The most wonderful time of the year is almost upon us. I used to squirm when I’d see peoples’ Christmas trees up before it even turned December. But this year I totally get it. In fact, hats off to all those who did bonfire night one night, festive decorations the next. Who says we have to wait to usher in the light and warmth of Christmas.
But what if for some people the opposite is true. Jimmy Cannon said Christmas is a holiday that ‘persecutes the lonely, frayed, and the rejected’. Sad thing is I can relate. This traditional time of happiness is marred by some of my most painful memories. My new ebook Unperson – the Christmas Collection revisits them in more detail. Click here if you want to read it.
Loneliness is particularly prevalent at this time of the year. Different charities do an excellent job in reminding us about the elderly and the homeless. But loneliness can also be hidden in plain sight. It exists in families, marriages and friendships.
When my marriage hit a rocky patch a few years ago I remember being left out of a friend’s annual Christmas dinner party. Why? Because she wasn’t sure how to navigate the fact that I was separated. (To add insult to injury it was another friend who told me I wasn’t invited.) Perhaps that year my circumstances were too ugly. I only fit the bill if I was in a loving relationship. The seating plan would be uneven. My brokenness would be an unattractive, unwelcome visitor at the perfectly curated table. I was already feeling rejected by my husband. Now I felt ostracised by my friends too.
Another year, I attended a church service that fell between Christmas & New Year. My husband and kids went through to the auditorium and I went to grab a coffee. As I waited in the queue I saw a lady I hadn’t seen for a while. She smiled, joining me in the queue and asked me if I’d had a nice Christmas. For a split second I wrestled with the standard christian response of “yes, lovely – and you”. But something inside caused a stir. If I couldn’t be honest in the house of God, then where could I be? It felt awkward as I just wanted to get a drink and join the service. And I’m sure she wanted to do the same. Opening up in a spontaneous way can be unpredictable. However, I did it. I told her I’d had a terrible Christmas. That I felt unappreciated and invisible. That I actually couldn’t wait to get back to work. All the resentment and disappointment over the last few days came out and she looked at me dumbfounded. Oh crap, I thought. I’ve said too much. Why didn’t I just give her the customary answer. To my amazement she said I’m so glad you said that. I feel exactly the same. Wow. We proceeded to have one of the most beautiful, heartfelt chats I’ve ever had in that church foyer. I realised I wasn’t on my own. We both heard and acknowledged one another. There was zero judgment and we instantly felt a weight had been lifted.
I wonder how many meaningful conversations fall victim to our busy lifestyle. Or how we’re missing out on the potential to deepen our faith and fellowship because of a religious mindset that says everything is good because I’m a follower of Jesus. Then there’s the fear and/or shame that drives false positivity and perfection in our culture.
Being honest when we feel alone requires courage. It can feel easier (and safer) to keep things contained than open up and risk a flood, especially when we’re close to breaking point. By not having an outlet though our feelings get pushed back down and stay there compressed and suppressed.
I thank God for that coffee queue moment. And for the dinner party exclusion. Experiences like these have allowed me to explore and honour my vulnerability. I’ve found it’s paved the way for more brave souls to follow. There’s often something about Christmas that brings things to a head and my radar is tuned into the frequency of those who feel most alone. It’s my mission to see hope and joy restored in peoples lives.
I’ve just published my first book and it’s very relevant to the festive season. Click here to access your complimentary copy.