It’s a time when you’re supposed to be happy, but a nightmare when you’re not. Feeling alone at Christmas is the worst feeling in the world.
Or at least it’s definitely up there.
Christmas is a time where there are many images of joy displayed throughout the world, bombarded into our eyes and minds from every conceivable angle. Smiling children, singing carolers, joyous gift recipients and very content and full feast goers. The colours are bright, the music is upbeat, and the mood is entirely festive.
All this can be quite hard when you don’t feel any of that on the inside.
I’m reminded of a poignant little segment from We Bought A Zoo this time of year. A family who has recently lost their wife and mother are in a house and the youngest daughter is trying to sleep, but a loud party is happening outside her window. “Their happy is too loud”, she says to her dad.
If that isn’t an apt summary of the feeling people get when feeling alone at Christmas, I don’t know what is.
It’s not in your head – the joy of Christmas simultaneously brings a magic level of pressure to all of us as well. The most popular breakup date of the year isn’t around Valentine’s Day – it’s December 11, right as Christmas spirit really begins to ramp up. In addition to higher levels of breakups, police in Western Australia in 2018 reported a 26% increase in domestic violence related incidents around the holiday season. The multi-layers of this yearly occurrence, or any yearly occurrence like New Years’ Eve, birthdays, or anniversaries always bring a powerful weight with them.
Christmas can be really really great, but it can also be really, really hard. I’m not gonna lie – I am really, really enjoying this year’s Christmas season. It’s one of the happiest I’ve ever had. It was a difficult year in parts, but there’s been a lot go right and the end of the year has been really nice.
And yet I’m reminded as well of a short number of years ago where I spent 2 hours of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day crying tears into my floor, prostrate on the ground, sapped of energy and of joy. For real.
Feeling alone at Christmas is the worst feeling in the world.
If you’re in that boat, I would like to offer you some encouragement that has helped me throughout the years, and hopefully something that means that you get to enjoy Christmas to the fullest that you can this year.
#1: You made it!
As the song Merry Christmas, Here’s To Many More by Relient K reminds us,
“Made it through the year and I did not even collapse
Gotta say, ‘Thank God’ for that”.
It’s been a crazy year! And it doesn’t even matter what year you’re reading this in – it probably has. Years are long periods of time, with substantial changes within each one. I know the year I’m writing this in (2020) has been pretty crazy – check out my 2020 In Review if you’re feeling reflective about the year that was.
But whatever happened this year, you’re still here. That’s worth celebrating.
#2: You may feel more alone than you actually are
This is a really confronting thing to think about. Holiday dread and feeling alone at Christmas can be huge and crippling emotional states.
And yet our feelings are not always the most reliable indicators of the truth.
Steven Furtick really helped me with this a number of years ago when discussing the life of Jesus. He highlighted how Jesus had his best friends leave him at a time that he needed them most. It would have been so crippling to feel the betrayal of Judas or the broken promises of Peter.
And yet it wasn’t actually true to say that everyone left him. The Marys in his life stuck around. His disciple John came with him and took on family responsibility in his absence. Even a stranger gave up his own family property that had been saved for him his entire life for Jesus to use.
Imagine if the actions of Judas, Peter, and the other so-called friends stopped him from seeing the people who were still there with him.
I think we feel more alone when we magnify the absence or rejection of certain people above the acceptance of everyone else.
And what a sad thing for us to fail to see the love and effort that is aimed at us every day. We may be in exactly the place we’ve dreamed of being, but unable to feel it because something else is taking up all our attention.
Grieving is healthy, mourning is important, but when our disappointment is all we focus on, we end up drowning in despair.
If you’re feeling alone at Christmas this year, take stock. And I mean really take stock.
Who is still with me? Who still loves me? Who do I still love? Are there any people I am overlooking because of this other thing in my life?
If you’re struggling a lot with these thoughts, I would also put forward 6 Things That Helped Me Get Through Depression And Anxiety in my own life.
#3: It’s a good time to face the big questions
Author Kimberly McCreight wrote, “I do know this – it’s the things we run from that hurt us the most”. Doctor Henry Cloud goes on from this sentiment when he writes, “We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing”.
Christmas is crunch time for all the biggest questions and issues in our lives, usually because the extreme joy and focus on family and relationships makes us face things we may have been putting off for the entire year.
No wonder we can get crippled at Christmas time when the weight of all the unprocessed things comes surging into us at once. Much in the same way nightmares can ruin our sleep when we don’t confront things during the day, Christmas becomes a nightmare of its own with a year’s worth of difficult questions and feelings.
But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s hard, yes. But being forced to do something about the things we haven’t been doing anything about presents a great opportunity.
Maybe an unhappy Christmas is a symptom of an unhappy life the rest of the year. Perhaps an absence of things to do and places to be with people you love at the end of the year is reflective of what the rest of the year has been like. It could be that the lack of direction or meaning brought on by the holidays is actually the aimlessness you carry with you all the time.
It’s easy to blame Christmas and the joy of others for our own misery. And many, many people this Christmas will no doubt continue to do the same. But I wonder what you will do this year, my friend? Will you join them, or will you start working your way through the mess and finding answers where you really need them?
#4: It’s a good time to invest into your relationships
I think one of the scariest things about Christmas is that it is Reality Check time for the state of your relationships. And nothing will remind you of a troubled family or a lack of active friendships like the holiday season.
The late great Zig Ziglar said “If you go out looking for friends, you’re going to find they are very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere”. Pastor Mark Ramsey always says that friends are made, not found.
Remember the golden rule – do unto others what you would like them to do for you. If you want better friends, more friends, healthier relationships, a stronger love life, a better marriage, whatever relationships you want to improve – it takes you investing and giving your all into them.
I have never seen someone who has genuinely lived their life investing in others ever left truly alone. They always have someone to call during the hard times, and someone to celebrate with when it’s going well. The one who refreshes others will be refreshed themselves.
#5: We must leave the past to enjoy the present
This is the hardest thing to do at Christmas time because Christmas is the time that reminds all of us of how many people and things we have lost, and how much our life doesn’t look like what we thought it would.
I am reminded of a profound story written about by the prophet Ezra. The Jewish temple had been completely destroyed by the Babylonians, with only ruins left behind. 70 years later, the Jews finally had a chance to rebuild what had been broken. The old ruins were torn down and a new foundation was laid – nothing else had even been built yet. Ezra recounts that when the young men saw the foundation, they rejoiced, but when the old men “who had seen the first house” saw it, they despaired, and the sound of the laughter and sorrow mingled so strongly they were indistinguishable from each other.
The same sight that caused the young to rejoice also caused those who remembered what was previously there to be full of grief.
Isn’t that what happens at Christmas? You see the state of your life, of your marriage, of your family, of your home, of your friends, of your career, of your dreams and goals, and you see what you thought would be, how things should have been, what you’ve lost and had to say goodbye to but you don’t want to.
And that sight either fills your heart with song, or overwhelms you with sorrow.
And I think it’s easier for someone who has never experienced joy to really embrace the hope of something new, than it is for someone who has lost joy to celebrate again. This is probably why young children enjoy Christmas more than anyone else – they have nothing reminding them of their disappointment.
And yet this Christmas we could all learn from and be a lot more like these little children. Little children who have not yet been jaded by the world, and for those who have, who choose to celebrate anyway.
Because Christmas is actually for you, my friend. It was about the opportunity to never walk alone, to be close with your purpose and dreams, to know the fullest measure of love that the human heart could ever know.
Such a strange way to save the world indeed, and yet death came to one so life could come to all. He felt all our rejection, so we would never have to know his.
To think of how it could have been, if Jesus had come as he deserved.
But he didn’t. He came as we needed him. Humble, meek, and open armed, to carry us and the weight of the world on his shoulders. To bring new opportunities and restoration to those who needed it most.
This Christmas, you and I have a choice. The dead and lost past, or the present and future. Yesterday is gone, and what joy could be ours if we could choose to see the new things that are being built in our lives.
Feeling alone at Christmas is the worst feeling in the world, but I hope you’ve been able to see and remember in reflecting on your own life just how loved you really are.
It can be a tough time for many people, so give this one a share if you think it’ll help someone you know and love. And while you’re at it, have a look at 10 Christmas Movies That Are Actually Great to help you get going on filling your home with joy!
A very happy and heartfelt Christmas to you my friend. May it be the happiest it possibly can be – a time of restoration, of love, of peace, of coming home and finding life.