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An Advent of Hope in a Season of Loneliness

December  16th,  2021
By Nick read
Posted in The Culture Project

These last months of the year can be some of the hardest and the craziest. Final exams, gearing up for holiday celebrations, deadlines at work, and the busyness of daily life seem to be crescendoing. They become a cacophony of noise right before Christmas and the new year. We are in the middle of the season of Advent, a season of preparation for the birth of Christ, and it can be easy to feel lost amongst this activity. On top of all of this we are also preparing for all the social activity that accompanies this time of year. Christmas, and New Year’s almost guarantee lots of interaction with friends, family, and strangers.

With the changing seasons also comes an air of melancholy. The dying foliage, the crisp breath of a cold winter wind, and the veil of darkness that brings shorter ends to our days can touch even the most melancholic of souls. Those of us with cheerier dispositions may lament the death of summer, dreaming of warm beaches and turquoise ocean waters. While I am from Sunny Southern California, I gleefully look forward to the fall and winter months courteous of five years of living in Colorado. I found that the gifts of winter brought out the melancholic parts of me and always brought a renewed vigor of reflection and pondering. After a one-winter hiatus in San Francisco during my first year with The Culture Project (although SF’s curious friend Karl the Fog envelops the city in waves during these months joined with cold bay winds), I have found myself back in the traditional winter atmosphere in Philadelphia. Another year, another winter, and I am once again in my introspective ways. 2021 in particular has really put me in touch with another aspect of this season that seems to always be a part of the package for me and I am sure for many of us.

Despite the constant activity and connections with all the people we know and meet during these holiday seasons, this time of year can be one marked by loneliness. We experience it in different ways and in different degrees of severity, often exasperated by other circumstances and experiences. Loneliness can be experienced at any time of year, but the winter months can be one of these more significant circumstances. I’m fairly confident I’ve felt a particular loneliness since I was a kid; it’s been in the past ten years, however, that I have concrete memories of experiencing it and only over the past few years that I have really begun to unpack it. It has been in the middle of a current feeling of loneliness, after I was unable to go home for Thanksgiving this year, where I have been able to pull away some of the layers of its mystery and tie together a lot of threads I had been holding on to for a long time.

I look back to my sophomore year of high school as the first instance I can recall of experiencing a great sense of loneliness magnified around this time of year. The holidays that year were the first celebrated after my grandfather passed away earlier in the summer. Other impactful experiences over the years have also fueled it: the first time I couldn’t be home for Thanksgiving, the fall semester I dropped out of college with no idea of what the future held, and a particularly hard breakup of a significant relationship one October. These past ten years have held a lot and there are so many individual memories I can recall of being surrounded by friends and family and yet still feeling alone. Even this current year has held some of the same feelings.

But this year has been different, different because I have been in a better spiritual state this time of year than most and it has allowed me to see things I hadn’t before. You see most years I have lived through these times of heightened loneliness, and honestly silently suffered through it, trying to find ways to mitigate it. In high school I entered into a few relationships that happened to begin around this time of year. While it was not my entire purpose for beginning them, I did in some way hope I would feel less lonely because of them. But my loneliness remained. In college I would slip out of campus ministry socials and hangouts with friends, sometimes for over an hour, to take walks around campus and the frozen creek downtown. Despite being surrounded by my closest friends, I would use this time alone to recharge so I could return since I knew I couldn’t hide away. But the more I hid, the more I pulled away from the people around me when I felt this loneliness, the more I found that it actually wasn’t helping me get to the root of it. 

Over the past couple years I’ve come to learn a lot about not just my own feelings of loneliness, but of the human experience of it. Loneliness is such a human thing to experience, something that on the surface seems engrained in who we are. I think because of this we can feel confused, upset, ashamed, or even guilty as to why we feel it even in the midst of good and strong relationships with those around us. The Book of Genesis, particularly chapter 2, not only gives us the story of creation but actually contains many implications of our human experience of loneliness. God created Adam and placed him in the garden, allowing Adam to be with all of creation. Adam, although in solitude, was in perfect relationship with God, yet God said “It is not good for man to be alone.” Because of the rupture of the Fall and the fracture in our relationship with God and each other, loneliness has entered our human experience. BUT WE WERE NOT MADE TO EXPERIENCE LONELINESS. 

Our original creation points to communion with God and with others. So often I tried to turn into myself in order to deal with my loneliness, thinking that hiding away would help. But looking back, the moments that helped me the most were the ones where I came out of myself. They were the moments where I would spend time with friends and give the opportunity for conversations to connect me even if I really wanted to sit in my room all night. They were the moments where I would do things for others to show them I cared for them. These moments that brought me out of myself would give me connection to the people around me and would help. I’ve realized over the last few years that community is really essential in helping us work through any feelings of loneliness. 

I knew too that bringing it to God was also essential. God has always been with man, and so He is the one who can ultimately carry us through our loneliness. I’ve done my best to turn to prayer over the years in these times, especially during Advent. Yet often my prayer life wasn’t the most consistent or in the best spot. I think because of this it was hard for me to hold on to hope for long. I would be able to overcome a bout of loneliness and be consoled in the Lord’s joy, but after even a couple of weeks I could be back where I started. It was hard to live it out daily. But this year I have had a different Advent season for the first time in a while. With our commitment to daily Mass and holy hours as missionaries, my prayer life has been consistent, and with the busyness of our schedule the liturgy and my prayer have been a constant time of solace and refuge to me. This has allowed me to really enter into this advent season.

The season of Advent is one of HOPE. As we await the coming of Christ, we are reminded of our need for the Lord. But we are also reminded of the promises that He keeps, the promise that He will never abandon us and that He is with us even in the midst of our suffering. For me it has been through a couple times sitting in our convent chapel, covered in snot as I balled my eyes out, releasing the groans of my heart to Him as my body shook and quivered, as I reflected on these truths. It was reflecting in these moments on the name Emmanuel, “God is with us”, that has reminded me that no amount of loneliness can separate me from Him. 

God truly is with us, every single day. He is with us in our prayer, in the Mass, in the people we encounter, in every moment. He is with us too amongst the loneliness that may engulf us. If we reflect on these daily, and take advantage of the opportunities we find to come out of ourselves, we will surely find that things are a little less lonely than before. God has not created us for loneliness, nor will He leave us in it.  Let us find hope this Advent season and begin now to make it a lasting hope.

About the Author

Nick is a Southern California native who moved to Colorado in 2015 to attend the Colorado School of Mines. In October 2018, Nick felt the Lord calling him from his studies with a zeal for mission. Nick first encountered CP at the FOCUS SLS18 conference in Chicago and over the next couple years learned about their mission. Their message of dignity and authentic love struck him, and after a fortuitous conversation with CP missionaries at the SLS20 conference, Nick decided to give a year to share this message with others as a CP missionary. "The message of our dignity as sons and daughters of God and the love we were made for is a message our culture needs. I became a CP missionary so others can become fully alive."

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