Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!


John 16:32:

"The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me."

Yep, you heard me right in the title of this post. I used the words, "alone," "Christmas," and "blessing" all in the same sentence.

One of the things I noticed as I was surfing Facebook the last couple of days is the number of my former medical students who are lamenting "their first Christmas on call." Some of this will be call physically in the hospital, some of it "home call." Some folks with families have sent their family members on to visit relatives, leaving them "alone on call." Also, as big winter storms threaten different parts of the country over these next couple of days, some folks realize they are staying home instead of leaving town because of the threat of weather.

But what it made me realize is there are a lot of folks in my world who are feeling a little uneasy about that prospect of a "first Christmas alone," whether "alone" means "not with my family," or "on call at the hospital," or "really truly solo." Well, I'm going to cut you in on a little secret.

I have purposefully spent several hours of my Christmas Day alone for the past eight years, and at more times than I'd like to admit, my call schedule put me "home alone" off and on in the past two decades...and if you've never spent part or all of Christmas alone, you've missed an opportunity to be visited by the angels.

How radical is that? The holiday that our culture screams is all about family and togetherness and love and presents? For most people, the concept of embracing "alone-ness" at Christmas seems at the very least, daunting, and at most, downright scary. It might even sound "wrong" in that, "Uh...that's just wrong" sort of way. But with the right frame of mind, it can be more "right" than you can imagine.

A quick Google search on "how to spend Christmas alone" scared me a lot worse than what I'm about to tell you. Some of the suggestions were things like, "play cheerful music," "forget all the bad stuff," and "indulge yourself." In other words, what I'd call "me-based distractions." Sort of the grownup versions of how we'd distract a toddler or pacify a baby. In my mind, this season is about a gift--God's gift of the Christ Child. The key to enjoying Christmas alone is to come up with ways to give in crazy, radical ways.

So here's a short list of some ways you might consider spending parts of your "first Christmas alone:"

1. Start the day with some quiet time for reflection and gratitude. List the things or people for which you are grateful and why. Pray for the needs of those people. When I am often "stuck" in my prayer time, I grab my laptop and "pray my Facebook page." I simply start reading the status reports as I scroll down and read what's going on in the minds of my Facebook friends. I can always come up with something to take to prayer from that.

If the weather or the situation permits, take a walk, and simply listen to the sounds around you and feel gratitude for the "little stuff of life." Try to see or hear things you never noticed until this moment. Feel gratitude for your new discoveries.

2. Plan a special meal for either yourself or others. If you are truly alone, this meal doesn't have to be a traditional "Christmas meal." Go for a "symbolic meal" instead. Try to think of a meal where each item on the menu symbolizes somebody or something important in your life--sort of a "secular Eucharist." If possible, another great way to spend part of the day is to volunteer for an organization that provides a Christmas Day meal. Most of those organizations are more than happy to take last minute volunteers even if you will be assigned one of the most menial tasks.

One year, when I was home alone for Christmas on "home call," I made a turkey dinner for each of the three shifts in my hospital clinical laboratory. It was not a fancy meal--it consisted of one huge turkey divvied up three ways and re-heated for the later shifts, mashed potatoes/gravy, cornbread stuffing, peas, and a pie for each shift. I made each shift promise not to tell the next shift what was going to happen. The look on their faces when I showed up an hour into each shift with that dinner was priceless.

Meals are one of the most basic ways human beings connect, and what they bring to the lives of others is miraculous.

3. Give presence, not presents. One year, when I was on call in the hospital, I walked up to the nurses' station and asked, "Who's the loneliest patient on the floor today?" I then, after asking a little bit about them, sat down and made a card out of the strangest things you can find in a hospital, went to the patient's room, presented the card, and we visited a little. Christmas is funny--people seem to open up and tell stories about their life with a little more openness.

A little creative thought can bring endless possibilities. Surprise a neighbor with a gift on the porch, in person or anonymously. Set an amount to spend, surf the Internet for charities that appeal to you, and make $5 or $10 gifts to them until you reach your spending limit. Write "thank you" notes to your friends for "just being them," or text message them with a simple, "I was thinking about you today, Merry Christmas!" Comment on your friends' Facebook pages with a holiday message. So what if it might seem a tad weird. In this era of global communication, we have more ways to give to others than humans have ever had the capability of doing so.

4. If sad or negative memories creep in, let those feelings come and sit with them. To paraphrase what angels are always telling people in the Bible, "fear not." Sad memories remind us of our own capacity to love. Negative memories create resolve to create and honor new traditions, new ways of living our lives. Ignoring them or distracting ourselves from them thwart our ability to grow and love in new and more challenging ways.

5. Finally, at the end of the day, right before you go to sleep, reflect on the things you've discovered from the experience. What did you learn? What new traditions can you create? For what new things do you find yourself thankful? Reflect on the "Christmas stories" in Matthew and Luke. Imagine yourself in the various roles in the story, or think about who the "shepherds," or "magi," etc. are in your life. There's something about that half-sleepy state at bedtime that can unbind our spiritual imaginations--take advantage of it.

For those of you spending your first Christmas alone, I wish you an incredible journey!

5 comments:

I just read this on FB. I love love love it... LOVE IT.

Thank you.

Sometimes I use my "Christmas alone" day to write Christmas cards to friends and family. It brings them "to" me in a way and, as I write, I can especially treasure their friendship.

Well, and I thought of your Thanksgiving experience helping with meals, Lisa, as being in the same vein. What times I've volunteered for "community holiday meals" of various sorts, I've found to be more rewarding than I expected. I continue to be amazed at how the sharing of a meal is one of the most basic of human comfort mechanisms.

Yep. That, too. If I can get up early enough, I'm going back tomorrow. (I'm serving at the 11:00 service tonight, so not sure when I'll crawl into bed.)

Awesome post. Before we met, T and I almost always worked Christmas--and alot of that was to avoid Christmas alone. Only in the last few years have I realized that solitude is a gift instead of a state to be avoided at all costs. Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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