By Dr. Deb Waterbury
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.
However, what I’ve also realized is that loneliness is a choice. Oftentimes, so is sadness. We can choose to remain in that state, or we can choose to move out of it, but only we can do that for ourselves. It’s absolutely unrealistic to expect someone else to swoop in and do that on our behalf. I feel lonely a lot of the time, and I’ve also come to understand that if I want to eliminate that feeling, then I am the one who must do something about it.
What follows is a list I’ve created for this specific time of year to try to help myself and others get free from the pervading loneliness that seems to creep up on us particularly at Christmas. These are very practical suggestions, but I can promise you that if you will do even just a one or two of them, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much better you will feel.
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 loudJ!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.