It’s simply amazing to me how quickly the Christmas things are out on store shelves!! Before we can even get through Halloween the little green and red stuff starts appearing in stores. Then well before Thanksgiving, Walmart and Target and Costco are in full Christmas shopping swing.
Of course, I know that this is mostly because of the category retail stores put Christmas in—exactly that: Retail. But what is also kind of ironic is that this particular season does not invoke joy from everyone. As some of us know very well, this season can the catalyst for more pain and loneliness than any other time of year.
What I’ve also realized as I’ve gotten older and spent more time counseling and teaching women, is that this pain and loneliness isn’t necessarily dependent on physicality, and by that I mean whether or not you are physically alone or not.
Loneliness and depression are no respecter of persons. They don’t just appear because of a death or a separation. They can come seemingly out of nowhere with no outward valid reason, and they invade every aspect of the recipient’s life.
Christmas just makes that harder. It’s like having joy forced down your throat, and there’s not much else in the world that can make a person less joyful than being sad and then surrounded by a lot of stuff telling you to be happy.
Now, these things are all painfully true, but they take on an even more painful aspect when we, as Christians, suffer from depression and loneliness at Christmas. After all, the thing we’re really celebrating is the highest reason for any of us to give praise and thanksgiving—the birth of our Savior!
How sad for believers to suffer during the one time of the year we should be celebrating so much. What a horrible tactic that serves the enemy well.
So, what is the solution? The answer is, of course, not simple, but because we know what is true, despite the enemy’s greatest efforts to the contrary, we must act in what we know, not what we feel.
I remember the great Chuck Colson used to say, “Never believe your heart. It will lie to you every time.” That is largely true, and when we let that weak little organ dictate how we live, then we run the risk of wasting our energies that should be spent in celebration. Christmas is one more example of believers living according to what they know instead of what they feel.
That’s precisely why Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 17:9,
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
I remember a few years ago when both of my boys were in the military. Miles is a Marine and Spence served in the Army. It just so happened that both of them were in Afghanistan at the same time and it was over Christmas.
I sank into a pit of despair and loneliness, so much so that I couldn’t imagine celebrating Christmas. I announced to my husband that I didn’t even want to be home at Christmas. I wasn’t going to decorate or cook or celebrate in any way. He, of course, just said “Yes, dear,” as any smart man would at that point, and that’s what I thought I would do.
However, as I prayed and worked through these feelings, I began to see that how I perceived and felt during the celebration of the birth of my Savior was largely up to me. I could choose to be sad, and I was. Nothing was going to change that. My boys were far from home, alone, in the middle of a war, and I was sad. However, what I did in the midst of this sadness was entirely up to me.
Would I choose to honor my King even in my despair, or was I going to allow my circumstances dictate the honor I gave Him?
Now, I know this is easier said than done. Believe me, I know this. That, however, doesn’t change the way things are. So, what I did was come up with a list of things I could do in a practical way that would be somewhat celebratory and also God-honoring, and then I went about doing them.
The result is what follows, “Ten Steps to Freedom from Loneliness at Christmas,” because you know what happened when I took my eyes off of myself and my situation and put them on these things? That’s right! My eyes were off myself and my situation and onto Jesus and others and the actual reason for the season. When that happened, I wasn’t quite so sad and not quite so alone.
So let me share these with you, and as I do, please don’t think that I mean to in any way minimize depression and loss and loneliness, especially during this holiday season. What I do seek to do is to give you some practical things you can do with your focus in the middle of all the sorrow so that you can do what we all should do—live in what you know instead of what you feel.
Ten Steps to Freedom from Loneliness at Christmas
1. Put up some Christmas decorations.
I realize this seems quite trivial, but it is something to do, and in doing it, you’re basically telling your heart that you’re not listening to it. Instead you’re going to be festive, for crying out loud☺!
It doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive, but be sure that most of what you put up is about Jesus. After all, it is His birthday we’re celebrating. Then once it’s up, you have a daily visual reminder of why you’re celebrating in the first place.
2. Get involved with your local church’s Christmas pageant/program/outreach.
This one is #2 on the list, but that by no means represents it as minimally important. This step is very important. Find out what your church is doing to celebrate, and get involved. Most churches at least do something with the children, and they are a blast during the holidays. It will be good medicine to be around the little ones who seem to have no troubles at all celebrating Christmas and having abundant joy in the midst of it.
If you don’t belong to a church, then find one that is close to you and get involved with their program. Prayerfully you’ll find a church home when you weren’t even expecting it!
3. Make plans for Christmas Day.
The tendency when we are lonely is to isolate ourselves, which when you see that actually written seems a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? However, this is precisely the human condition, so do something against that now. Make plans for Christmas Day. If you don’t have family in town, don’t be afraid to ask someone if you can join them for Christmas dinner. What is even better is if you organize a little dinner or something for you and anyone else you know who might be alone during this time.
My instinct when my boys were in Afghanistan was to isolate myself and stay alone. I had to make the decision to make plans for that day. As it turned out, my husband and I served dinner to some others at our local church and then spent the day with another family. It was wonderful and so blessed, but it could have been exactly what I would have naturally chosen—lonely and sad.
Start now. Have a plan and stick to it.
4. Make a “20/20” List.
This one needs a little explanation. We’ve all heard the saying, “Hindsight is 20/20,” meaning that we all have perfect vision when we’re looking at what has already happened. A “20/20” list is a physical list that I make quite often when I’m feeling sad or lonely. I take just few minutes and make a list of all the ways God has shown Himself both faithful and loving in my past.
It may take a few attempts, but all of us can write something, and the physical act of writing them is exceptionally therapeutic. As a matter of fact, while I was studying for my master’s degree in the Art of Teaching, I did my thesis on how the brain remembers things. I found out that there is actually a trigger in the brain for memory when we physically put pen or pencil to paper. It will happen with the computer, too, but not nearly as strongly. When we physically write something on paper, the chemical reactions in our brains for memory are stronger than at any other time.
Writing a 20/20 list will help. I promise.
And you don’t even have to be good at it!! Sing Christmas songs, sing praise songs, and don’t just passively listen—Sing!! Sing loudly and sing out! Sing in your car, sing in your house or apartment, sing in your back yard—sing anywhere. It’s just about impossible to feel sad when you’re singing about the joy of Jesus and His birth. We’re going to live forever only because of it, so sing about it!
I remember counseling a woman one time who had been suffering from loneliness and depression for a long time. She had been coming to see me for a while when one day I asked her, “Where do you serve?”
She looked at me like I had suddenly sprouted an extra head and asked incredulously, “What do you mean?”
“Where do you serve?” I repeated. “Where are you volunteering?”
She was, quite frankly, flabbergasted and a little put out. “How am I supposed to serve or volunteer when I feel like this? Shouldn’t you be asking what has been done for me by others?”
How sad that is, but again, that is our human condition. When we are sad and lonely, it is often our last instinct to serve someone else, but I can tell you definitively that serving someone else in the middle of your pain is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Find a soup kitchen or a shelter or somewhere in your church (Ask the Children’s minister. Believe me, they are always happy to have help!), or just look in your neighborhood. Help someone. It is an elixir for sadness that is just about unmatched by anything else.
7. Join a bible study.
There are so many reasons why you should do this, not the least of which is to study the very Love Letter written to you by your Bridegroom and the Lover of your soul. There are lots of support groups out there, and many of them are very good, but nothing is quite as rewarding and edifying than spending time with other believers while looking at God’s Holy Word.
However, even beyond the obvious benefits of studying God’s Word with other believers, it’s the “other believers” that is key here, which leads right into number 8 on the list.
8. Be vulnerable.
Yikes! I had to go and say the “V-word” didn’t I? This is so difficult, I totally understand. It’s extremely hard for me to open myself up to disappointment and ridicule and betrayal, which might not even happen but is more likely when you open up to others. However, the flip side of that is so rewarding that we simply have to take the chance more often.
Be vulnerable with someone, especially someone in your local body of believers. Is there a chance that you might get hurt? Of course there is, but there is an even better chance that you will be uplifted and encouraged and even more than that, an encouragement to someone else.
We live so much in a society of self-dependence and self-reliance that we’ve lost sight of how meaningful personal relationship actually is. However, it’s nigh impossible to have relationship with anyone else if we’re so busy guarding our hearts from possible disappointment that we never venture into vulnerability.
Share your heart with someone. Be vulnerable. You’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised by the results.
9. Reach out to family and friends, especially those with whom you may be estranged.
These just keep getting harder and harder, don’t they? But there’s a reason for that. The more we’re willing to step outside of ourselves and allow healing in all areas of our lives, the more we rob Satan of any foothold he might have in causing us such loneliness and despair, especially during this most glorious of holidays.
Another truth of the human condition is that people will disappoint us. They will hurt us and betray us and trash our hearts sometimes. And we will occasionally do that to others. Part of our own healing comes in that vulnerability we allow when we reach out to family members or friends, especially when we haven’t spoken to them for a while due to some sort of unresolved hurt.
Take that step. Be the first one to talk. Be the first one to call. It may or may not bring resolution in the relationship, but it will bring peace to you. Paul wrote in Romans 12:8,
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
The reason for that is the “peace” that comes with it. Pride and stubborn refusal to seek restoration, especially during the holidays, causes more useless loneliness than just about anything else. Don’t do that to yourself. Reach out.
10. Spend time with Jesus.
I saved this for last, because it is absolutely the most important. How can we celebrate the birth of our King if we don’t even know Him? Make time for Jesus every single day. Get to know Him who came and gave His very life so that you would live forever with Him.
There are no excuses that work here. It doesn’t matter if you have a hard job or you don’t feel well or you don’t know where to start. Those are exactly what I just called them— excuses—and they will simply not cut it for the bride of the Most High.
However you do it, please just do it. Spend time with Jesus every single day. Get to know Him, this Savior who said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” because He won’t.
I pray you have a gloriously blessed and happy Christmas. May your joy be exponentially greater as each day passes, and may loneliness be a thing of the past as you revel in the reality of your position in eternity. Amen.