I never knew who was going to be at our house at Christmas time. Sometimes it was just my mom and my two brothers. Other times, there would be various and sundry family members who would join us. But it was never a surprise to any of us when Mother would announce (usually on Christmas day) that we were going to have someone with us that usually had a story connected to them.
One year it was a woman and her two children whose husband had just walked out on them, and they didn’t have anything to eat. Then there was Roy, the man who chose to be homeless and live in a lean-to on the river. Mother made him shower and somehow produced clean clothes for him that day. Most often it was someone who just didn’t have anywhere to go at Christmas. I imagine that most of these people initially felt a bit awkward, but my mom had a way of putting them right at ease, and these people became memorable characters in the history of our family’s holiday celebrations. Her kindness to others taught me some great lessons about noticing the unnoticed and loving the least among us during the holidays.
Maybe you could find ways to remember those who might be overlooked during the holiday season. People like:
- Those in nursing homes and homebound. According to a study cited by Seniorcare.com, “loneliness – the feeling of emptiness – can cause suffering to people at any age. But it’s especially debilitating to older adults and may predict serious health problems and even death.” Having others around them in a care facility doesn’t necessarily mean they are remembered by family and friends. The homebound can be some of the most isolated.
- Widows and widowers. GriefShare, a ministry to those who’ve experienced loss, says, “For those experiencing a loss, October through December can be excruciatingly painful months. Death, separation, divorce, illness, family trauma, job loss or moving to a new location result in great losses that make the holidays difficult.” Many of the tips they give for surviving the holidays include not being isolated and reaching out to others.
- Those who are divorced. Theirs is a grief of loss as well. If there are children involved, you can add to their burden the times of sharing their children, and to some degree the reopening of the wounds that may have not yet healed.
- Single adults. Singles often wonder where they fit in anyway. Their struggle with loneliness is magnified by the family-oriented focus of the holidays. Movies and songs paint an unrealistic picture of the holidays. Sometimes even their own families bring the pain of expectations or disappointments. Don’t overlook those living a distance from family or whose work keeps them from going home for the holidays.
- Children who have lost a parent through death or divorce. You may have heard it said that “kids are resilient.” That is true. But children without close families, especially those living with a single parent, can be overlooked during this time of year.
- Those who are experiencing a difficult season of life: those who lost a job or a business; new in the community; or struggling with a recently diagnosed serious health issue. These are a few of examples of those who might be easily missed during the holidays.
What can be done for these who are often overlooked? There are practical things that we can do as individuals and church leaders to help.
- First, determine what you and your family can do personally. Invite someone to your Christmas dinner. If you have kids at home, this is an opportunity to teach them to love others and care for those outside their bubble. Take one of the hurting kids with your family for an outing.
- As a church be deliberate. Make a list of those who might be overlooked during the holidays. Pray for them. Encourage them.
- Talk about people who are often overlooked during the holidays in your church and Bible study classes. Challenge classes to choose someone to minister to as a class, especially those who are already connected to them.
- Be creative. Find unique ways to involve them with others. Host Christmas parties within classes or groups at church that are fun and encourage conversation and laughter.
- Go big. Have a concerted effort by inviting your church family to visit and deliver a gift to those on your list. Encourage people to take a few minutes to love on and pray with these people.
Long before I was in the ministry, my mom taught me that it’s not that hard to make a difference in the lives of someone who is often overlooked and hurting during the holidays. We’ve watched our children and grandchildren make a difference in similar ways.
Before she died, my mom became one of those lonely widows. Instead of wallowing in self pity, she found ways to include and encourage hurting people all year long. Her life was richer, her shadow longer and her heart for Jesus became the focus of these relationships. Her legacy still reminds me not to overlook others during the holidays.