Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas Loneliness

Christmas time is here,
Happy time of year.

Or so the song goes... But for many among us—more than some might imagine—Christmastime is a season of extended and burning unhappiness called loneliness. Happiness is not triggered by the beginning of the marketing blitz for Christmas shopping. Nor are those with small or sad or nonexistent families especially heartened by all the riot of required family festivities and family feeling. The lonely are asked what their Christmas plans are. The reply is in so many words, “There are no special plans. We will just hunker down at home—alone, again; and wait for it to end.” That’s a bit lacking in holiday cheer, is it not? And some do not even have a house in which to sulk. Others have houses, but no homes, but rather prisons. Many languish in prisons of other kinds.

For many, loneliness is intensified at just the time when a culture (supposedly) celebrates the Great Visitation, “God with us.” But are we with each other? Do we know each other? Can we see past the surface into the inner pain of our brothers and sisters? Loneliness is the great secret of postmodernity, and it deepens during times when we pretend mightily otherwise. As many critics have noted, community is breaking down in contemporary America. Community means (in part) civic participation: attending PTA meetings, voting, knowing your neighbors, volunteering, reading and grading student papers (instead of relying on machines to grade multi-guess charades), and much more. (See the revealing book, Bowling Alone.) Instead, we tend to cocoon: people whirl about in their iPod worlds, charge around in huge metal behemoths within a cacophonous cauldron of loud, rude, over-amplified sounds, stalk about in public muttering into the air (that is, to a distant cellular phone recipient), stare into video screens, playing video games with no one.

That is enough, or more than enough. Is there a solution? No, there is no grand solution—this side of the Eschaton. But there are small, simple steps to break up the glaciers of loneliness in our midst.

I leave it to you to tell this web log what these small acts of kindness might be. I further bid you divulge a few sentences of loneliness this holiday. It’s a poor excuse for the richly-textured realities of embodied community, but it might help. Or perhaps not.


Small Group Guy said...

As a Christian I find myself asking myself "why this again" and then I kick myself...I am after all a Christian, Christ in a manger is my reason.

I have had to combat the holiday blues and the isolation like everyone else, but then I remember that "the enemy comes to seek and destroy..." He is not limited to one venue, he uses it all. Isolation is the biggest.

I have combated it by remembering to reach out this year. Remembering it is about the love of a baby in a manger, God taking part of humanity and making life a little easier. I volunteer more then usual, I coordinated a turkey drive at church etcetera. Just doing a little more to raise the bar just a millimeter in the comunity for someone who is worse off then me has it's great reward. I feel better now. James the Apostle tells us "pure and undefiled religion is this, to visit widows and orphans in their distress..." (James 1:27) Every community has more then a few who meet these criteria.

Dan Edelen said...


Last week I blogged about this issue and offered a few suggestions of what we can do to alleviate the problem:
Hidden Messages of American Christianity: "Family Cocooning Session: No Trespassing Allowed!"

Weekend Fisher said...

The hardest part for me is years when my children are with their father (even years). I am literally alone on Christmas day and if I do not get out, I will literally not see another soul.

As far as community breakdown, I have 2 modest proposals: 1) set up a front-porch chair or seated swing; in good weather, actually stay out for awhile; 2) actually take a day off each week (really off, not just "working at home instead of the office); then when your neighbor comes to say hi you can enjoy it instead of counting the minutes til you can get back to work.

dhyams said...

Another thought--utter loneliness when surrounded by family. I've found that this happens when the idea of having family together is what is cherished, not the actual gathering itself. Once gathered, superficiality quickly consumes the time, and no effort is made to actually get to know those whose presence was so deeply desired.

In the rare and odd occurrence that the great devourer of family gatherings itself, television, is actually turned off, the family is left with the disturbing and uncomfortable realization that they don't really like those they love, or are, at the very least, too afraid to be vulnerable enough to actually invest in the lives of those they love, lest a probing question be asked of them. The phony veneer of a "good" family is coveted more than what the gritty reality of life often provides.

For the family member that is consistently misunderstood and longs for deeper relationships than the cheapened atmosphere allows, frustration and, inevitably, loneliness, result.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

David H. adds but another lamentable dimension to postmodern loneliness: the inability to be with others well, to ask soulful questions, to unveil the self enough to let it enter another's world, to be with others sans mechanical mediation (especially the television, the great destroyer of conversation, to savor silence.

xchristopher said...

A deeply disruptive cultural undertow, this loneliness. Although we post-moderns (by age if not philosophy) relish the unsolvable problem and unanswerable question, I’ll posit a few “solutions” that I am going to implement since that was one of Dr. G’s requests. {Insert pathetic disclaimer so I can feel my posting should be impervious to critique: These are solutions relevant to my situation and personal struggles with loneliness, lost-ness, and lunacy during the holiday season.}
Solution 1: Visit someone in the hospital or hospice. (If I don’t know anyone dying or nearly dying, I’m not engaged enough in my community. Currently, I know several.) Facing death with people demands that I live better (perhaps only when facing death is done well).
Solution 2: Drop the mental impoverishment, especially with respect to schedules, and make time to be with people. I am busy because I fear moments of pause. They too often afford opportunity for reflection. I clutter my life to provide myself comfort, importance, and perceived relevance. I fane a desire for more time and yet squander the time I have by acting rashly.
Solution 3: Stop sending newsletters, signed cards, and buying gifts. Largely, no one is expecting to hear from me any more than I am expecting to hear from them. If cultural guilt persists, I will list all those persons I’ll be offended by should I not receive something from them this holiday season. Then I will visit those people. If it is impossible to show up in person on their door step, I will call or write them. If this list exceeds a handful of people, then I’ll prioritize and visit into the New Year.

So maybe I’ll change a bit this year and hope for more change each year to come. Perhaps I too will find Christ before the New Year passes and be comforted by Immanuel.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Bravo for XChristopher!

Ken W said...

The hardest decision I ever made was to end my dysfunctional marriage ten tears ago. The main reason it was difficult was a combination of what I would lose with my "freedom," such as Christmas as a "family," and what my decision would impose on my children. My children were 4 and 5 years old then.

I have not remarried, nor has their mother (and, NO, we will not be!). Because I have no extended family in this part of the country and cannot afford to travel, when my children are with me it is the three of us and, while important and special, Christmas does not have the same flavour as the traditional Christmas days of my past, with siblings and parents and grands and children, with the smell of turkey or whatever cooking.

So, over the years I have taken to reducing the "importance" of Christmas, at least in my statements to others. Most often I propose the kids stay with their mom because she has the traditonal Christmas's with extended family and I am alone. While I typically have not felt sorry for myslef, this year I am feeling pretty low.

I have been in a new relationship for just over a year, to the most amazing woman I have ever or could ever be with. We are completely in love. She has three children and is divorced. But, because of her rather strict extended Christian family views on remarriage, we are not going to be together on Christmas. So, as the woman I love heads to her mom's farm with her children to spend Christmas in the traditional ways I have been longing for, I plan to "hunker down at home."

Unknown said...

wife kust died of cancer, never been close to my family due to abuse and neglect, have no job, no money, and no home, live in small office space, sleep on palette on floor, very cold outside, lost my ability to drive, eyesight going bad, cant voteor own a gun (good thing I'd wanna turn it on myself), no joy in life, just wanna be with Jesus, but its just not my time, miss my wife terribly, terrified about my future, but have been born again, so christians do go thru things like this, but churches dont help much, atleast the ones Ive been to, just not happy at all, didnt go to my wife's funeral, I was too distraught, lost all our belongings cause I could not go back in house, teeth are all rotten, most have fallen out, don't sleep or eat well, smoke way too much, expect to die alone in a VA hospital someplace. Lifes been little more than one tragedy after another. Christ is in my heart. But I'm very weak in faith. I will pron try and sleep Christmas day away, only to awake to another unwanted day.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Raised with Christ:

You posted on an old entry, so not many will probably read it. I wish I had contact information for you. If so, I'd recommend a church, ministry, or something I do offer my prayers and encourage any readers to pray as well. I am terribly sorry for all of your suffering. Please do not give up.

Doug Groothuis