One of the tenets of the Advent Conspiracy is to Love More. Christmas is sadly one of the times of the year that people experience loneliness.
I have had pleasant memories of Thanksgiving when I was alone. It was in college that I had my first experience of being away from my family for Thanksgiving. Traveling 600 miles from Hope College to my home was a daunting task. I did so my freshman year and both myself and my parents agreed that the trip was expensive and hurried, although it was so good to be home. For my parents, it was a long-awaited acknowledgement from their somewhat rebellious son that home is a good place to be. So it would be that I remained in Michigan for subsequent Thanksgivings.
What was a blessing was that the college campus being a community of students, faculty and families in the town. They were all aware that many students would not be returning to their homes. So it was truly a blessing when I received an invitation to join a family for a Thanksgiving dinner. Aside from the incredibly excellent cooking of my hosts, there was the opportunity to dine with two noted theologians. Something I certainly did not merit.
When I first wrote this essay I was going to wait till the final week of Advent to discuss loneliness, but two events occurred that caused me to change my priorities. First, my mother’s memorial service was held in early November 2014. The other event was the service I attended at the country church I attended as a youth. The pastor, staying true to the church calendar, shared a message on honoring the memories of those who passed away. Many people, even Christians, do not realize that Halloween is followed by All Saints Day and many Christian traditions have used that day to honor those who have recently passed on. The pastor’s message was a Christmas message, oddly enough. The pastor asked that we remember who was missing.
As is immediately apparent in my own family, the elderly who have lost a loved one are often confronted with the deepest loneliness. I can’t begin to imagine what my father experienced, to see someone who was by his side for over half a century pass on. When Christmas rolled around his family members resided in remote cities or countries and many of his friends were far away or dead. The home was empty except for a pet. So in our journey to love more, it can best begin with those who are nearest to us, considering those in our family who may be going through the holiday season living alone.
Then there are those who are without family nearby. Not too long ago I had a conversation with my daughter and she commented how lonely she felt. I said, “Isn’t it ironic you are in a city of 14 million and you are lonely?” I relate because I resided in a city when I was single and just out of graduate school. Amidst 2 million people I felt lonely. No matter where you are, it is difficult to be far from the ones you love. Juneau is famous for having people who are hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from family. In some respects it is akin to living overseas or in a different country, 850 miles from Seattle. This is a time to remember Coast Guard families and keeping our eyes and ears open for people we know who will not be able to fly down south to rejoin their family. It was four years before my family could scratch together the funds to fly down south.
Finally, amongst the “missing” are those simply alone because they are homeless. Many of us may have rolled up our sleeves and volunteered at the Thanksgiving or Christmas kitchen. But having a homeless person invited to your home? You can’t be serious! To be quite honest, most of our readers may have to make this a project for the coming year. To be truly meaningful, setting aside a part of your Christmas-tide for a homeless person or family requires a personal investment in their life. Otherwise, it is a bit patronizing. In the course of your charity work you can make a commitment to be personally invested in one or two people you are serving. It goes beyond cooking at the Glory Hole. It requires you to get out from behind the kitchen counter. When that happens, having them over for a meal during Christmas is much easier.
Yet maybe the homeless are not over there at the Glory Hole. Look around and you will probably see someone you know who is going through a financial crisis, a lost job or a sudden emergency. They may not be homeless, but they are close to it. Showing you care about them, that you are praying for them and willing to have them over for dinner can be a huge blessing.
It seems that the title of this essay should be “Who is Missing,” but it is the what that defines the value of family: love, warmth, acceptance, laughter, good cooking, wonderful memories. These are aspects of life that are difficult to replace. When you extend a welcoming hand to people who are lonely, you help fill the emptiness.
© Copyright 2016 to Eric Niewoehner