Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of South Africa and human rights activist, once said,” a person is a person through other persons”. Having a sense of belonging is crucial to our sense of self. Often we define ourselves through the quality of our relationships with others.
At Christmas, that sense of belonging, connection with family and friends is celebrated with the sharing of food around the table, love, laughter and joy and the giving of gifts just like the magi gave gifts to honour the birth of Jesus; God’s gift to us.
For some, that sense of warmth, love, togetherness and belonging will not be felt. Instead, there is a feeling of isolation, abandonment, and despair. They may not necessarily be alone but rather feel alone – the impact of which can have a devastating effect on all aspects of health; physical, mental, spiritual, and social.
Some may find themselves at Christmas lunch with family and friends but with no sense of belonging because of some personal psychological pain they carry. Others may be sleeping rough on the streets, or carrying the pain of uncertainty because their family is separated by war or conflict. Some may have an empty chair at the table for those they have lost, or are in hospital, prison, or many miles away.
Loneliness does not discriminate. it enters your life when tragedy strikes. When you have to face it on your own, it can grow into a monster devouring all sense of hope and replacing it with a total sense of fear, anxiety, depression. Too afraid to trust, nowhere feels safe; not your home, your community, not even inside your own body.
But we can help each other. A simple act of kindness can have the most life-changing effect. Say hello and check in on your neighbours, be kind to each other on social media, volunteer and donate to charities, give a gift of food, clothing and other essential items to your neighbours sleeping on the street or make the time to sit and listen to their stories. Place a lit candle or lamp at the window, not only as a sign of welcome to Jesus, but also as a symbol of welcome for and solidarity with refugee families, asylum seekers, the homeless, the lost, the hurt and the abused.
If you find yourself feeling sad or stressed this Christmas season, that’s OK – all humans experience a wide range of emotions – sadness, fear, anger, disappointment, excitement, happiness, joy, love. But if you are unable to feel joy, happiness and other “feel-good” feelings and the despair deepens please talk to someone. Let them know how your feeling and let them know if there is anything they can do to help. You do not need to do this alone but unless you ask for help- which can be extremely difficult- then no one will know that you are hurting.
The most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself, no matter what your feeling then in turn you can be kind to others.
By Marie Walsh
If you are feeling distressed and would like someone to talk to, 24/7 crisis support is always available with:
- Lifeline: 131114 https://www.lifeline.org.au/
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/
- Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 https://kidshelpline.com.au/ (for kids 5-12 yrs, teens 13-17yrs, young adults 18-25yrs, parents and carers, schools and teachers)
- Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511 https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/mentalhealth/Pages/contact-service.aspx
Don’t be alone on Christmas Day, the following organisations are hosting lunch
- Salvation Army: 13 72 58 https://salvos.org.au/christmas/need-help-this-christmas/join-us-christmas-meal/
- Exodus Foundation: 8752 4600 https://www.exodusfoundation.org.au/
- Wayside Chapel: 02 9581 9100 https://www.waysidechapel.org.au/whats-on/