By David Hegg
Christmas season is upon us, with all of its joys and opportunities for happy times with friends and family. Somehow, Christmas brings out the best in all of us. We smile more, relax more and find ways to re-live our best memories of childhood as we enjoy the lights, carols, sweaters, gifts, decorations and food of the season.
But, with all the celebrating around us, it is easy to miss those in our lives who are living out the season in real loneliness. That’s right. In your circle there are those who live in a private world of loneliness, even in the midst of the Christmas ethos. Here’s why.
Fear: For some of our friends and family, fear of failure keeps them so bound up they are emotionally aloof even as they put on a good set of smiles. These good people worry about whether their gifts will be appreciated, their decorations applauded, and their pie crusts acceptable. Most of all, they worry about having to interact with others for fear their social awkwardness will show. In a world that critiques everything and everyone, they often find it easier to remain in the corners of life, but they cannot evade that feeling of loneliness that inhabits their hearts.
Pain: Others among us suffered some traumatic life event in the past year and have largely become labeled by it. It might be a divorce, a potentially terminal diagnosis, the loss of a close friend or loved one, the sudden loss of employment, or some such tragedy. They are monumentally fatigued at having “it” be the topic of discussion, over and over. And the Christmas season, with its social gatherings, becomes a series of situations where they are expected to put on a happy face, give out the standard platitudes, answer the same hurtful questions, and do it all without dampening the holiday spirit. They want to scream, “I am more than what has happened to me,” and often find themselves locked away to privately face the fears and discouragement we just don’t have time for in this season.
Difference: We are a society that can be very cold and blind to those who are different from us. Face it, we’re so much better responding to those with whom we have much in common. But when we’re face to face with people who face certain physical, mental, social, or emotional challenges, we too often avert our eyes or worse … and don’t for a moment think they don’t see it, and feel it, which only serves to validate their feeling of being alone in this world.
Leadership: This one may surprise you, but the loneliness of leadership is very real and deep. Leaders in every field live out their lives on the stage of public expectations and can never escape them. They are expected to be upbeat, personable, relational, charming and courageous in every situation, all while knowing those watching are free to interpret their words, facial expressions, body language and even wardrobe in any way they choose. Leadership also means having to make unpopular decisions without being able to publicly explain all the reasons and rationale behind them. Every leader I know will agree that leadership is the epitome of public loneliness. We see leaders from a distance as successful, but what we don’t see is their belief that their world provides almost no safe spaces for them. They come to embrace a personal loneliness that most will never know.
So, what’s this all about? Just this. This season, as you make merry with family and friends, think about how you can prepare yourself to bring some joy to the lonely people around you. I say prepare because doing what doesn’t come naturally will mean maturing in areas of your perception, character and manner.
For me, that means praying for God to open my eyes a little wider, confront my selfishness a little stronger and fill my heart a little fuller with real compassion for those who need what I can give. What they need is what we all need: a sincere appreciation of who they are as people, fellow-travelers on the human journey, who down deep just want to be welcomed into the family.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.