Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Lonely at Christmas?

A few days ago, I heard on TV news that the Christmas holiday suicide rate is actually not the highest of the year, as we previously thought. According to recent research, December is the ninth on the list of months.*

That’s good news! Why, you may ask, would that be true? Here are some ideas from a suicide information web site:

--Gatherings of friends and relatives surround and protect vulnerable people.

--Christmas celebrations may evoke positive memories, hopefulness, and a renewed outlook for those in distress.

-- A growing awareness of community resource-type safety nets available especially during this period may bring hope and lessen despair, agencies like food banks, shelters, and outreach programs.

I think there’s a spirit of giving that rises and swells in our hearts this time of year. It makes us think of others, maybe more than ourselves. Maybe we are more prone to pay attention to other people with compassion, more willing to listen and give comfort. That’s how we’re meant to be—not buried in loneliness, but reaching out to others.

Stephen Burns, author of a Discipleship Journal article called “What’s a Lonely Person to Do?” says, “In my loneliness I had become unwittingly self-centered; everything revolved around me.” Through experiences with an elderly woman called “Aunty Lila” in his church, he learned that instead of being self-centered, he could have something to offer, to give comfort to others as he had been comforted.

He quotes 2 Corinthians 1:3-5--

“Praise be to . . . the Father of compassion and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”

We are often lonely and feeling alone; we are strangers in the world. Sarah Davis writes, in a short sidebar story attached to Burns’s article, “In many ways, I feel loneliness exists to remind us we’re not at home in this life, to help us see that there is longing within all of us, and to drive us to the cross. The cross is a profound expression not only of sacrifice and salvation, but loneliness, too. So much of what makes us feel lonely is feeling that we are enduring alone, which Jesus did and He took our sin on Himself.”

Concluding the article, Burns acknowledges that all people feel lonely at times in their lives—it’s part of us. His prayer is this:

“In such seasons, may God give us the courage to open our hearts to those around us and to extend our hands to those who need us. Then, even when the times grow lonesome, we won’t be lonely.”

May these thoughts grow in our hearts this Christmas season and lead us to draw near to the Christ child, to be hopeful, to reach out to other people in love and compassion.

*August was found to have the highest incidence of suicide, and September, the lowest.

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