Life Isn’t Always Like a Christmas Movie

3 tips for navigating the holidays when you’re single

single-at-holidaysThe holidays are a time of joy, worship, and general holiday cheer — at least in the movies. We experience those things, but sometimes we also experience the pain of being single. One Christmas, I was the only single adult at my large family gathering, except if you counted my 80-year-old grandmother (who, as a widow, likely didn’t consider herself single). Here are some strategies to help you stay in the true spirit of the season.

Strategy One: Connect With Your Tribe
Your tribe is the people closest to your heart. Sometimes it’s family members, but many times it’s made of friends. Make special plans with your tribe, beyond the “normal” plans of going out or hanging in. You can organize a Christmas dinner, where everyone brings a dish, or a tree lighting celebration, white elephant gift party — you get the idea. Send out some sort of invitation, dress up, decorate, whatever will make it feel special. I actually did this every year, hosting a “Michele’s Annual Christmas Dinner Party” at my place. One year we brought dates, one year we didn’t, one year we included pets.

Another great way to connect with your tribe is to be intentional about getting involved in ministry. Yes, buy a gift for the gifting tree at your parish, but do more than that. Find opportunities that involve direct service. You not only get to minister to those that need your help, you also get to connect with other parishioners in the process. There is no shortage of volunteer opportunities at this time of year, so if your parish doesn’t have something, check out surrounding parishes or contact the diocese. Or, you can always organize something on your own. One year three of us put together “goodie bags” for the homeless. We bought soap, socks, scarfs, etc. along with sandwiches, and then drove to areas where we knew we would find the homeless. We simply asked if they would like a holiday gift of items and food, and we were never turned down. It was one of the best Christmases I can remember.

Strategy Two: Preparing for Family Dynamics
Everyone has one. And they are all both functional and dysfunctional in some ways. Our family loves us, but they can drive us crazy with questions about why you aren’t dating, or dating again yet, or married yet, or what happened to that nice date from last year. So, be proactive in expecting that embarrassing moment. How? An amazingly clever little game called “Family Bingo.” Make a Bingo grid on a piece of paper and in each box put whatever event you know is going to happen. It may be “Uncle Joe swears at the dinner table,” or “My cousin with three kids tells me I should freeze my eggs.” You can have a lot of fun with it. Then, as the family celebration unfolds, see if you can get Bingo. You can play with another family member or a friend via text. The game is meant to prepare you mentally and emotionally for time with your family, while also adding some humor to the situation. If you think your family would find it hurtful, make sure it’s a private game. Consider it your mental health outlet.

If time with your family triggers feelings of loneliness, then spend some time feeling your loneliness. Don’t try to hide from yourself. It’s OK to have difficult feelings at this time of year; it’s actually very normal. Take some quiet time, alone and with God, and let yourself feel. It’s amazing what happens. First, it’s normally not as bad as you expect. And second, after you let the loneliness express itself, you can allow the gift of grace to open your heart so acceptance and peace may follow.

Strategy Three: Spiritual Rituals and Practices
Catholics know how to “do” ritual. Utilize all the opportunities at your parish this time of year. Participating in ritual can have a calming and healing affect. You can even come up with your own ritual to help you connect to your sense of gratitude for what you do have and acceptance for what you do not. Every year I sit in front of the tree with no other lights on, by myself, with my favorite Christmas music playing, and just enjoy the peace. Be creative, come up with your own ritual. Find what speaks to your heart.

And finally, now is the time to tap into our spiritual disciplines: Mass, Rosary, Adoration, novenas, reading Scripture. As Catholics, we have a rich history of making sure we know how to connect to God. Practice building your relationship with Him. It is the one relationship that will sustain you now and never leave you. Remember: Christ was alone and abandoned, mistreated and misunderstood. He “gets it.” At this time of year we celebrate the fact the God came to us in human form, so we can be sure He gets it. Let God carry this burden for you. Even if God chooses not to “fix” it right now, He will always choose to walk with you in the journey.