This time of year is full of fun and festivities! Our churches are often decking the halls and putting on special programs that celebrate the First Advent. And many of our thoughts and ideas are focused on togetherness of families and loved ones. The holiday season is a source of joy and happiness for most of us. And it should be! At the same time, there are people in our congregations who sometimes get overlooked as we are concentrating on our own celebrations. This holiday season, let’s be intentional in making sure that we include everyone. Especially those for whom these next few weeks may be difficult. Here is a non exhaustive list of those who may need some extra TLC this Christmas Season.
- Single people: This group encompasses a lot of different people. We commonly think of those who are young and never married. But it can also include those who are divorced or widowed. Yes they may have extended family somewhere, but that doesn’t mean the holidays aren’t lonely for them where they are. Family oriented activities are absolutely lovely, but let’s work to make sure that those spending time away from family don’t feel isolated. Inquire and invite them to your home for the celebrations you may be having. But don’t make the basis of your invitation be the fact that they are single, just let them know that you value them as a person and would enjoy their company.
- Students away from home: this may or may not overlap with single people. Often college students are single, but sometimes they aren’t. Married people on fellowship or otherwise separated from their spouses may be included in this number. Whatever the particular circumstances, being a student may not afford them the opportunity to travel back to their hometown. Make sure to let students know that they are not forgotten and that they have a holiday invitation at a home away from home.
- Military families: having a loved one on active duty during the holidays can be rough. In conjunction with the loneliness of their loved one’s departure, there may be fear that they may not return home. Particularly for children of military parents, it can be both sad and scary. And if one has young children, making the holidays special for them might be extra burdensome. Helping out these families in tangible ways during the holidays can go a long way.
- Empty nesters: for older people whose children are away, the holidays may be rough. Perhaps it’s the first time their child has left home. Or maybe their children are grown with families of their own and can’t travel back. Or maybe their child is spending this holiday season with their in-laws. There are many reasons why someone whose home used to be filled with lots of family may now be celebrating by themselves. Give these people an extra dose of cheer this season by paying some special attention to the fact that this might be a transitional time for them.
- Those who’ve lost loved ones: especially if the loss is recent, the death of a loved one is difficult for anyone. But especially around the holidays, it can be exponentially harder. For the one who has endured the loss, traditions that once brought joy can actually be painful reminders. Don’t rush these folks to move on. Don’t encourage them to forget their loved one. Don’t pressure them to demonstrate happiness while they grieve. Let them express themselves at their own pace, in their own way. Just let them know that you are present and available if they need you. Give them space, yet let them know you also welcome them if they want company to spend time with you as you celebrate too.
- Those who are impoverished: although we try to emphasize the spiritual aspects of the season, let’s face it, commercialization permeates every corner of the holidays. This can be rough, particularly for families and individuals who can’t afford all the trappings of various traditions. Share a meal. If it’s more appropriate, help provide groceries so they can have enough to prepare their own meal. Purchase gifts for them: yes the kids, but something nice for the adults is always welcome too. Everyone loves gifts! Show them they are thought of too.
- Those in facilities and/or sick and shut in: out of sight, out of mind. It can be very easy to forget those members of our churches who have no ability to come join us for the holidays. The longer they’ve been absent from active involvement in congregational life, the easier it may be to overlook them. Feeling forgotten during any time of the year is undoubtedly depressing. But when everyone else has someone to spend time with during the holidays, it can be a reverberating blow. Although they can’t go out, you can go to them! Bring the holidays to them wherever they are.
- Pastors: as you read this list, several people may have come to your mind. But sometimes, even if the pastor fits the description, she or he is rarely thought about in terms of needing help or reassurance. But as a member of a giving profession, pastors are at risk of exhausting themselves with very little reciprocal care and attention being given to them. This is a recipe for burnout. On a personal note, my most miserable Christmas was the first one I had as a senior pastor. I felt that I should be with my congregation. But I was young and single and lived across the country from my family. I had previously spent every Christmas with my family, but thought my responsibility was to stay with my church throughout the holidays. As others celebrated with their families, I found myself by myself. My church members liked me, but I’m certain it never even dawned on them that maybe I’d like an invitation for the holidays too. Certainly after having been pastored by married ministers for so long, it never dawned on them to ask me if I had plans. It was a depressing experience. Your church pastor may fall into one or more of the above categories. Make sure you check in on your clergy this holiday season too.
While there are likely some group of individuals I’ve left off of the list, don’t let that be a reason to overlook someone in your congregation who can be ministered to during this time of year. Our church is a family. Let every member of the family know they are valued and remembered this season.
Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD is a clinical psychologist and ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found at:
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