I’m weary this Christmas. Maybe you are, too. I’m weary of all the decisions I’ve had to make this year, figuring out how to navigate the pandemic, deciding on my own risk tolerance, trying to balance that with other people’s. I can only imagine what kind of weariness government officials and church leaders are feeling as they make decisions for others.
I’m weary of being alone. Not always. Sometimes I’m quite content. But this is will be the third Christmas since divorce proceedings started in the fall of 2019, and the second since I’ve been officially divorced. For all three of these Christmases, knowing how memories can be, I have tried to be away from home on December 25. It has felt like too much to watch the day approach from familiar surroundings, confronted with the difference between the way things used to be, and the way I hoped they would be, and the way things are. This Christmas, I decided to get out of town again. But while I will see friends while away, for much of the time I’ll be alone. I’m hoping the new setting by itself will keep my mind from being drawn to the lost past and future and focused on the given present and new possibilities.
I’m weary of holding things together, being responsible for the weight of my existence. When I was a child, Christmas with my family was a safe place. We would drive from our home in North Carolina to my grandparents’ house in Michigan for their annual Christmas Eve party. Everyone’s stockings, most of them handmade by my grandma, would be hung on the long mantel. We’d play games, eat appetizers, eat dinner, and listen to the story of the birth of Jesus. Then we’d open our gifts, from the youngest to the oldest, sing carols accompanied by my grandpa on the piano, and eat cookies and ice cream. Sometimes, later in the evening, a few would head out into the December chill for a late-night Christmas Eve service.
It has been over a decade now since the last Christmas Eve gathering at my grandparents’ house. My grandpa passed away in 2014, and my grandma is about to be ninety-six and is years removed from being able to host such a gathering. It’s only natural that one generation passes from the scene and another takes its place, and my brother and several of my cousins have indeed created their own traditions and celebrations. This time of year, though, it’s hard not to think of the kind of family I wanted and wasn’t able to have.
I’ve experienced an incredible amount of goodness, of course. I have good friends, a church community that loves me and values my gifts, and meaningful work. But it’s good to name grief, not just to myself but to others, and so I say that weariness and aloneness weigh heavy on me. Not all the time, but enough to drag my steps on occasion.
Maybe you’re feeling weary and lonelier than you’d like this Christmas, too. What do we do with it?
I like to remind myself that to those who are weary, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This God-man, who himself bore such incredible weight of expectation from a young age, grew up to offer us rest. He invites us to come to him and tell him, “This hurts. I’m tired. Will you heal me, please?” I don’t have to make my life make sense or come up with a grand plan for making meaning out of what I’ve experienced. I can rest by laying down my burdens and taking up his yoke of learning how to live as God made me to live.
Just rest, beloved. He knows you’re weary.
When I feel alone, I try to remember that “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). I don’t believe that another marriage is promised to me, but I do believe that God has made me, and all of us, for connection, for intimacy. Living in an individualistic society makes it awkward to admit that you can’t make it on your own, that you’re feeling the weight of having to make all the decisions for your own life plus reach out to other people if you want to spend time with them. When I have energy, I can manage to do the reaching out, put things on the schedule. But the weariness and the loneliness often go together for me because it’s when I lack the energy to make social interaction happen myself that I in turn feel the lack of it. When I’m not too weary, I try to turn loneliness to connection. There will always be an ache, a connection that I wish was there but wasn’t. Even when I’m weary, I can turn it to prayer. What must it have been like for Jesus to enter this world as a baby, unwelcomed by all but a few? To have his life on earth began in a lonely place, with his mom and stepdad and a few ragged outcasts looking on? To be unmarried in a society where it was more unusual than it is today? Doesn’t he know what it’s like to be lonely?
Look to his face, beloved. He knows you’re lonely.
During Advent, many of us listen to Handel’s Messiah, and especially the parts about Jesus’s birth. I have memories of listening to it during many Decembers, but a more significant memory came from my grandpa’s memorial service in September 2014. Several of us stood up and shared how generous and faithful a man he had been—an accountant, a loyal churchman, devoted to his family, always looking to help others, including playing the piano at retirement homes in his later years. At the end, as he had wanted it, we all stood in silence while the organist played the Hallelujah Chorus on the church’s massive pipe organ. Tears dripped from my chin as I said goodbye to the man my mom called the best Christian she’s ever known.
It was his gift to us, to take the end of his memorial service and make us think about how the kingdom of this world would become the kingdom of Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever as King of kings and Lord of lords.
And so, this merry weary Christmas, I want to take my weariness and aloneness to Jesus and tell him I don’t know how to deal with them on my own. I know they won’t last forever. Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow in a chipper mood, with higher energy and better ability to reach out to other people. I hope I do. But for now, I want to become so deeply aware of weariness and aloneness that, when I have turned to Jesus for company in them both, when energy and a sense of connection returns I can then turn to others to make them feel less weary and alone. I want to take my knowledge of tiredness and relieve others’ burdens, especially the poor. I want to take my knowledge of what it’s like to not belong and make others belong, especially the outcast. To look to the “new and glorious morn” with the joy that can only come from facing how weary the world can be. If you’re also feeling weary and alone this December 23, I hope you can, too.