this:
The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God. Such a one is alone with God in all places and he truly enjoys the companionship of other men, because he loves them in God in Whom their presence is not tiresome…(pg. 229)
Whether you find yourself with people around or not, you may walk through loneliness in the midst of the joy of the holiday. Entering the invitation of loneliness does not dismiss the pain. Instead, we learn to create spaces of solitude and like so many in the pages of Scripture wait on God.
Then as we embark into of community, Christ’s grace makes us more aware of others. Just as Christ has provided His presence to us, we can help others who face loneliness sense His presence. Entering our loneliness helps humanize others and bring hope in the midst of the darkness.
How might loneliness invite you to find Jesus? Who around you is experiencing loneliness and how can you be present with them?
Photo credit by Nikola Jelenkovic.