Christmas always makes me feel a little sad and a little lonely. As a young girl waiting to open her presents on Christmas, I felt a hint of melancholy. My mind would wander to people who might be sitting alone, those without a family or a warm home. I could easily work myself into tears.
Even the Christmas story itself didn’t bring me a lot of comfort. Though I believed God had come to the world and I should be celebrating, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Mary and think about how scared she must have been. I thought of Jesus—this tiny baby born in a stinky manger with a king plotting his death. Every year I felt gloomy no matter what I received. The day after Christmas came as a relief.
As I grew older, my melancholy eased a bit around the holidays. Then one year I found myself in the midst of my loneliest season. Though I had my extended family, I was losing the largest part of my immediate family. I was getting a divorce.
Plenty of words describe the devastation of divorce: lonely, scary, sad, as well as liberating. Having permanently separated in the summer, I was doing okay; I even felt good on some days. My ex-husband kept the apartment, the community, and on most days the dog. I was living on a friend’s property in a tiny house with no running water, nestled in the scenic canyons of Los Angeles, having a Thoreau-like experience. It was a landing pad, a place to breathe, a place to feel safe. But I was alone in a place that, although beautiful, was not a home.
Then as the Christmas season drew nearer, anxiety overwhelmed me as I thought of having to see my large, extended, Christian family at such a vulnerable time. I poured myself into work thinking that if I could just accomplish more, then people would focus less on the divorce and more on my career success. I threw myself into working out in hopes of looking thin and beautiful so people would think, “She’s not sad. Look at her! She’s doing great!”
Knowing Christmas with my family would be difficult but nothing I could do to change it, I wanted to avoid the holidays altogether. I went in search of wise counsel and asked a few divorced friends for tips on how to deal with this first Christmas alone. Evidently, no matter how you deal, it still hurts and you just have to “get through it.”
I finally went to God. Faith helped me through the most difficult years and the ending of my marriage. I sought God’s presence with desperation. He was all I had in the mess of a frightening and turbulent marriage. God used friends and strangers when answering my prayers for safety and guidance. Timely words of wisdom were spoken into my life. Gifts came my way: a book with money hidden inside in case I needed a hotel, a house key in case I needed a place of safety, a bracelet with the words “I love you” from a friend mere hours after I begged God to remind me of his love. Countless times God placed the perfect people with the right words or gifts at the most opportune time in my path. When I could have easily felt condemnation, I instead felt covered by God’s seemingly growing presence.
But even after all of those examples of God’s faithfulness, I chose to turn to him last. Though he had become increasingly tangible during the previous year, as Christmas approached accompanied by the anxieties of having to be with my extended family, I forgot God. I avoided praying about my fear and nervousness over the hurt I expected with this Christmas alone. I convinced myself that the negative perceptions people, the church, other Christians, or my family might have about someone who is getting divorced could also be God’s perceptions. But drawing away from God didn’t help, and avoiding possible judgment also meant avoiding comfort. Finally, I leaned into him with all my fear, anxiety, and sorrow. I held nothing back and prayed.
Struggling through that Christmas season, Jesus seemed more present than any Christmas before. I felt he was with me; with me when I was out walking those two unruly pups, as I tried to create a “home” in a place that was just a landing pad, and when I could not keep the tears at bay. God comforted me as I nervously drove to my aunt’s house on Christmas Eve. In every hug from my family, and in every person who didn’t point out the obvious absence of the man who had been my other half for nearly a decade, I sensed God’s work. Mostly, though, he met me in the silence when my mind would drift off to what had been and what could have been if there was no such thing as divorce. He was in the silence when I couldn’t muster the energy to pretend that being alone didn’t hurt. The silence that could have felt so lonely instead felt full of Jesus.
Throughout that Christmas season I was reminded why Immanuel, God with us, came in the first place: not only to save a hurting world, but to ease our loneliness by being with us. In the midst of what could have been my loneliest season I found, once again, that no matter what season, or what circumstance of life, seems to overwhelm me, God is present, near, and loves me. St. Paul, in writing to the Romans, reminds them that “neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”