Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

Surviving Advent as a Single

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Advent-candles_webTips for handling feelings of disappointment in a season filled with families and gatherings

Soon enough Christmas music will flood the stores. All things holiday will insist that we are part of beautiful, functional families. Many of us simply aren’t.

It isn’t always easy to embrace a season filled with families, children and abundance when single, childless, estranged or poor, but if we remain open to the fullness of the holy days ahead, we can find a type of spiritual fulfillment unique to the single state in life. I have learned that the key to surviving and flourishing through the holidays, as a single person, involves mindfully preparing for the coming weeks.

Small adjustments are needed. When my focus turns inward instead of toward the Incarnation I am often left with disappointment—including with how I handle myself, publicly and prayerfully. Disappointment with myself, and with others, destroys the fruit of the season.

Here are a few things I’ve done over the years to help displace that sense of being at odds with the radiance of the coming Light of Christ.

Prayer
Prayer is what we do as Catholics, and prayerful is what we ought to be. It balances our life, especially when we find ourselves stressed-out, especially at gatherings with folks we don’t know well.  Set aside time to pray for the people you’ll be celebrating with before you leave the house.

Some of us experience sadness because we are without families and children. Turn that feeling around quickly by praying for others to be good parents, forming successful families. Also pray for the protection of children by being a spiritual uncle or aunt.

Or spiritually adopt someone secretly, and light votive candles weekly for that person.

Traditions
Sometimes the traditions we loved or lacked as kids affect our holidays as adults. Start your own traditions!

Instead of a tree, use flowers or evergreen boughs tied with a ribbon or a candle centerpiece as a less messy, less demanding substitute. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, just personal.

Plan to attend a Christmas concert, or go on a lights tour.

If you enjoy photography, take pictures of the season and share them with others.

Sign up to help at a community dinner—one of my favorite traditions! Help is always needed to assemble tables, arrange place settings, assist with cooking or pack containers for the homebound.

Keep a chair near your bed; imagine Jesus sitting there, and talk with him. I do this and it makes his presence in my life more tangible. During Advent, and until the Epiphany, add a candle to an extra place setting at your kitchen table. When you sit down for a meal, light the candle to symbolize the presence of Christ.

Peace
Practice the art of being peace in an often hectic season by choosing to be gracious towards others who are stressed. Being calm through the craziness of holiday shopping is infectious. People notice the quietness.

Look for ways to assist at stores and restaurants: encourage parents with tired children, pick up something dropped, offer your place in line.

It’s counterintuitive, but look for an opportunity to ask someone for a helping hand. Sometimes allowing others to assist you gives them a sense of fulfillment, bringing a double blessing.

Outreach
Several years back a woman with a dilapidated car, her children buckled up inside, stopped at the gas pump opposite mine. It was incredibly cold, and she was not wearing gloves as she gripped the handle of the nozzle. I had an extra pair of gloves in my coat, gave them to her, and was surprised that she responded by nearly breaking into tears. Carry a few pairs of gloves to give away.

Who doesn’t love receiving a gift of holiday food? An inexpensive and heartfelt gift is six dozen sugar cookies for a care home or shelter.

I mentioned above about spiritually adopting someone. If you are comfortable with sharing your intentions, write out a card to the person, and let him or her know they will be remembered in prayer throughout the coming year.

 Study
A Benedictine tradition during Lent is to read an assigned book. Consider doing something similar during Advent. Treat yourself to a new topic: a book on an unfamiliar saint; historical fiction about a Bible figure; or learn more about Advent, its history and practices in different cultures.

There were times as a single person when I simply did not have gifts to open on Christmas. I’ve bought books, used or new, and tied them with a bow to be opened Christmas morning.

Advent is the season of preparation, for devout and joyful expectation of Christ coming to us. By keeping focused on that true joy, we bring peace. The gift we can give to ourselves, and others, is to express charity, the charity of God, the advent of the Incarnation.

Margaret Rose Realy, OblOSB

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