At the age of nine, I lost my father to cancer. The years that followed were tumultuous since my mother and I didn't get along. As an only child, I craved family and a "normal" life. After graduating from college, God provided healing in my relationship with my mother, for which I'm thankful for every day because when I was 24 she died of cancer as well. I thought I'd experienced loneliness as a child, but nothing compared to the loneliness of having no family.
Due to my pain, I turned my back on God. I made poor decisions that extended my pain, and I ran from God continually. However, God is merciful, and he rescued me. But I had to change my lifestyle, including starting over with new friends. That's when I found small groups at The Simple Church.
In the process of my healing, God brought me peace through a verse, "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows … God sets the lonely in families" (Psalm 68:5-6, NIV 1984). God was true to his Word. My small group made sure I received the support I needed without me having to ask for it. They made sure I had somewhere to spend my birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. My loneliness subsided as I realized my small group was the "family" God so lovingly promised me from his Word.
A Family to the Lonely
As small-group leaders and members, you have the same opportunity. While the holidays wreak havoc for many, pulling families and friends in every direction, it is important not to miss those around us who are in need of our support. There are several ways to offer support and be a "family" in which God can place the lonely:
Hold your own get together. If you are in town for the holidays, ask someone you know who is alone to come have dinner with you. This seems so simple, but often we are entangled with our own lives during the holiday season that we forget to offer our home and time to others. One of our small-group leaders decided to have a Thanksgiving meal at her home. She is single, and rather than seek out somewhere to go, she provided a place for others and invited all those she knew had no place to spend Thanksgiving. The group had a great meal and new relationships were formed.
Take others with you. If you're going out of town for the holidays, consider inviting a few others to join you. They may not accept your invitation, but at least they'll know you were thinking of them.
Throw a party. Parties run amuck during the holiday season. However, not everyone is invited to a party. Consider throwing one at your home and adding a twist. For instance, have everyone bring a small child's toy to the party and donate the toys to a local shelter or children's center. Helping others is a great way to change the focus from our loneliness to others in need.
Activate your phone. Calling people is a lost art. While social media is a great tool for staying connected, so is calling someone. Because actually calling someone is rare, when we call, we engage others in a new way. We let them know we are not only thinking of them, but also taking the time to let them know. Time catching up one-on-one is always special.
Bless someone with a surprise. Along with being a small-group coordinator, I am a high school teacher. A couple of years ago, one of my students asked me, "What do you open on Christmas day?" I was a little taken aback by the question, but I stated that I didn't really worry about presents. What this student did was unbelievable.
Christmas morning I heard a knock at my door. When I answered no one was there, but a present sat near my door. At the time, I didn't know where the present originated, but it was such a blessing. I had awakened that morning a little sad, and that moment completely changed my attitude for the day. You have the same opportunity to make someone's day. Whether it's Christmas morning, Christmas Eve, or another day of the year, you can provide a surprise for someone that changes the course of his or her day.
We as small-group leaders and members have the awesome opportunity to celebrate life with others. In providing joy and hope to the lonely, we not only offer support to them, but also provide an opportunity for them to be part of an everlasting family in the body of Christ.
—Peri Gilbert is the Small-Group Coordinator at The Simple Church in Bossier City, Louisiana; copyright 2012 by Christianity Today.