Cold. Dark. Lonely. Waiting.
The shepherds did not know what was coming. They tended and guided and loved their flocks as they did every day. A promise made centuries earlier had likely not made a dent in their thoughts in quite some time. Maybe it came up every once in a while, but it brought sadness rather than hope.
The waiting period had become intense, they began questioning if anything would happen at all. The feelings deep in their guts told them the hope their ancestors had was misplaced, misguided, but still the promise of hope—no matter how unfounded—was always strong enough to pull them back in. It was simply always on the waning side rather than the full side.
That dark night, the shepherds were cold, working, solitary and lonely with only their sheep to care for, waiting for a promise to be fulfilled—one they stopped counting on long ago.
Finally, one night as it was ordained to happen, the angel finally appeared to the shepherds.
And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:9-11)
Just imagine going about your life, lonely and hopeless, then suddenly an angel appears, telling you the very thing you and all your ancestors placed their hope in so long ago finally happened.
In 2018, I gained an understanding of these feelings and so much more. The waiting, the anticipation, the hope, the fear that it would all account to nothing.
It’s natural to believe that since Christmas is at the end of the year it means the end of something has come.
Maybe somewhere out there in a world that celebrates Christmas, someone uses December 25 as a measuring stick, a way to remind themselves the end is coming. Or maybe someone is out there on the opposite end of the spectrum, someone who sees Christmas for what it is:
A symbol of new beginnings.
This is just as true now as it was for the shepherds all those years ago.
For the last few weeks, I have ventured into the depths of vulnerability. I followed the Spirit’s leading to confide and confess what fire I have been walking through. When I started, I didn’t know what the reaction would be. I didn’t know if it would make me feel better or worse, less alone or more alone. I was counting on the waiting and the loneliness to persist for quite some time. My hope was waning more often than abating.
Loneliness is a solitary journey. That is the sole reason I wanted to write about it. I have experienced it, and I know I’m not alone in it, yet it always felt that way. There is a certain amount of relief that accompanies loneliness when confronted by community.
Loneliness has a cruel way of leaving you feeling isolated, forgotten. As if you are being forced to live life and all its nuances alone.
Even those I know who are introverts and thrive on spending time alone, at some point they go crazy and need at least one person to interact with. Being alone is tough. It exasperates the simplest of emotions and leaves you feeling jumbled, stressed, confused and hopeless.
But back to the shepherds…I think they learned a lesson that fateful night, and I believe it’s a lesson I am learning myself.
Loneliness promises a new beginning.
Loneliness causes you to stop, as it only can, and evaluate what’s going on beneath all the layers you put on for everyone else. It forces you to look beyond your current dark and dim circumstances to formulate a plan. How are you going to get through this? It makes you realize you need something deep on which to stake your faith and hope, and it takes little to no time at all to realize Who that foundation is.
Loneliness causes you to stop, as it only can, and evaluate what’s going on beneath all the layers you put on for everyone else.
I am a processer—one who processes the complexities of life at all times, especially when they pile up and become muddled, difficult to understand.
I had to process my loneliness out loud and among the few I trust. It made it feel conquerable. It gave me the assurance it would not last forever. Trusting my people, and even you reading this, with a tiny piece of my heart brings a small reprieve with every ounce of effort. Choosing to trust and let someone in removes the loneliness for such a prolonged moment that I have no choice but to be reassured—it will end someday soon; the new beginning will come.
Someday, just as the fulfilled promise brought light and hope and a new day to the shepherds—after all, the promised Child was finally born—joy will come. You may feel hesitant to grab it for fear that you’ll lose it again. When the pain of enduring life alone dims for a moment in time, you want the dimness to continue to fade more and more and more. And that’s what joy feels like—a promise fulfilled bringing prolonged dimness against the loneliness that has had you in its clutch for too long.
The lesson I am learning—the lesson I believe the shepherds learned—I believe applies to Christmas.
Loneliness can make you hesitant to trust when joy finally comes in the morning with the dawn of a new day. Maybe it was difficult for the shepherds to believe the angel’s words, but I am positive they are glad they put their faith in them.
But loneliness also makes the joy that much more meaningful and touching and full. It deepens the impact immensely. It puts everything into perspective. Once you allow yourself to feel the full breadth of that joy, it becomes a tad easier to accept and enjoy.
This is a lesson in refusing to let the past further define the present and future. The pain had its season, and now hope must take its place.
Pain is in the past, redemption is in the present, strength of faith is in the future. I’ll tell you now: loneliness is a gateway to a new beginning. Keep hoping. You are allowed to believe you don’t have any hope most days. The shepherds had plenty of hopeless moments. But they believed at the end of the day, and that’s what we should push for—everyday hope in anticipation for a new beginning, the chance to put away the darkness for light, the cold for the warmth, the loneliness for the joy and the waiting for living in the moment.