I was in denial. And it was time to do something about it.
We had moved to France just four months earlier, and were facing our first Christmas overseas. We had put up the few decorations that we had brought with us to our apartment south of Paris, but I knew that I hadn’t really embraced Christmas yet, because I wasn’t playing music. I always loved Christmas music, and eagerly awaited Thanksgiving evening when my wife was finally OK with starting the Christmas season. But that year, by mid-December I had yet to play a single tune.
I remember the day when I finally scolded myself. “This is silly. Sure, you’re far from family and friends, dreading the holiday for the first time in your life. But you can do this. Snap out of it. Play some Christmas tunes.” I grabbed the first cassette that I saw (remember those?), thrust it confidently into the Boom Box (remember those?), and hit Play. The opening chords of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” began to fill the room.
I hit the Stop button so hard that I almost broke the unit.
Christmas without family is tough, and there are all kinds of circumstances that can create a lonely holiday. Some, like me back in the day, are serving as missionaries in a culture that is not their own. Some are serving their country, preparing for Christmas on military bases that try to look festive, maybe dreading the few minutes with loved ones on FaceTime or Skype that, while better than nothing, aren’t near enough. Some are traveling for business, others are in a hospital. Some are preparing for their first Christmas since the separation. Many know that they will have to work while their family gathers and enjoys all of the traditions that they will miss this year.
If that describes you, can I pass on a couple of things that I learned over the course of 15 years of international living? These two thoughts helped me, and maybe they will help you.
- Home is portable
If you are facing the first of what will be many family-free Christmases, I hope you will learn what I learned. Home can travel with you. That first Christmas was rough – we hadn’t made many friends yet, we didn’t speak the language, we hadn’t yet become part of the culture. But it was our last Christmas without kids – our first daughter was born the following September, which changed everything, including our holidays. We made friends, got comfortable with the language, and learned to embrace the Christmas traditions of our new home. Yeah, it became home. We are allowed to have more than one of those. That surprised me.
- Jesus gets you
In his book Because of Bethlehem, Max Lucado puts it well: “(Mary) and Joseph were far from home on the night of Jesus’ birth; that was all right. Jesus was even farther from his.” The One whose birth we celebrate knows exactly what it is like to be far from home on Christmas. Hebrews 2 tells us that the humanity of Christ assures us that He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He understands the loneliness that we feel in moments like these. That matters to me.
So if you are planning for a lonely Christmas in a few days, I hope it helps that you are not alone. And know that, even if this one is rough, there are more ways than you realize to be home for Christmas. By next year, I hope you will discover some of them.
And remember, Jesus gets you. You can go to Him with your loneliness, confident that he knows exactly how you feel. That probably won’t replace your family, but it matters.
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