After extended periods of lockdown and being distanced from our friends and family, many are in the process of planning big Christmas celebrations with loved ones they haven't seen in some time. What would it look like for you this Christmas to add an extra seat at your celebration table?
Loneliness is not a new thing. It's an epidemic in our nation that has been bubbling away under the surface for many years. COVID-19 wasn't the initiator of the loneliness epidemic in our nation, but rather it has intensified and amplified this issue for many and brought it to the surface.
In a recent survey conducted by the Australian government, 54 per cent of people shared feeling lonelier since the beginning of the pandemic and a quarter of people aged 12-89 reporting "problematic" levels of loneliness. These are our neighbours, our friends, our work colleagues, our family, our children and grandchildren, or maybe even you.
This is not an impossible situation to reverse, but we need to do something. We can't sit on the side lines and hope it fixes itself. Rather, we all need to play our part in building healthy relationships. We can help break these stories of loneliness that are gripping our nation and bring a hope and a future for a better tomorrow. As co-founder of The Salvation Army, Catherine Booth, said, "If we are to better the future we must disturb the present."
There are many people in our society that live on the margins. Those we might have interactions with every day but don't really know. People living on the margins are hidden in plain sight, they are visible but never feel truly seen.
While we are reconnecting with family and friends this Christmas season, we need to look out for those in our lives that live on our margins - those that we do life with that sit outside of our everyday. What would our society look like if this year we added a seat at our Christmas table and invited someone living on the margins to join the celebration?
Growing up we always had Christmas "extras" as part of our Christmas Day celebrations. My brothers and I reflect on a childhood filled with many outrageous and precious meals spent with people our parents had simply invited to our table. Relationships that began as "someone" became "loved ones" as we simply shared a meal and did life together. As a child I didn't know any different and thought everyone had Christmas "extras", and my hope is that this is the same for my sons too.
Ben* is someone who lives on the margins and could quite easily slip through the gaps in our society. A few Christmases ago I invited Ben to join my family at our extended family Christmas celebration. The invitation was last minute, so we were literally adding another seat at the table when Ben arrived. Ben was welcomed in by the extended family and quickly became one of us.
In the weeks after that first Christmas I was bombarded with text messages from Ben asking me to pass messages on to my adult brothers (and vice versa). On Christmas Day they had been discussing (of all things) professional wrestling and realised they both had a common love of this. We eventually cut the middleman (me) out of this text exchange and since this time they've continued to connect/text a couple of times a week and have even attended a few wrestling shows together.
Ben is now a regular fixture of our family gatherings to the point it's hard to imagine him not being there.
As you put the final touches on your Christmas celebrations this year consider setting an extra place at your table. It could change a life and it might change yours too.
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