Dave Sloan, an Atlanta resident, writes and speaks on dating and courtship. Visit his website here.
I suppose there are some things that are more easily done alone, though I’m having trouble thinking of any. Hmm, maybe parachuting. But you still need someone to fly the plane. Maybe crawling down a manhole cover into a sewer, that’s easier one at a time — but why would anyone want to do that? Riding a pogo stick. Yep, I think that’s it. And that’s all about I can come up with.
Most things are harder alone.
Certainly that would include trying to get through the Advent and Christmas seasons. Who wants to face Christmas alone — much less New Year’s Eve, the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” and no one to kiss at midnight?
But for many of us single people, that’s pretty much what our yuletide season looks like. We try to be rugged individualists and self-reliant single Americans, but then we start hearing those Christmas carols, and our one-bedroom condos, solo dinner tables and little two-door sports cars with empty shotgun seats all seem a little too lonely to bear.
There are 2.5 times more people living alone in America than there were in 1970. The norm today is to move away from home to attend college and then stay away to further career and educational goals. With the brokenness of today’s families, many singles wouldn’t have much of a home to move back to anyway.
On top of that, most of our dating relationships don’t last all that long. We’re more likely to be getting into or getting out of or getting over a relationship than we are to be actually in one that’s healthy and happy and gives us someone with whom to share a heartwarming Christmas.
So what’s a Christian single to do come Christmas time in the absence of family or even a main squeeze?
We could try to participate in our own isolated way — buy one of those little twenty-inch predecorated Christmas trees for the condo, dress our dogs up to look like reindeer, or an elf, or maybe even Santa, then go and try to get into the spirit with the crowds and the carols at the mall. Or we could avoid the whole thing and pretend it isn’t happening — steer clear of any mistletoe with its cruel implications, tune out the seasonal melodies, and concentrate on planning a vacation someplace warm.
Either way, we’re likely to wind up like me a few years back, when alone and despondent, I spent most of the night downloading and listening to Barry Manilow songs from the Internet — “Weekend in New England,” “Mandy,” “Looks Like We Made It,” “Copacabana” — you get the picture. That’s what Christmas alone did to me.
There has to be a better way.
I believe there is. The better way is not to pretend that God ever intended us to be OK on our own. The triune God is a family, and so is His Church. God’s plan for all of us is a family plan. The challenge for single people is to reject the whole notion of self-reliance and set about finding ways to become part of God’s family by becoming part of the family life of the Church.
Nothing works better than trying to find ways to serve, even in small ways, to make some kind of contribution to the community to which we are called to belong. It’s easy to complain about the shortcomings of various activities in our churches. But to show up early and set up, and stick around late and clean up, is the way to start to get hooked up with family life.
It’s also important for the Church everywhere to start reaching out more to singles. All too often Church life seems to omit, almost even to exclude, singles. That’s not the Church’s fault. The single life as lived in our culture is a radical new phenomenon, unseen before in the annals of human history. America’s nearly 100 million single people will soon comprise a majority of all households, while less than a hundred years ago 85% of households were comprised of families. It’s understandable that the Church moves slowly, but the time has come for the Church to recognize that this enormous new demographic of single people is floating around, largely disconnected and displaced, and in great need of being included.
Especially in the holiday season it becomes crucial to find ways for single people to share the things that families share. Singles events should include shared meals, Christmas decorations and Christmas activities. Singles should get together and watch hokey, corny, old-fashioned Christmas movies together like they would if they were home with family.
It’s also important to integrate prayer into our activities together. There must not be a dichotomy between events which are spiritual and events which aren’t. Short, low-key prayers spread over the course of an evening can be the glue which transforms a group of people struggling with loneliness into a family sharing the joy which is the real spirit of Christmas.
It can fit in perfectly with any sort of gathering to have someone do a reading from Isaiah 40 near the beginning of the evening. And then later in the evening someone can read from Luke’s Gospel the extraordinary proclamation of the angel to the three shepherds which tells of “good news of a great joy for all the people.”
Another great tool for building up family life among singles is to share night prayer together from the Liturgy of the Hours. This prayer, particularly when recited back and forth between the men and the women, has the power to forge profound familial bonds among those who share it. A simple, one-page version of night prayer can be found at www.GodofDesire.com
Another excellent plan for singles is to use our email lists and other means to let people know that there are certain Masses at which we’ll be meeting. Eucharist is the ultimate sacrament for building family. Singles should share this sacrament as often as possible for the intention of sharing fully in the family life of the Church. Afterwards, the group can go out to share in any of the things that families do together at Christmas.
I’ll close by suggesting that we seek Saint Joseph’s intercession in helping us to learn what it means to live as family, even when the situation we find ourselves in is not what is normally thought of as family life. Joseph made an awkward choice and gave himself over to God’s call to communion with Jesus and His Blessed Mother. In doing so, Saint Joseph found himself at the head the Holy Family.
If we will ask and trust, then all of the saints, with Saint Joseph and his Immaculate Bride and her Divine Son, together with the Holy Spirit and our Heavenly Father, will lead us to the fulfillment of this Christmas/Advent season. We who place our trust in this infant Who is born to us will be adopted into His family to live forever as children of God. This is the real reason for the season, and it beats spending Christmas Eve alone downloading Barry Manilow songs.
The first ever National Catholic Singles Conference is February 18-19, 2005 in Denver, Colorado. More info at www.theologyofthebody.net