will you be lonely at Christmas?


Christmas is fast approaching! The more organised have crossed off lists, the semi-organised have started writing lists and everyone else is definitely considering thinking about lists …soon …maybe. 

For many, Christmas plans are predictable. Traditions have been well established and you know where you’ll be for each part of the day (or 3 days), who will be part of each gathering and what the general format of each occasion will be. 

For others, Christmas represents looming fear. Plans are unconfirmed. Perhaps circumstances have changed since last year – a divorce, death, you (or others) have moved, work situations have changed, family life has shifted – and so you’re not really sure what it will look like. 

If you know someone who is alone NOW is the time to check they have a place to go and people to be with. Now is the time when the pending loneliness might be starting to niggle at their hearts and their peace. Now is the time they might be wondering if they ought to prepare for a quiet day alone. 

So NOW is the time to extend the invitation. A simple “what are your plans for Christmas Day?” will reveal those without any. And a follow up to be included in a specific aspect of your plans will, at the very least, have them know that if they spend the day alone it will be by choice and not by force. 

Celebration days can be difficult for Singles or those living far from or without extended family. “Everyone” talks of busy, tired, full and fun times that can contrast sharply with some people’s experience and that is part of the feeling of loneliness. 

My friend posted this on FaceBook today and I love it. 


Who are you spending Christmas with? Who could you check in with? To whom might you extend an invitation to ensure they’re not lonely this Christmas?

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“12 thoughts of Christmas” #11: Looking Back

At the end of each year I have a staff review with my Senior Pastor, perhaps you do something similar at your work. We look at the year that was: highlights and challenges. We reflect on the things we’d identified as work areas for the year. We pause and acknowledge the growth and fruit that we see in me personally and in the various ministries and people I oversight as part of my role.

I’m terrible at it!! Because I can’t remember past the last few weeks!! It’s true. Before the meeting I go to other people in the office and in my life and say “help me out, what happened this year?!” It feels like the last month has enough happening to fill a list of highlights and challenges on its own!

Looking back is an essential part of doing life well. Without looking back we can be so consumed with the now that we lose sight of how far we’ve travelled and all that we’ve done, learnt, experienced, given, received, released, achieved and become. And most importantly, we neglect a great opportunity for gratitude and celebration!

Before the new year and all it contains consumes your time and brain space, can I encourage you to spend some intentional time looking back? Reflect on significant events and milestones. Acknowledge the difficult experiences you may have had – with your testimony being, at the very least, that you survived!! 🙂 Note the changes you saw in your family, your relationships, your children, your physical or work environments. Reflect on the impact you and your family were able to make in the lives of others – giving to charities or a sponsor child, serving at church, investing in your neighbours – it is always a privilege to be used to bring joy to others. Remember the new things you saw or tried, the traditions you started or continued, the skills you developed, the successes you achieved and the failures you recovered from.

There should be quite a list, but if you’re like me and have trouble remembering too much passed the recent weeks perhaps you could ask others to contribute to the discussion.

Pause to give God thanks for the year that was. Whether it’s a year that you’d love to do again or one you are happy to see the end of. Nothing is for nothing in God’s economy – everything you experienced will be used by Him to refine and strengthen you and to prepare you for the things that are in store.

Share your thankfulness with others. Display a “Top 10 list” on your fridge, post it on Facebook, share it in an email, write it in your diary … or even share it here below.

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #10: Making Room

If your Christmas was anything like mine, the presents were piled high and the whole lounge room was strewn with wrapping paper by then end. There were no doubt a few hits and misses with the giving and receiving of gifts, but hopefully the spirit of giving and gratitude was strong in your family gatherings over the past few days.

New clothes, new toys, new décor items and beauty products, tickets and vouchers, gadgets and goodies … most likely you have found yourself with quite a stash after you’ve exchanged gifts with friends and family. It’s such a blessing to be on the receiving end of other people’s generosity!

The reality is that most of us already have more than we need – and certainly more than lots of other people have – and that has just become even more so with the addition of your latest things. The truth is that we generally don’t wear all the clothes we have in our wardrobe or play with every toy in the toy box already – there is only so much time and our interest and capacity are limited too.

Perhaps something you could do as a family is set about “making room” for your new things by selecting some old things to pass along. You might send clothes or toys to a good will organisation – or perhaps you know families through your church or school community who could benefit directly. Maybe you would have a garage sale or take out a stall at a car boot sale to sell your ‘excess’ goods – the money could go toward something more substantial that’s being saved for or even given to a charity.

It’s a great conversation to have with your children – for them to consider how fortunate they are and get a better perspective on how much they really do have. One of the ‘outcomes’ of fostering an attitude of gratitude is generosity. When we truly appreciate all we are blessed with we are keen to bless others from all we are given.

Have you done something like this before? How have you processed it with your family?

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #9: It’s Tradition!

Yesterday as I was at the supermarket getting last minute cooking supplies, I saw a packet of Christmas lollies that made me smile. They’re often called “traditional Christmas mix” or something similar and they only seem to come out at Christmas time.

I smiled because I’ve had those lollies at pretty much every Christmas I can remember. There were a few loose ones in the bottom of our stockings (that we always ate before breakfast – which sounds like a great idea but always left me feeling a little weird) there were bowls of them around the house – they were like the official treat of the ‘we can eat lollies at any time today because it’s Christmas’ rule! I associate them with my Grandparents (who died before my 12th Christmas), which is a lovely memory too.

Traditions are important to creating a family history. They form part of the shared story that undergirds family relationships – between parents and children and also amongst siblings. Traditions are an important part of our development as children and are formational in our understanding of who we are and where we come from.

On Facebook these past weeks I’ve seen pictures of some great family traditions. From stringing popcorn and cranberries for an edible decoration to visiting the Myer Christmas windows, from a crazy late night shopping expedition to walking the neighbourhood to see the Christmas lights. A gingerbread house decorating competition, a picnic at the Carols, cricket matches, funny Kris Kringles, friends gathering for a BBQ and writing Christmas cards. All of these traditions are so fun to revisit and bond families and friends in love and memories.

Let us know what you do! What traditions do you honour every Christmas time?

And of course, let attending church together be one of those traditions too.

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #8: Fostering Gratitude

My Kids Hope friend was away from the school the day of our last session for the year and so I had to leave her Christmas present with her teacher. It was a bit sad not to be able to enjoy that moment of giving and unwrapping but I left her a little note telling her I was excited to see her again next year.

On Sunday, one of the teachers from her school who attends our church gave me a card from her. A delightful hand made one that thanked me for her “preze” (pressie) and said that she too was looking forward to spending time with me again in 2013. It was a beautiful, heartwarming thought.

It probably goes without saying (but let’s say it anyway) that gratitude is a great virtue to foster. It’s good for the person who IS grateful and it is so encouraging for the people that we’re grateful FOR!

Christmas is a time that we are given MUCH! Firstly, the gift of Jesus – the whole point of Christmas! In the Bible, Paul says we thank God for that “indescribable gift”! But then we are given a whole lot more. We receive gifts, we receive the hospitality of friends and family, we receive the love and relational connection of people near and dear to us … we get lots!!

Of course, we in polite society would always say ‘thank you’, but to foster a spirit of gratitude and to express gratitude takes a little more intentionality and effort.

But let’s do it!!

  • Encourage your children to write thank you notes to people who’ve given them gifts. It will help solidify in their minds who gave them what as well as being a delightful surprise for the people who receive them.
  • Take a thank you card or gift with you to the family who hosts your various celebrations. You know what it means to have people over for Christmas (that’s why you voted to go to theirhouse) so a little bit of thankfulness could go a long way.
  • Take time to pray together and thank God for His indescribable gift to us at Christmas time.

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #7: Party Time!

Yesterday was my sister-in-law’s birthday so family and friends had gathered at her house to celebrate with her. A friend made a stack of macarons and stuck some candles in a few of them. We sang, we hip hip’ed and then she blew out the candles. Then her 1 year old daughter wanted a turn, so they were re-lit and she blew them out. Then her 3 year old wanted in on the action, so they were re-lit and she blew them out. Of course, the cousins had to have a turn … as did all the other children that were gathered. By the end of lighting, blowing out and re-lighting there was hardly anything left of the candles and we were finally able to get into the macarons!!

You’ve all no doubt been there before. You’ve scraped the wax (& a little bit of spit) off a cake after some enthusiastic blows! You’ve had the party hats and balloons, wacked the piñata, played pass the parcel, eaten a few footy franks and the odd slice of fairy bread. We do birthday parties! From the quiet family gathering to the themed extravaganza; the BIG numbers that need extra acknowledgement to the years that slip by relatively unheralded (or mentioned out loud); the McDonald’s hosted to the ‘hostess-with-the-mostess’ home party … all sorts, sizes and locations. Birthdays get celebrated well in most households and families.

So, given that Christmas is essentially Jesus’ birthday party, what part does that play in your Christmas gatherings and traditions? Does He get a mention Christmas day or does He get lost under the tinsel and mountains of discarded gift wrap? How do you acknowledge Him on the actual day?

I’ve heard of families that have a birthday cake for Jesus as part of their Christmas lunch. Others read the Christmas story together before they open their gifts. One family reveals baby Jesus and adds Him to the nativity scene. Some will honour Him in their prayers of thanks when the family gathers around the meal. I recently heard a child excitedly noting that Jesus’ birthday is one of the only birthdays you ever get to celebrate where you GET presents as well as GIVE them – that’s how generous and kind Jesus is!

What about you? What do you do? How do you include Jesus in His special day? Share some ideas below.

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #6: Things are Different Now

Like millions of others, my heart has broken watching the news reports and hearing the stories out of the horrific school shooting in Connecticut, USA. Amongst many other things I’ve processed in the wake of this tragic event, I have found myself thinking about what Christmas will look like for those families. My heart and mind can’t really wrap themselves around all that would be impacted by such trauma and such intense grief and loss.

The reality for many families is that Christmas could look a lot different for you this year than it did last year. You may have moved house or town. You might have experienced loss through the death of a family member or friend. You might have aged parents who are now in care, a sick loved one who is hospital bound, relatives that are overseas or interstate, a relationship that has ended. So much could be different about this Christmas – and if that’s the case for you, it’s a good idea to identify that and process it in intentional and inclusive ways.

People will react to change in a whole raft of different ways. It depends on personality, resilience, emotional maturity, levels of support (perceived or real) and all manner of other factors. Children will also react to change in unique ways but are often impeded in their processing by their capacity to identify and articulate emotions, feelings, fears or thoughts. Some suggestions for self-reflection and/or discussion.

  • Consider what has changed in your family since last Christmas and acknowledge that together. Even if something changed 11 ½ months ago, it may still alter the landscape of your Christmas gathering.
  • Discuss the part that person or situation played in the way you celebrated Christmas last year. Perhaps you had cousins spend the day with you that are now living interstate and won’t be here. Or maybe you lived in a different house that lent itself to certain decorations or activities. Maybe someone who has passed away had a special job at Christmas – they manned the BBQ or handed out the presents, they brought the fruit salad or they led the family Carol singing session.
  • Make a plan for how you will handle that particular difference. Decide in advance who will take on the role or how you will change your celebrations to cope without it being done. Communicate the plan clearly with all who are impacted.
  • Identify the emotions that are attached to the change. Obvious ones would include sadness and grief – but there could be anger, guilt, loneliness, fear, insecurity, hopelessness etc – possibly even relief or happiness. Giving permission for people to feel what they are feeling is a gift that can often bring great release and healing.
  • Be intentional about honouring what HAS been whilst celebrating all that is. New situations, new friends and family to celebrate with, new physical environments all lend themselves to exciting opportunities to add new traditions and memories to your Christmas gathering.
  • Remember that while much may have changed in your life, God has not! He is the same God yesterday, today and forever. He sees everything, knows everything, is not surprised by anything and offers us infinite love, grace and compassion as we process our way through a broken world. Immanuel – God is with us!

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #5: Looking Outward

The central message of Christmas is one of sacrificial giving. The God of the Universe gave His only Son, Jesus – born in a manger, killed on a cross, raised to life – so that we might experience the ultimate gift of Salvation. While all sorts of other things will compete to crowd out that truth … the reality of this incredible gift needs to draw us to a different heart posture and a different response.

The Christmas season provides us all manner of opportunities for self-indulgence or to facilitate the self-indulgence of others, it takes a fair degree of intentionality and a whole lot of clear communication to write a different story for ourselves and our families.

Here are some ideas for ways to foster an outward focus during the Christmas season.

  • Give gifts that support other causes. Many organisations have developed creative ways to give to need locally and around the world through unique gifts such as a goat, a toilet, a well or a mosquito net given on behalf of friends and family. You can talk about them at home in the planning stage and then you have further opportunity to speak to it when the gift is exchanged.
  • Serve together as a family. Shop together to buy food or gifts for families in need. Deliver hampers or food through your church or a welfare organisation. Donate time to wrap gifts in a shopping centre. Serve at a community meal.
  • Open your home. Invite someone in who doesn’t have family to spend Christmas with. Include a family for a meal that might otherwise struggle to afford a more ‘special’ celebration. Do an ‘open invitation’ for a Christmas Eve or Christmas night drop in time so people have a safe and hospitable opportunity to connect with others over the celebration period.
  • Perform random (anonymous) acts of kindness. Pay for the person behind you in the drive through at McDonald’s. Offer to return someone’s trolley to the bay. Leave $20 toward a person’s petrol while you’re inside paying for your own. Leave a cake or some Christmas goodies on the doorstep of a neighbour. Handwrite Christmas messages and post them or leave them under someone’s windscreen wipers.
  • Include the WHOLE family in your planning and giving. As a family, discuss the ways you can be generous together – how will we serve, who will we bless? Wrap presents together so everyone knows what you’re giving to family and friends. Handmade is always a special touch – include children in baking/icing/decorating or in making cards, wrapping paper or tags.

What ideas have you seen/heard of? What have you tried yourself? What have you been the recipient of and how did it bless you? How can we make sure the greatest gift of all to us incites a gratitude that inspires giving?

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #4: Great Expectations

All the Christmas-time commercials depict the most idyllic of family gatherings. The weather is always perfect, the table decorations are a work of art, the ham is larger than any home oven’s capacity to cook it and somehow the friends and family have all managed to coordinate their wardrobe perfectly!! Everyone is delighted with their gifts. Toddlers goo and gah in adorable reindeer ears (that stay on for more than 30 seconds!). The post-lunch cricket game is played by all in a manicured back yard. It seems almost too good to be true.

Probably because it is!

To start with, when is the weather ever perfect on a Christmas day in Melbourne?

The reality is that for many, even with the best intentions to the contrary, the family gathering can be a stress laden exercise that leaves you exhausted from the sheer effort of it all. And unfortunately for some, it can be downright painful! Many a family gathering ends in frustration or wounding and the angry car ride home where the question is raised, ‘why do we do that again?’

I think much of our disappointment in the reality of these gatherings can come down to expectations … unrealistic, unfulfilled, un-communicated or misaligned. Somehow what we anticipated the occasion to be sets us up for disappointment in what it actually is. Some thoughts to consider …

  • Communication is key to aligning your expectations with other family and friends (see blog #3 here). Be sure that you’ve thoroughly discussed what each of your events is to look like and help everyone be on the same page.
  • Presuming family will do family the same way is a recipe for disaster. The fact that siblings were raised in the same home/family does not mean they will all raise THEIR families the same way. Acknowledging that will go some way to having you accommodating the differences with a little more understanding.
  • Christmas gatherings are generally longer than any other social event you have throughout the year. For some, extended times of being social are actually quite tiring and it’s often toward the end of these that ‘tensions’ can arise. Know yourselves and your kids – don’t expect too much of energy levels and capacity for patience and tolerance.
  • Make the important things the important things. A ‘successful’ Christmas gathering is measured by the nature and quality of interactions and connections with people. That’s the important thing! Keep that in mind and it means that a flopped pav, a poorly received present or later-than-planned meal time really doesn’t have the power to ‘ruin’ your day.