I’m always drawn in by the hopeful anticipation of Advent. This season of waiting is the perfect metaphor for the single life. What characterizes singlehood more than anything else is that it’s a time of openness, watching, and waiting to respond to God’s presence.
In these days leading up to Christmas, however, I am reminded of the challenges of being single around the holidays. I imagine for many singles, the joy of Christmas is accompanied by that empty ache of missing a loved one or longing for someone special to come into your life. Long gone are the days when Christmas morning meant scurrying down the stairs with my brothers and sisters in anticipation of what Santa left for us under the tree. Recently, I was talking with a young 20-something friend who voiced aloud this genuine desire, “All I want for Christmas is to fall in love and to be somebody’s mom.”
How can Christmas be a sign of hope for singles? Especially at this time of year when we are reminded of our aloneness?
Here are some spiritual tips for dealing with popular myths of the single life around the holidays:
1. Find witty one-liners to keep the conversations moving. Many singles face the dreaded pressure of what to say when Uncle Frank inquires about your relationship status in the midst of family gatherings. Instead of barking back, “it’s none of your business!” find a witty one-liner to keep the conversation moving. I like to say, “Good things come to those who wait” while my best friend (a die hard Cub’s fan) always invokes the proverbial phrase, “There’s always next year!” Be prepared to change the subject, then give yourself permission to laugh (or cry) about it when the night is over.
Parents, if you’re going to broach the subject of singlehood with your adult children, please do so gently. Adding pressure isn’t going to make a relationship instantly appear. What your single children really want is for you to listen, be excited about their successes, and love them for who they are.
2. In lieu of a significant other, find someone special to surprise with the perfect gift. Is there a coworker who has been especially supportive, a neighbor in need of some extra holiday cheer, or a favorite charity that you can surprise with an unexpected gift? Take time to pick the perfect gift for a niece, nephew, or best friend. Better yet, spend some extra time with the important people in your life. And be generous without expecting anything in return.
3. Create your own Christmas traditions and savor the celebrations that mean the most to you, even if they don’t occur on December 25. I always make a point to attend the annual Lessons & Carols prayer service at our parish. I usually take time to watch my favorite movies or read a book while lying under the Christmas tree (like my sister and I did when we were kids). And this year, my friends are hosting a post-holiday rendezvous to view Christmas lights around the city.
Christmas comes when the light of God’s love breaks through the darkness of our lives. I suspect in one of these events, I will experience that warm glow of God’s goodness. We cannot force those special moments to happen, but be ready to embrace God’s presence, especially if it occurs when you least expect it.
4. Give a gift that comes from the heart. The real joy of Christmas is that Christ has come to set us free. St. Charles Borromeo reminds us, “When we remove all obstacles to his presence he will come, at any hour and moment, to dwell spiritually in our hearts, bringing with him the riches of his grace.” What is keeping you from fully experiencing God’s presence? Is there a person in your life who needs to be forgiven? Are there issues in your life that need to be dealt with? Are there circumstances beyond your control that need to be let go and surrendered to God? Find one small way to share the gift of God’s presence by sharing your gratitude, forgiveness, and love with others.
As singles, we often long to be in relationship with others, and Christmas is the celebration of a God who desires to be in deeper relationship with us. Remember that God is already here! All of us, regardless of our relationship status, undoubtedly feel some added pressure around the holidays. There is nothing we can do to “make Christmas” come. We can, however, step back and allow God’s love to fill our hearts and our lives. What more could one ask for Christmas?
Beth M. Knobbe lives an intentional single life. She earned a master of divinity degree from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and serves as a campus minister at the Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University. She is a regular speaker on young adult spirituality.