Recently, someone inquired about my favorite holiday. I didn’t have an answer. In hindsight, it probably would have been fair to claim National Coffee Day, but that may not have been an acceptable answer. After all, as a follower of Jesus, I am supposed to say Christmas or Easter because they are about our Great Savior. Or Thanksgiving, because I get to gather with family and celebrate all the good things. At the very least I should be claiming an alternate Valentines that’s all about loving thy neighbor instead of thy boyfriend, or the fresh mercies that come with New Year’s Day.
All of those things are great. I love that Christmas is a time to refocus my heart on the incredible strategy and humility of God’s plan for invading the world. I love that Easter is a day to recognize the victory of Christ over death. I want to have a grateful heart and love people well. And I am so thankful that there are new mornings and new years that remind us that God is patient and gives second chances. But, if I’m honest, I don’t like holidays.
There are a handful of things that make the holidays hard, but there is one that rises above the rest.
I am single.
And while I have had my fair share of seasons of bitterness over the absence of a spouse, I have reached a place in my life where I am generally content and thankful for my relationship status. I enjoy being single most days. However, the desire for marriage has not gone away and the holidays, more than the normal days, shine a big, blinding spotlight on my ringless finger.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. Christmases growing up were incredible! We had great traditions. But those traditions die out as kids get older and move away. It’s normal. Waiting for dad to set up the video camera before we run in to tear into gifts would be weird as adults in our 30’s. Most holiday traditions in culture and in the church, are geared toward families. And without a family of my own, holidays just feel awkward. I feel out of place. Christmas Eve services are great, but when you are walking to your car surrounded by moms and dads with their kids, it sometimes makes you dread getting into your car alone and going home to an empty apartment. I’m reminded that I don’t have a husband or kids with whom to share the days. I’m reminded that my life doesn’t look like what I hoped it would, what my parents hoped it would, what my grandparents hoped it would.
A few years back, I had an incredible Bible Study teacher and while I have notes and notes from the times I sat under his teaching, there is one particular lesson that I can recall without pulling out old notebooks. It was during the advent season and he had us turn to Luke 2. He talked about the joy of Christmas, promises kept by God, a great plan put in motion…”But, he said, Christmas is not all joy for everyone.”
In Luke 2, we find a man named Simeon hanging out at the temple. He is waiting, like he has done for years, for God to keep His promise…to send the Messiah…to bring the consolation of Israel. As Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to be consecrated in the temple, Simeon recognizes that this baby is God’s promise fulfilled. And Simeon rejoices. No more waiting! But, some people are still waiting. Christmas, and the glorious reason for Christmas may bring some sense of restoration in the waiting, but waiting is hard…it is always hard. And it is possible that while they are celebrating, they may also be aching, wondering when they will hold the fulfilled promises of God.
There is another that we meet in the temple in Luke 2, Anna. She is a widow. She was married for seven years before her husband died and she spent the rest of her days living in the temple worshipping. This breaks my heart as much as it challenges me. Can you imaging being married for seven years and then losing your spouse to death? Anna didn’t melt away in her heartache, she pressed into the heart of God. She spent her days in worship. Still she had no kids (as far as we know), she had no husband. And it may be that while she worshipped and fasted, she also felt heavy with longing and sorrow. It may be that there are many Annas that we overlook in the flurry of the holidays…men and women pressing into the heart of God but carrying deep pains as well. They aren’t mutually exclusive, you know. Heartache and worship. So much of scripture is the writings of those who longed to honor God and glorify His name and also wondered why He seemed so far, why He took so long.
And let us not forget that at the news of a King being born, babies were murdered. Let us not forget that a little girl…a teenager walked with God into the loss of her own reputation. A man trusted when his relationship seemed doomed. Let us not forget that a 9 month-pregnant, weary-from-travel girl and her burden-carrying husband were turned away time and time again because they would have made the other guests uncomfortable. Let us not forget, that while the song may claim that the night our Savior was born was silent and calm and bright, babies never enter this world silent and calm. Mothers in labor scream bloody murder from the pain. Babies cry and are messy.
For some, holidays highlight the waiting, the longing, the absences in their lives, the miles between what they wish was and what really is. Some are grieving the days that once were, when loved ones sat with them around the dinner table telling stories. Some are trying to maintain an air of strength when in reality they are terrified about how they are going to live out the circumstances unfolding before them. For some, the Thanksgiving feast is a reminder that their families are a mess and can’t be together for more than a few minutes before a war breaks out. Maybe for you, the holidays highlight past mistakes and wrong turns or unmet desires. Maybe, the holidays feel more isolating than most days because, when we are supposed to sit around being thankful and celebrating and singing, you are hurting but heartache seems to have no place at the table. Perhaps you feel like one of the great lords of Narnia, missing out on the glorious feast intended to be enjoyed, because your sorrow has put you into a deep sleep from which you cannot seem to wake.
Well, you are not alone. All of our holidays are marked with pain. Thanksgiving- it’s not a beautiful spotless history. Pilgrims were dying of disease and Native Americans were losing their homes. Valentine’s Day is all about death…a man who was murdered for living out his faith. And Christmas is a fulfilled promise but it wasn’t a peaceful time, it wasn’t without cost. There was deep pain woven into the story. So if you are lonely, sitting in a house full of family and friends but alone, if you are carrying the burdens of life, there is a place for you at the table. There is a place for the heartache.