I am happily writing this blog in a coffee shop in snowy Boulder, Colorado while my family hangs out and is slowly winding down their evening. This is the second year in a row that I am able to be home for Christmas and I am all too aware of how fortunate I am to talk to my parents face-to-face while my nephews play with the Yodeling Pickle that I got them (why, yes, the Lichens family shares a weird sense of humour).
For a good three years, I was unable to go home for anything as I had no money and little in the way of vacation time. As a single guy, this was a difficult thing to bear especially as more and more of my friends were growing their own family and I was feeling more and more alienated from the seasonal cheer I was supposed to exhibit. The very last one, 2012, my untreated depression started to make me afraid of crowds to a point that I missed the Christmas Eve mass and was sure not going to go the following morning. In fact, that Christmas I had one of my most intense let’s not talks. These talks are familiar to many who suffer mental anguish wherein you start to run out of reasons to take your own life and then must decide let’s not end our life, even though living hurts. I don’t tell you this for sympathy, my dear reader, but to tell you that I do know the pain of being alone and single at Christmas. If you are also suffering the pains of the mind, you know also how the darkness of winter can so easily overcome the glittering lights of the Christmas octave.
There are, no doubt, some of you who are reading this who have no family to go home to even if you have the funds to travel. While there are others who, either through divorce or other tragedies, are having an empty place at Christmas that was once filled with some semblance of family. No matter what, it’s a painful place to be and I know it far too well. However, I am not here to remind you of something that is far too familiar as much as to offer some things that have helped me and to also offer those who are more fortunate a glimpse of what your neighbor may be enduring.
At this time of the year, I often contemplate the Christ child in the cave with a tired, weary, and perhaps even frightened Joseph and Mary looking over him. How often we’ve passed by a Nativity set or seen the Christmas pageant without even thinking of the strangeness of the Lord of the universe, the Word of God who was in the beginning of the world, sleeping in a place that was previously used to house and feed livestock. Those very hands that would cure the blind and be nailed to a cross were now too small to touch the creatures of the earth that once laid in that cave. Christ would say, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head,” but that was even true at the very beginning of His earthly life. The Holy Family was in the most humble of circumstances and yet this was what the angels would call attention to and what the prophets had promised.
Joseph had taken on the heavy burden of looking after Mary and this new child and he would later have to flee to Egypt; a land his ancestors fought so hard to escape had now become a refuge for him. We don’t know a lot about St. Joseph and we understand that he was not necessarily a man renowned for his heroism in his own life but that was not going to stop him now and his bravery and sense of duty would allow for the world to receive the One who would redeem all of us.
Then there is Mary, the woman that many have called the Joy of all Who Sorrow. This Lady was now the Mother of God and was to now carry the burden of raising this child and to ultimately see his painful and humiliating death.
I bring up this image because the Incarnation is that singular thing that has kept me a Christian through all the loneliness and hardship. The God who could have been born a ruler or a hero had instead such a great love for us that he took on our lowly nature in order to redeem it. I wonder if any of us were to have stumbled onto a homeless God living in a cave with animals if we’d be able to even comprehend what was in front of us. Would we be offended that the Lord of all Creation would not have thought to even provide a house for he and his parents? Or would we be disgusted at the idea that all our hope rested in this manger that barely qualified as a shelter?
The love that Jesus had for us was not one that wanted to merely rule over us as some cosmic despot but was instead one that wanted to experience our most frustrating and humbling times to show us that holiness was possible no matter where life left us. This God did not undergo His birth, life, death, and resurrection just to leave you alone but is indeed with you in your loneliness, despite how distant He may seem.
If you are able, try to contemplate a Nativity scene or an ikon and think of that very first Christmas that seemed all but jolly and festive. Think of the ways you might be like Joseph to a family, helping them with their burdens while they can also ease your own loneliness. This is difficult in our modern society, but it is not impossible.
While I have had to be away from family for Christmas, there was one family that acted as a domestic Church and welcomed the stranger that was me. They always made sure I had a place to eat, drink, and celebrate the season. They were a small part of God’s grace, making sure that I didn’t merely exist in the shadows. This is a task many families are afraid of undertaking for fear that their home may be too chaotic for the childless. For me, and many singles, this was never an issue for the many noises of children and adults at Christmas are better than the silence of a small apartment. So, welcome who you can and be willing to accept the welcome of others.
As a single person you are also able to help in ways that a family cannot. There is a part of all of us that desires to be wanted, to be needed, and you’d be surprised how well-received your own offers for assistance and help can be. Can you cook a meal for a low-income family and bring them some small items for the octave of Christmas and the New Year? Or, if you are suffering from a lack of funds, see what charities around you need an extra set of hands? If that’s not possible, then go to Mass and ask for an opportunity to help your parish and your neighbors and God will surely find you one. In my own life, showing kindness has meant all the difference when I have those let’s not talks.
If you have a family, try to find those who would spend the holidays alone and let them know that they have a place at your table. Don’t worry that the house is not clean enough or that your children may be chaotic messes. Merely letting people know that they are wanted is the greatest of all gifts and it can seem small to you but can make a world of difference for your single friends. If you give it enough time they will not be that single man or woman from work or church but will be a friend and perhaps a small but not insignificant part of your house.
To you my single friends and my readers who are right there with me, I wish you a blessed and happy Christmas! Christ is born and lives among us and He shall not depart. For all of you who continue to read my work, you are a great and joyful part of my life and I thank God that you are on that other side of the screen.
—The Catholic Gentleman.