I want this to be a letter instead of a normal blog post because, to me, a letter feels more personal. I also started off “Dear Friend” not “Dear Single Friend” because I do not think “single” is the most interesting or defining part of you.
That being said, Christmas was the time I felt my singleness most acutely on the field (that and taxi rides where my marital status was a hot topic!). I love my life and the richness it contains, but like every life, I have God given limitations. Part of being single on the field means being away from family and family traditions you grew up with during holidays.
When I first moved to the field, I was in my late 20s. My teammate was also in her 20s and single, and experiencing her first holiday away from family. We were intentional about decorating our apartments and even biked down to the local flower market and bought the closest thing to a Christmas tree we could find. Still being new to the culture, we made a few faux pas. For instance it turns out that what looked like a festive snow flake hanging from the ceiling elicited a look of horror and the question, “Why do you have death hanging in your home?!”
Oops. Turns out funeral decorations in Asia and American winter decorations are similar. Other than that small blunder, we managed to celebrate in a way that was meaningful to us and helped with the deep longing to be with family.
We were only teammates for two years and then I got a new teammate. Shelley and I were teammates for three years and the Christmas that stands out was the one where our entire building was under renovation. All people were moved out except for the two of us. Because we lived in a construction zone and the pounding only ceased for a 30-minute break in the middle of the day, no one wanted to visit or “do fun Christmas activities.” That year we didn’t have Christmas cookie parties, or students over to sing Christmas carols, or really much of a sense of Christmas.
Instead we climbed over piles of construction trash just to get to our front doors and no running hot water for three months. All on top of a medical situation that would have been draining in normal circumstances. Some Christmases are like that.
Then I moved to Beijing and joined a more stable community. Like other singles, the constant in my story was . . . me. (Of course “and God.” Want to provoke a single person to thoughts of violence? Remind them they always have God. Which they already know, so instead of entering into their loneliness and bearing witness to it, you have just trivialized it.)
By this point I had five Christmases on the field under my belt, but no one in my life that I had actually spent a holiday with. One of the joys of living on the field, whether single or in a family, is sharing your family and cultural traditions with teammates and local friends. We shared traditions, especially during the month of December, but come actual Christmas Day? I never felt we hit our rhythm like we, as a community, did with other holidays.
Christmas Eve in our city had turned into more of a date night, so traffic was awful and if we went to church it meant one less seat was available to a seeker. Generally the singles gathered at an apartment across down on Christmas Eve and play games and watch movies. While I appreciated the gesture, I found the arrangement wasn’t what I wanted to do for Christmas. I know others in my community loved it and I do not want to take anything from their enjoyment.
This is the tricky part of being single, eh? The month of December itself was rich and busy with ministry, but come Christmas Day, it felt like each year there was a negotiating of activities and traditions.
Which, um, seems to be the opposite of what traditions are supposed to do. Instead of rooting me in a bigger story, it was a one day reminder that my own story was more counter-cultural than I usually think.
All of this to say my single friend, I don’t know if this is your first or your seventeenth Christmas on the field. I don’t know if you came from a family that you miss dearly or are relieved to be away from. I don’t know if you feel lonely on Christmas or a part of a family. I do know that any of the above may be part of your story.
We here at A Life Overseas don’t want to rush in with a bunch of suggestions (You probably know them anyways).
If you are lonely, we want to sit with you.
If you are able to share the Christmas story for the first time with those who have never heard, we rejoice with you!
If you feel far from your family, we bear witness to the distance.
If you are enjoying festivities be they baking, decorating, holiday music, or any of the other ways, we are grateful for the life that springs forth from you.
As the angel said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Good news, for all people. You, too, have a Savior who sees you, right where you are and loves you with a never-ending love.
Not because you are serving Him. Not because you are single. Not because you are willing to suffer for Him. No, He loves you simply because you are.
I know my story is but one of many and I’d love to hear it. What has your experience with Christmas on the field been like? Anything you want to stay the same this year? Or change?