As we hurtle towards Christmas at break-neck speed, I’d like to invite you to slow down for a moment and to connect with your feelings. What’s going on inside? Does this time of year stir particular emotions in you? Do you feel joy and hope, or do you feel a lack of love and a deep sense of loss, or is it a mix?
I know from experience that Christmas as a single person can be a tricky time, especially if your relatives and friends are partnered up, even more so if you’re of an age or at a stage in life when you expected everything to be different.
Perhaps you thought you’d be married by now. Perhaps you expected a relationship to last rather than end. Perhaps you wanted children and that hasn’t happened yet, or it may not happen at all. Perhaps you at least wanted a date for New Year’s Eve.
Christmas is also a time when we inevitably grieve for those who are no longer here or who are no longer well – empty places and missing faces around the dining table, presents swapped by the side of hospital beds, parents who barely remember who we are (I am facing this challenge with my mum and its stirring huge waves of sadness).
Church, while providing meaning and comfort, can also be triggering for those of us who are experiencing or have experienced loss. We see so many seemingly happy and intact families, so many children running around. I’m singing in a church choir this year where generations of the same family are singing together – daughters sitting next to their mums, their dads a few rows behind.
If, like me, you come from a broken home and your life doesn’t fit the traditional mold, it’s easy to feel like the odd one out. My parents split when I was a child, my dad has long passed away and my ailing mum has just entered a care home hundreds of miles away.
And while things are delightfully different for me this year – this will be my first Christmas as a married woman (at the age of 48) – I haven’t forgotten how lonely and lost I felt in the past. Plus I’ll never have a large family of my own as my husband and I won’t be having children.
So inevitably, as I survey other families in church or on social media, I sometimes fall into the trap of wondering, “Why doesn’t my life look like that?”
Avoid compare and despair
But the problem with comparing our lives to others – or rather to the picture of family bliss we project onto those around us – is that we can end up in despair.
Yes, it’s important to acknowledge our feelings, otherwise they’ll get stuck inside us and they won’t have a chance to heal. It’s important that we refrain from stuffing down our sadness with mince pies or drowning our hurt in fizz, as I used to do. Let’s comfort and soothe ourselves in healthy ways.
But once we’ve done that, let’s stop fantasising about an experience that isn’t ours and begin to see all the love, goodness and connection we do have in our lives – because it would be a real shame to miss that.
So as you pause to read this blog and to feel your feelings, I’d like you to consider all the ways in which you are loved.
Let’s begin with how much God loves you. That’s a given. But do you feel it? Can you own it? Or do you feel unworthy somehow?
Next, let’s talk about how much you love yourself. And if you’re struggling to do that, we might have a problem. In fact, we might have stumbled on the reason why, as yet, you haven’t found love elsewhere.
It starts with us. A healthy and loving relationship with another begins with a healthy and loving relationship with ourselves. You know that in your head, right? But do you accept it in your heart? Do you live and breathe it?
Believe me, I know how hard it is to love ourselves consistently, especially if we weren’t loved consistently in our early years, but self-love and self-care are the foundations of a healthy life and a successful romantic partnership.
Where else can you see love today and over this festive season? Can you see how loved you are by friends, colleagues, family members and your community? Can you see how capable you are of loving others – how much love you have to give, how much love inhabits you heart? Can you see how much love exists in the world, despite all the obvious examples of hate?