My first Christmas in New York was in 2001. I remember I couldn’t afford to fly home that winter, so I resigned to staying in my Flushing apartment for the holidays.
New Life traditionally holds a candle light service on Christmas Eve, and it was no different in 2001. I remember bits and pieces of the service, including warm cider and colorful cookies, a spunky departure from the usual Sunday coffee and bagels.
We didn’t own the building back then, so every service required a lengthy set-up and break-down process reserved for those who didn’t understand the gift of limits. Naturally, I was one of those few. Just kidding. Sort of.
Christmas Eve was such a beautiful service, not only because of the delectable sweets, but the equally electric atmosphere of Christmas cheer. Some made decisions to become Christians that service, and many were thankful and hopeful for the ways God had been working, despite all the ill memories of 9/11 not long past.
One by one the crowd dissipated, though, and I was left to put the remaining candles away, and shut off the lights to the once beaming sanctuary. All that rang in the sanctuary that late night was the hollow sound of my own footsteps, and when I pulled down the lever that introduced darkness, the sound that emanated made it seem as if I had switched off all the power in Elmhurst.
Something inside me fell, too, like life had been sucked out of me when the lights went out. I took a deep breath. I was all alone. It was Christmas Eve.
I always vowed that during the holidays I would never forget what it was like to be single. Something about all the partying and merrymaking exacerbates the acute downsides of being unhitched. Namely, the lonely feelings of saying goodbye at each party, the cold walk home after riding the train that seems quieter than the wind outside (back then it was the 7 for me). It’s probably the only time I would ever describe the subway as quiet. And, of course, coming home to a dark room and a silent pillow, nothing but the muffled sounds of footsteps in an adjacent apartment.
It was tough being single.
This is my first Christmas being married, and I still remember the pangs of my singlehood. Many singles at New Life assumed that I would be leaving the Singles Ministry once I got married, as if I could no longer understand their needs. But my own assumption is that people thought I would no longer cared about their needs.
That’s what I would have thought if I were single. I would often get so lost in my aloneness, that I wouldn’t let other people care.
But no, I haven’t forgotten. And I’m still in charge of the singles’ events. In a weird way, being married has made me care even more for my single brethren.
Now, this isn’t to say that being single is all bad, because it certainly has its advantages over married life, too (a point made by one Emily Hazel in a memorable poem read on Open Mic Nite circa 2006).
But all this to say, I know there are challenges in being a Christian single nowadays, and I hope to remember what it was like, especially for those who are hurting this holiday season. Note: I know all singles don’t quite have the same experience as I did, especially if family or long-time friends are around.
But for those who might feel a bit lonely on Christmas Eve, I’m hoping there’ll be a crowd of singles hanging out after the candlelight service. Pop Diner, anyone?
UPDATE (Dec 2011): I’m no longer a pastor at New Life Fellowship but I still highly recommend the church and I think you should check out their Christmas Eve Service if you have a chance!