Walking Our Faith: Defeating the lonely moments during Christmas season (column)
Walking Our Faith
An unexpected snowstorm. And in this hour before sunset, the sky has cleared enough for the lingering rays of the sun to cast a delicate wash of pink across the newly fallen snow.
This beauty can make you feel cozy and secure or desolate and lonely. My decorations are up, my first round of Christmas cookies have been baked and given out. Handel’s “Messiah” plays in the background as I move around my home.
I sit down to my morning devotions and read this passage by Henri Nouwen:
“When a person is surrounded by a loving, supportive community, Advent and Christmas seem pure joy. But let me not forget my lonely moments because it does not take much that loneliness reappears… When Jesus was loneliest, he gave most. That realization should help to deepen my commitment to service and let my desire to give become independent of my actual experience of joy. Only a deepening of my life in Christ will make that possible.”
Henri Nouwen, a priest, teacher and spiritual writer, wrote openly about his battle with depression.
And so have I.
It is occasionally repeated that this season of darkness and light, joy and recollection, has one of the highest suicides rates of the year. It is difficult to comprehend that truth as we gaze at the joyful faces of young children gathered for the lighting of the Christmas tree downtown. It’s hard to imagine anyone feeling alone when stores and restaurants and even our churches are filled with smiling, happy people.
Yet, as I put the finishing touches on my latest book: “The Best Christmas,” I include one final essay you might find surprising in a book about Christmas.
It is an essay about my struggles with depression that sometimes show up unexpectedly and leave me with dark thoughts about life and whether it is worth living. I know that there will be at least one person who comes to the end of the book and feels as if there is still something they are searching for, a balm for the emptiness they are experiencing during this season of joy.
The snow and gray skies have continued for another day and so has the writing of this column. Henry, my ten-year-old Newfoundland dog, doesn’t care for long walks anymore, so we don’t venture far from home. Other than these walks we don’t have much reason to leave the house. So, I stay inside and write and cook. But I know if I don’t venture out soon, loneliness will creep beneath the door and make itself comfortable in a chair by the fire.
Here’s what I will do to keep loneliness at bay. I will go to Mass this Sunday and afterwards, I will stay for coffee and doughnuts and make a point of conversation. Then, I will go to the library to pick up books, and then to the dog park so Henry can visit friends. I will join my prayer shawl knitting group on Wednesday and then to Adoration on Thursday evening. In these small ways, I will leave the house and participate in my community.
I enjoy private devotional time in mornings and evenings at home, quiet time with God is my favorite time. Yet, I know that even as Jesus retreated from the crowds to pray, he returned to be with his disciples, to travel through his community, to share his message of love and healing.
And that is what we are called to do, throughout the year, but especially during Advent when quiet anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ is lost in the tumult of frenetic holiday cheer.
We are called to find balance. To follow Jesus’ example: a healthy mix of quiet prayer and going out, not just for holiday parties, but to lend a helping hand to those who need us more now. Those who are homebound by illness and would enjoy a home-cooked meal, those we can serve at a community dinner, or an unexpected gift given to someone who lives alone and might not have much to receive this year.
This is how we defeat loneliness during Advent, we follow Jesus’ example. Here is the magic of Advent: Our hearts are filled as we give away our love, and emptied, we are filled with God’s love and no longer lonely.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson is the author of “The Best Christmas: Unwrapping the Gift of Love That Will Make this Your Best Christmas Ever,” available on Amazon.com
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