When I was single (a time that spanned almost three decades), I had many opportunities to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve (not to mention Valentine’s Day) alone. It’s not fun to literally count down the seconds until you watch everyone around you kiss the person they love when you don’t have said person. During those times, people had one of two typical responses. Some people just plain ignored the fact that I was at an event alone and made me feel invisible. On the other hand, I often had well-meaning friends offer advice. “Enjoy your independence while you can,” they’d say. “Marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be! My husband does <insert annoying habit> and doesn’t even <insert gripe>. Believe me, it’s much better to be single!” Then they’d roll their eyes and nod knowingly at other married women.
Those little speeches did little to comfort me, and in fact irritated the daylights out of me. I wanted what they had! I wanted to have my own annoying little husband, and I certainly wouldn’t call him annoying or gripe about him in front of my friends, so why did they deserve marriage and why couldn’t I find it? Further, their lack of appreciation and their flippancy in talking about what I most coveted in the world made them seem completely condescending and patronizing. I wanted them to understand that I was feeling a little bit alone and respect my feelings, not just pat me on the head and dismiss me.
I know they wanted to make me feel better, but they didn’t. They made things much worse.
I’m not sure if it’s an instinct or not, but it’s definitely common for people to downplay their current happiness when in the company of someone who is going through some sort of turmoil. I’ve seen this scenario play out many times in many different ways. When someone is job searching, for example, their friends may surround them and complain in infinite ways about their own pathetic jobs and horrible bosses, perhaps to try to make the job seeker enjoy their joblessness a bit more. I’ve even seen mothers of small children whine incessantly about their exhaustion and the stress their little ones give them in front of other women who are desperate to have children of their own. I believe it’s well-meaning in intention, but it doesn’t come across that way. It plays out as insensitive and obtuse, not kind and compassionate. There has to be a better way.
I’ve come to believe that the best way to respect what anyone is going through at any given time is by appreciating the blessings and joys we have in our own lives. You don’t have to rub it in someone’s face – in fact, that is certainly the worst thing you can do – but you don’t have to dismiss your own joys or pretend they don’t exist.
I’m not saying we have to pretend our lives are perfect in front of people that are going through tougher times than us. My life certainly isn’t perfect. I don’t have a perfect marriage or perfect children or a career to speak of at all. However, I have a lot to be thankful for, too. I can be real about my life and its challenges while also appreciating what I have. I don’t have to gloat or brag about my blessings while acknowledging that I have a lot to be thankful for, nor do I have to whine and complain about every little thing that goes wrong in front of those that want what I have.
Right now, I could name a dozen people that are going through major life challenges. Just this month, some people close to me have lost their jobs, faced major health challenges, tackled financial hardships, and confronted life-changing challenges in their marriages. This Christmas season isn’t their merriest.
I have a lot to celebrate this Christmas – but not everyone feels as much joy or peace as I do today. I can understand and relate, because I’ve been there, too. I’ve had lonely holidays where I thought I’d never meet “the guy.” I’ve had icy seasons of fear that I’d never be a mother. I’ve had anxiety-ridden years of financial worries and job instability. Even in my pretty-darn-great life today, there are moments of doubt, worry, sadness and anger. Just because the calendar says it’s time to celebrate doesn’t mean that everyone actually feels like it.
The best way to honor someone’s hardships is to fully appreciate your own blessings. Don’t pretend other people’s hardships don’t exist. They are real, and they are okay. Just please don’t tell someone who wants what you have that it’s not that great. Maybe their hope is what is pulling them through their dark moments.
It may not be the most wonderful time of the year for you. I can understand that. I’m committed to honoring those less-than-merry moments by fully appreciating the wonderful things I have, and I hope that in doing so I show you the respect you deserve.