I work in a leading Christian Church in the metropolitan city of Colombo. Essentially it means I seldom have time for spending Christmas eve with my family who lives in Nuwara Eliya a 5-8-hour drive from the city of Colombo. It didn’t bother me much back then because I had my lovely wife by my side. Every Christmas for more than six years after the mass, my wife and I would drive to our favourite Restaurant at Marine Drive, to join her parents for a time of fellowship and Christmas lunch. Life was good, and Christmas was the best time of the year. That was before all of it changed dramatically three years ago.
It began with a nasty road accident. One thing led to another, and before we could figure it out, our marriage burned to the ground. Concerned family members, friends, and spiritual leaders made every effort to help us, but it was too late. My wife went back to living with her parents, and I returned to being on my own because she is the only family I had away from home. Life has been lonely ever since, even more, lonesome around Christmas. It’s been like that for the past three years. Then as if to rub salt on the wound, my father left this world on September 19th, 2020.
Probably you are reading this today because you feel the sting of loneliness too. Maybe you have just gone through a divorce, become unemployed, or even lost a loved one to the COVID 19 Pandemic. Perhaps you lost a friend, or a family member to the Easter Bombings last year and haven’t fully recovered from the loss. Maybe you are spending the golden years of your life in an elder’s home, and your children living halfway around the world are unable to visit you because of travel restrictions.
The good news is, you and I still have a choice, no matter how lonesome this Christmas may get. We can throw a pity party, or we can make the best out of a bad situation by doing something about it. St. Paul shows four different things we can do to make even the loneliest Christmas less lonely. Sometimes your best Christmas ever. Mind you by this time, all of Paul’s friends had deserted him. He was in prison awaiting his execution.
When Christmas is lonely: Find Healthy Company
Paul didn’t like to be alone; it wasn’t the way God wired him. He loved to be around his friends. He wanted company so much in 2 Timothy 4:9-10 he instructed Timothy to come as soon as possible because everybody else had left him. (In the event you are not familiar with the Holy Bible 2 Timothy is the name given to a letter which Paul wrote to his protégé and the young Pastor of the church in the ancient city known as Ephesus, a Roman Colony). He had even sent Tychicus to be in charge of the church in Ephesus so that Timothy is free to come. Even in the face of death, Paul valued the company of others.
Paul was a people person. Some of us, on the other hand, are born introverts. We are very uncomfortable around crowds. We function best when we work alone. However, nobody can function alone all the time. Although work, entertainment, oversleep, and pets can substitute human company any other time of the year it cannot during Christmas.
There are some practical things you can do to deal with loneliness this Christmas. Consider inviting someone for a fellowship breakfast, lunch or dinner. My place is relatively small to entertain guests, so I ask them to join me at a nearby restaurant. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Just pleasant. You can even invite another lonely friend this Christmas for a movie night and a sleepover. Remember “healthy” is the keyword. If you associate with someone that complains, grumbles, and criticizes, and gossips, you will end up feeling worse.
In my case, in addition to meeting with peers, I connect with my mentors and senior Pastors more often so they can pour into my life from their wisdom during this season of loneliness. You can make use of technology also. You can be in touch with your family via Skype, WhatsApp, or Zoom video calls. Check with your Internet Service Provider for seasonal offers helpful for staying connected.
When Christmas is lonely: Reflect on the past
In 2 Timothy 4:11, St. Paul instructs Timothy to bring Mark with him. Hopefully, Mark will be of assistance to him. This person is none other than John Mark St. Paul refused to take with him on the second missionary journey. Did Paul reflect on his dispute with Barnabas over John Mark while awaiting execution? I do not know. But I do know his perception of Mark had changed.
Remember it’s one thing to dwell in the past but entirely another thing to reflect in the past. Someone said, “It’s one thing to look in the rear-view mirror but wholly another thing to stare at.” To stay in the past is to live in regret of your mistakes. Reflecting is to learn from the past and to move on to a brighter future.
Christmas, although it was lonely for the past three years, has given me the opportunity and the privilege of learning through reflection. Reflecting on my broken marriage has enabled me to build better relationships with my co-workers. Reflecting on my father’s not so timely death has helped me appreciate my family like never before. Today, take time to reflect on your past and see what new lessons you can learn.
When Christmas is lonely: Look after Yourself
In 2 Timothy 4:13, Paul instructed Timothy to bring his coat. Now, what use is a coat to a man awaiting his execution in solitary confinement? It’s possible Paul was being held in an underground dungeon. Essentially dungeons were not suitable for human habitat. They were occupied by rats, cockroaches and smelled poisonous fungi. They were damp and cold because they have never seen the sunrise. St. Paul was staring death on the face but had the assurance he will be with Jesus Christ, his saviour after his death. Until then, he had work to do, and for that, he had to protect himself from the cold. Hence the coat.
When my wife left, I stopped looking after myself. I became a workaholic. I skipped meals. When I ate, I ate junk. I stayed awake until late at night watching Netflix. I stopped updating my preaching blog, neglected my vision and, blamed myself. Things got worse after my father passed away. Stricken with grief, I spent time feeling sorry for the precious moments I missed with him. I had many emotional breakdowns but didn’t do anything about it until I became physically sick with a severe gastritis attack and appendicitis for the fifth time. It was then I realized nothing I do could bring my father back from the dead. It was then I realized I must move on whether or not my wife comes back. After recovery, I began exercising, eating healthy, and resting adequately.
This Christmas even if it’s lonely do your best to take care of yourself because it is in the seasons of loneliness that you need to be most healthy. You cannot afford to get sick when there’s nobody to attend to you around the clock. Remember, we can survive any situation if we are physically and mentally fit.
When Christmas is lonely: Make yourself Useful
We make two major mistakes when we are lonely. We overwork to overcome the pain of loneliness. Unfortunately, overworking helps only for a short period. Afterward, it can overwhelm you with underachievement. It’s not a healthy habit. It drains you of energy without giving you any sense of satisfaction. Overworking is being busy without being productive. The second mistake we make is we don’t do anything at all, and our minds become the devil’s workshop. I have tried both. Therefore, I know both approaches are counterproductive. The solution is we need to be balanced. We bring balance into the equation by being useful unto others.
It’s what St. Paul did. He instructed Timothy to bring his scrolls and especially the parchments. Scrolls were copies of the Bible written on processed Papyrus while parchments were fresh writing material made out of Goatskin. Paul wrote to his fellow Christians, frequently encouraging them in their faith. Paul wrote four other letters from prison. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. As a tentmaker, St. Paul could have overworked making more tents while he was in jail or he could have been idle. Instead, he made himself useful unto others, and some 2,000 years later, we are still benefiting from his loneliness.
I used to either overwork or do nothing to deal with loneliness in my life. I had to reinvent the balance by making myself useful to others. I began helping friends and family with their blogs and websites. I returned to blogging. (blogging has been my passion for the past thirteen years!) I don’t call myself a writer but know my works bless people. Maybe more people will be blessed by my work ages after I leave this world. Who knows? This Christmas, I want to urge you to make yourself useful to others. Let your life be a blessing. You might not see the fruit of your labour right now. Sometimes you will not even be around when it finally bears fruit. Still, you will leave this world knowing that you contributed to making someone’s life better.
You can use the principles I mentioned above not just in the Christmas season but throughout the year. I am not saying everything will work out like a charm if you follow these principles. Even after more than three years, I still miss my wife. I miss my father. After all, only three months have passed since he left this world. I always feel lonely, but it doesn’t sting me anymore. One advantage of living alone is that you have plenty of time for creativity and innovation. Use that time wisely. Remember, you can’t choose what happens to you in life. Loneliness can visit you whether you like it or not. Sooner or later. But you can choose how you respond to loneliness. I urge you to respond wisely.
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