The holiday season usually brings with it joyful singing, time with family, shining lights, fragrant Christmas trees and homemade baked goods. But for some of us, the holidays may not be the most wonderful time of the year. If the holiday season has become hard to celebrate because of a loss, Thanksgiving and Christmas can bring with them a season of difficulties, challenges, and darkness.
But, even if you’re experiencing loneliness this season, the good news of Christ’s presence on this earth can shed a light in the darkness of our fragmented society. In his latest book, The Catholic Guide to Loneliness, Doctor Kevin Vost tackles the big questions about loneliness as a Catholic. Utilizing both faith and science, he provides a comprehensive guide full of remedies that can cure even the deepest issues found in loneliness.
This holiday season, find comfort in these practical tips from Doctor Vost. In this season of loneliness, God is lovingly working on our souls to call us closer to His heart.
1. Find solace in the stories of the saints
You’re not alone in your struggles with loneliness. “Consider reading about some of the great saints known for their pursuit of holiness through solitude,” Dr. Vost suggests. He recommends reading the writings and stories of the Desert Fathers, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Kevin of Glendalough, Saint Rose of Lima, and Saint John of Avila. The saints teach us that solitude is the perfect environment thorough which to encounter God. The next time you feel lonely, talk to God about it in prayer. Through more memorized and formal prayers, you can join in with centuries of saints who have cried out to God in times of silence. In prayer, you can find that you are never truly alone. Then, after you’ve connected with Our Lord, you can show His love to the next person that you encounter.
2. Train in virtue
Saint Thomas Aquinas writes that virtue is where the key to happiness lies. There are natural virtues (temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence), that have been known to man before Christ’s time on earth. But there are also theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) that God makes available to us. Times of loneliness provide an incredible opportunity to learn about and emulate those virtues. “A person who has trained himself in virtue will have intentionally trained himself in appropriate, adaptive, ethical, happiness-promoting automatic thoughts when encountering challenging situations that call forth virtue,” Dr. Vost writes.
You can train in virtue by practicing self control, pausing to reflect before decisions, taking a risk and reaching out to someone you know to end your loneliness, and continuing to do good deeds for others even when the burden of loneliness weighs on us.
3. Learn to be alone, but not lonely
It is not uncommon for men and women who were searching for God’s will in their lives to retreat. Many famous saints became hermits for sometime to escape from the noise of the world in order to hear God’s voice. “As it is possible to feel isolated and lonely in the midst of a crowd, so too, it is possible to spend great swaths of time by oneself without feeling lonely,” Dr. Vost writes. Although solitude can seem daunting, he argues that time spent alone can offer a great opportunity for healing.
We don’t need a desert hermitage to encounter God in silence, though. The next time you feel lonely, go into a room in your home alone. Shut off anything that could prove to be a distraction (like a cell phone), and immerse yourself in prayer and spiritual reading. Maybe this place for quiet reflection isn’t possible in your home. Perhaps you could visit a local adoration chapel, or stop inside your local church for a quiet moment.
4. Invest in virtuous friendships
The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about the importance of virtuous friendships. We all have friendships of utility, where we befriend someone who can help us with a task. We also have friendships of pleasure, where spending time with another person pleases you. But the highest level of friendship is virtuous friendship, where each person in the friendship wills the good of the other person, and encourage and challenge each other to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty.
Virtuous friendships require action. “The love of neighbor requires that not only should we be our neighbor’s well-wishers, but also his well-doers,” Saint Thomas writes. The next time loneliness creeps into your life, take time to examine your friendships. “How would you classify your friendships according to Aristotle’s categories of friendships of use, pleasure, or virtue?” Dr. Vost asks. “If you feel you are bereft of friends at this time, as yourself with whom you might strive to build a new virtuous, spiritual friendship, even if it is to be built upon the foundation of some shared wholesome pleasure or mutual benefit at first.” Reach out to a friend (old or new!) the next time you feel alone.
The holiday season doesn’t have to be a time your dread. For more practical tips from Dr. Vost, check out his latest book, The Catholic Guide to Loneliness: How Science and Faith Can Help Us Understand It, Grow from It, and Conquer it.