The ever-wise Internet has plenty to say about withstanding the holidays as a single adult. Huffington Post bloggers recommend everything from “You don’t have to get a tree” to “believe in the magic of Christmas, and the wonder of you.” Google searches turn up gems about not having to pretend to like a significant other’s gift and being selfish.
If I had 10 tips (or even five) for not feeling pricked by all the holiday romantic comedies that will loop on TV, the mistletoe and every single version of the ubiquitous Kay Jeweler commercials spelling the word “kiss,” I’d give them to you. But I don’t. Surviving Christmas single, surviving Christmas after your spouse is no longer in the picture or even surviving Christmas in a relationship requires a deep-seated joy that isn’t possible to manufacture. So how do you find that joy during Christmas? What does that joy even look like?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer defines joy in this helpful way:
“A sort of joy exists that knows nothing at all of the heart’s pain, anguish and dread; it does not last; it can only numb a person for the moment. The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it … it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, [and] finds life …”
From Bonhoeffer’s definition, I find a few gold nuggets worth reflecting on:
Joy and Reality: When it comes to Christmas, everyone wants to lay aside their troubles and just live with rose-colored glasses for a time. While that may contribute to a holiday atmosphere, as Bonhoeffer points out, it only numbs you for a moment and can’t sustain itself. Joy—as found in Scripture—springs from the reality that our reconciliation with God has come.
Joy and Poverty: I don’t often associate Christmas, joy and poverty, but that is often the way Christ’s birth is portrayed in Scripture. Jesus’ birth is a clear picture of joy arriving in the most humble of circumstances. Our joy at this time of year can’t be circumstantial, or it won’t last, and worse yet—it will not mean anything. When you’re feeling like the awkward seventh wheel at your parents’ or lonely because you don’t even have family to go to at all, your lack of “holiday cheer” doesn’t exclude you from the wealth found in the manger.
Joy and Life: If, as Bonhoeffer says, the joy of God looks death in the face and finds life, then whatever your circumstances this Christmas, God can meet you there. He doesn’t expect the celebration of Christ’s birth to be an expensive, happy-go-lucky affair that looks great on Instagram. Instead, He wants to be welcomed into your world-weary heart, just as it is.
Christmas is a great culture-wide example of the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. At Christmas, the world says to itself, “Dagnabbit! I will be happy.” But, the problem with syrupy-sweet Christmas expectations is that, regardless of the twinkling lights or presents or decorated cookies, everyone feels that twinge of unmet expectations.
We can either wallow in our holiday disappointments, mask them with butter cream frosting (frequently my choice), or we can be in good company with Bonhoeffer and be open about where our holiday dreams haven’t met our holiday reality—finding invincible, irrefutable joy in the poverty of the manger.