Post Author: Stacey Midge
My Christmas Eves are a little different these days. I generally spend the day in front of my computer, finishing the sermon I’ll preach for the biggest crowd of the year. No pressure, of course. As my family digs into dinner, I pass candles around a church 1,500 miles away. After leading the last worship service, I meander back to my dog and a darkened house – because I usually haven’t had time to hang up lights or other Christmas decorations during the rush of Advent; it’s a very good year if I manage a tree. I heat up some leftovers, pour a glass of wine, pop in a movie, and collapse on the couch. Then I wake up on Christmas Day and…go back to sleep as long as possible.
It’s not as pathetic as it sounds, I promise! By the time I’m done with the Christmas insanity, I am more than ready to just crash, and my dog is just about all the company I can handle. My Christmas Eve ritual has become a sort of Sabbath; I defend it even when I receive other invitations. This much-needed time of quiet rest has become one of my favorite things about being single and living alone.
However, that doesn’t mean that holidays aren’t difficult. I suspect that holidays are hard for most single people, regardless of their vocation. Being alone in a season when everyone is emphasizing family togetherness just accentuates whatever loneliness is already there. When you heap on top of that the added responsibilities that come for ministers during holiday seasons, sometimes you end up with an exhausted, emotional mess. I know this because I have been that mess. In fact, I am still that mess sometimes. As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, I anticipate being that mess yet again in the near future. Even when I’m relieved to have the peace and quiet of my house to myself, I still look around and think of my family, singing in harmony around a tree in Minnesota.
The holiday worship services really are the high point of the church year for me, especially the anticipation and joy of Christmas Eve. I love hearing the ancient words, “She gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” I love the old carols, and the passing of candlelight from one to another while we sing “Silent Night.”
Still, that happiness is always tempered with missing the familiar companionship of family. I have tried going to other people’s gatherings, but it is not the same. I always feel like an interloper, even with the most welcoming of families. On Christmas Eve, I’ve learned that it’s gentler on myself to be alone and rest, even if I do end up watching Love Actually, bawling my eyes out, and yet again acting like a character in an unfortunate novel.
Gentleness has become my holiday gift to myself. Just as buying a special present for a loved one often takes some thought in advance, self-care takes planning. Thanksgiving is a low-key holiday in my church, so I arrange well ahead of time to visit friends for this annual exercise in gluttony. I know I won’t have the energy to be fit for human consumption after the demands of Christmas, so I make an equally firm commitment to spend some time alone.
On my first Christmas alone, after a 24-hour shift at the youth shelter where I was working at the time, I spent the day watching the entire Lord of the Rings series – the extended versions – with my dog curled up at my feet. It wasn’t exactly your typical Christmas, but it was just what I needed. It wasn’t what I would have chosen, but that day gave me permission to build my own holiday rituals that fit with this crazy ministerial life.
Ironically, our role in ushering in holidays for others often places us far away from the people with whom we would normally celebrate, and far away from the rituals that made those holidays important to us in the first place. Developing the rituals and balance of self-care becomes even more crucial at these times, when we’re all the more susceptible to weariness and loneliness. Whatever it may mean for you, give yourselves a gift you can really use this holiday season: be gentle with yourselves.
Rev. Stacey Midge is a graduate of Drake University (BA, 1999) and Western Theological Seminary (MDiv, 2003), and is ordained in the Reformed Church in America. She serves as a solo pastor in upstate New York, where she lives the exciting single life with her overly energetic dog, Laila.
Image by: Kelly Sikkema
Used with permission