Christmas -- I love this time of year. The sounds, the smells, the decorations, Santa -- what's not to like about it? Yet for many, Christmas is not a time of joy but a time of sadness, a time of loneliness.
The words of the old Beatles song, "Eleanor Rigby" ring in my mind -- "All the lonely people where do they come from, all the lonely people, where do they all belong?"
Please forgive me -- I do not want to throw cold water on your fire of Christmas merriment, but I do want to deal with a very real problem we often see at this time of year.
Conventional wisdom suggests that there are more suicides during the month of December than any other time of the year. Thankfully, modern researchers tell us that this popular belief is not really true.
Medical doctor Chris Ballas writes, "There is a well-known reduction in the suicide rate on major public holidays (including non-religious). Many studies in different Western countries have found the drop is even more pronounced during the Christmas to New Year's stretch."
So that's the good news. The bad news is that for many, Christmas is a time of deep depression. There may be many different reasons for this increase in depression during this time of celebration.
One culprit may be due to seasonal affective disorder due to the decrease in daylight as we approach the winter solstice.
Another possibility may be the sad reality that some in our world face Christmas alone, maybe due to the loss of a loved one either through death or divorce, or geographical isolation from family.
For many the pressure of the season to buy gifts places a strain on limited finances and they stress over the bills they know are coming.
Permit me to pause here and make a couple of practical suggestions if you find yourself in one of the possibilities in the previous paragraph.
If you suspect that your depression is physiological due to the limited daylight, you might consider investing in one of those specialty lamps designed to help those suffering from SAD.
If your loneliness is due to being alone, let me suggest that you find a church where people are caring and loving. David wrote, "God sets the lonely in families" (Psalm 68:6). Find a place where you can connect with others.
Finally, if your depression is a result of the financial strain you know the season will place on you, set a reasonable and workable budget and stick with it. Believe it or not, your child will survive if they don't receive that coveted toy they have been crying for, or your teen a $300 pair of sneakers (in fact, in this age, your child probably has a better chance of survival if he is not wearing such an expense pair of tennis shoes).
That said, there is another form of loneliness that psychologists recognize but don't know how to treat. Some psychologists refer to this type of loneliness as "experiential loneliness" while others call it "cosmic loneliness."
Whatever name you give it, it is the type of loneliness we all feel at times. You can be in a crowd, at a party, with good friends and even with family, and all of a sudden there is that fleeting feeling of loneliness, and you don't know what it is or what caused it but still, you are painfully aware of its existence.
May I suggest that it is a loneliness for God? Despite the mockery we've seen in the media of people who say they believe in creation, I stand firm in this camp. I hold a PhD, but when I started my journey of higher education, I was a biology/pre-med major at the University of Pittsburgh.
Even though I did not continue to pursue that course of study professionally, I maintain a keen interest in it. What I have found is, if I accept the theory (and despite common misconception it is still a theory, not a law) of evolution I had to change my views every few years.
But since I subscribe to creation, my views have not had to change. You may disagree with me, but at least hear me out and please, do it without the derision that we are seeing so often today.
If creation is true, then we are created beings. Could it be that we created beings were created with a purpose? I believe the answer to be yes. I believe we were created by God and for God, and without God, there is a void -- a cosmic loneliness that exists in our hearts.
I also believe and know from personal experience that God can fill that void. The basic message of Christmas, when all of the myths and tinsel are put aside, is that God became man on that first Christmas so that the void we feel can be filled.
If loneliness haunts you this time of year, what do you have to lose if you give God a try?
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. Visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.