The pain and JOY of singleness at Christmas

ohn Gunter with nieces and nephews on Christmas

Tired but happy. . . with seven of my nieces and nephews on that Christmas

Scene #1:  As I looked out of the window of the plane, my heart was beating with anticipation.  I have always loved seeing the Atlanta skyline from inbound flights.  This viewing, though, was even more significant than others.

It was Christmas Eve.  It was the fourth of four flights I had taken that day.  It had been over 26 hours since I had left my apartment in Asia, but I had finally arrived.

The flight had been long and hard, as trans-Pacific voyages always are.  However, this flight had been seasoned with the sounds of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and others singing Christmas classics into my sleep deprived ears.  Seriously, I must have listened to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” ten times between take-off and arrival.

It had been months since I had seen my family and years since I had been with them for Christmas.  My sisters and parents knew about my trip, but we kept it a secret from the kids.  I could not wait to surprise them.

My entire family was at Mom and Dad’s for Christmas Eve dinner, church, and then presents from the family.  Dad slid out to pick me up.  We hit the driveway around 8pm.  It was during the gift opening portion of the evening.

As I opened the passenger door of Dad’s Honda Odyssey, I was bum-rushed by my seven squealing nieces and nephews.  I think I literally held all seven of them (minus the 2 infants) at the same time.  They yelled; I rolled laughing; my Mom and sisters radiantly beamed looking on.  It was something out of a Hallmark commercial.

The rest of the evening was spent in warm laughter, exchanging of gifts, and enjoying the kids’ exuberance in the evening.  I worshiped the Savior of Christmas through the utter joy of being united with my family in such a wonderful and dramatic way.

It is my favorite Christmas memory as an adult.

Scene #2:  Fast forward four years. . . it was my first year of living in Asia without a roommate.  I had moved here just a few months earlier.  The only friends I had in my section of this grey mega-city were two families, both with young children.  They both lived a few buildings over.

It was cold and damp that Christmas.  I was living in the midst of high rise towers in the city center.  There were literally several hundred thousand people living within a mile of my apartment and pretty much no one around me even knew it was Christmas.

I woke up in my frigid studio apartment, looked across my bare white walls, and remembered it was Christmas morning.  I walked over to the balcony of my 29th floor apartment overlooking a mass of humanity pouring along the streets, completely oblivious to the meaning of December 25thMy heart hurt.

In a few hours, I would be in the home of one of my family friends, but that morning was rough; filled with loneliness, longing, and . . . the joy of Christ.

Yes, it hurt to be away from family and friends during that Christmas morning.  It really did.  However, what quickly transpired was wonderful.

I got out of bed.  I made coffee and oatmeal.  I turned on some music.  I read the Christmas story.

I leaned into the pain of being in such a dismal, innately lonely place and I found Christ.  I found meaning and depth in the familiar “Christmas story” of Luke 2 in a fresh, life-giving, and profoundly unfamiliar way.

My small little Asian apartment, which had felt like a prison of loneliness an hour earlier, was suddenly transformed into a wonderful tabernacle of worship and joy centered upon the person of Christ Jesus.

Though I was still missing family and friends and tradition and everything else I associated with Christmas, being without them allowed me to enjoy the person of Christ during Christmas like I never had prior to that time.

It is my most meaningful Christmas memory as an adult.

As I recall these two stories here three days before Christmas, my heart goes out AND is excited for my single friends around the world.  Christmas can and often is exceptionally difficult for single adults.

Christmas is the quintessential family holiday.  Even if you have a wonderful extended family like I do, it can still be rough.  Even being around family, as great as it is, can be a painful reminder of not having one of your own.  This is painful and something innately difficult in singleness.

For this and many other reasons, Christmas can be a miserable time for singles, even those of us of faith.

However, I am also excited for myself and other singles on this Christmas.  I really do mean this.  In singleness, we have a wonderful opportunity to serve others, enjoy others, AND dive deeper into the beauty and meaning of Christmas than if we were married.

  • My singleness allowed me to fly across the globe and give my seven nieces and nephews an unforgettably wonderful Christmas Eve.
  • My singleness, even during times of pain, loneliness, and longing from isolated Asian apartments, has allowed for me to grow in my appreciation, depth, and joy in Christ Jesus during these holidays spent alone.
  • My singleness this year has been and is being invested in helping to serve others who are either experiencing their first Christmas’ as followers of Christ or are far away from their homes in America for the first (or 10th) time.

Yes, being away from home for yet another Christmas is and will be tough.  However, I am honestly grateful for and excited about being able to invest these next few days in both seeking to grow in my love for and relationship with the focal point of Christmas, Christ Jesus.  I also look forward to being able to serve and be served by the others around me; my extended family, the body of Christ.

No matter where you are in life (married or single, with children or without, in the presence of close loved ones or in a desolate hotel far from home), I am certain of this. . . Christ Jesus loves you, came to earth in the form of a baby, lived a sinless life, and sacrificially gave His life up for you that you “might have life and have it abundantly.”

I’m praying you have a wonderful and meaningful week of connecting with the Jesus of Christmas no matter where you are.  Please pray the same for me.

Merry Christmas!

(This post is part of my series on singleness; My thoughts on singleness (a series. . .).  Please CLICK HERE if you would like to read the other posts.)



  1. Stephanie says

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your encouraging words and the important reminder. I, too, am single, and in certain situations can find it hard to always be joyous.

    May these next few days be times of true celebration for all of us.

    Merry Christmas, Stephanie

    PS-Have you heard of the children’s book, The Sparkle Box? If any of your nieces or nephews are still little enough, they may really enjoy it. Actually, I just heard it at a church today, and I enjoyed the message!

    • says

      Thanks for chiming in, Stephanie!

      My nieces and nephews are all older now. That pic was actually taken 10 years ago, so they are now, sadly, beyond the age.

      Have a great Christmas!

  2. Tim W says

    Few thoughts:
    - GREAT post! Praying your Christmas am this Wednesday is a wonderful time sir.
    - I applaud you for not using your blog to pick up lonely single girls over the holiday. I’d have been tempted were it me.
    - I used to debate whether to feed the homeless or watch Chevy Chase over and over again on many a solo Christmases, both home and abroad. I got the number of a Waffle House waitress one year (low point). You’ve clearly got a better perspective.
    - you’ve been posting a lot this month, trying to hit an annual goal? :)
    Note: please don’t let a commenter neither of us know slam me for this attempt at humor, I’m still upset at the yahoo who didn’t like my reply to one of your plane posts.

    • says

      Tim, where do I start. I honestly can’t tell whether your are sincere in point #2 or busting on me. I think the smog over here is getting to my cognitive skills of reason.

      I have piled down Chevy Chase, Elf, AND Die Hard in the line of Christmas movies this year, so I think I might have you beat. I have not done the Waffle House thing on Christmas, but I have done McDonald’s and noodles before, so I guess we are about equal.

      Not quota on posts. . . just a LITTLE more time than usual. Hope I haven’t been annoying in filling up your inbox.

      Man, have a great Christmas. Please give Meg my best. Miss you, my brother!

  3. amy mo says

    Another great post, John. I actually forgot I was single for yet another holiday until I read this! {in a good way, LOL} :) Hope your Christmas is blessed and full of joy. GOD is WITH US!

  4. Bob Nichols says


    Timely as ever! For every time I post a message on your blog, assume there were ten other times that I intended to!! Having to stay on DC for Christmas this year on duty will be tough, but glad it meant others could go home. Thankful for you and your posts though I don’t say it enough. Hope you find that special joy again this year. When I wake up Christmas morning, I will be thinking of you and many other special friends – single and married!

    And tell Tim W. I think his post is hilarious. Alas, they don’t have any Waffle Houses in DC.

    Bless you my friend. I thank God every time I think about you.

    • says

      Bob, ALWAYS great to hear from you! I really appreciate all of your kind words and encouragement here. Man, sorry you have to stick it out at work, but love your attitude.

      Tim is funny, but probably not as funny as he thinks he is! (Actually he is hilarious, but I don’t like to admit it.)

      Merry Christmas, Bob, and great hearing from you!

  5. Ashley says

    I was sent this message from my mentor over the weekend….John Piper: Single in christ: A Name Better than Sons and Daughters:

    My prayer is that if you or any of your readers watch this…that we all will see God and His Love and plan for us with the correct perspective and strong belief in HIs word. I know for me my perspective is skewed and needs correcting all the time. Hope your Christmas is filled with yummy food, awesome fellowship with your EA family, skype dates with your loved ones from home, and most of all the marveling of the arrival of Jesus Christ.

    • says

      Thanks so much for the link, Ashley. . . I’ll definitely check it out! Great prayer. . .thanks!

      Hope you also have a great holiday and please give my love to all your colleagues there!

  6. Vicky says

    Soooo timely, John Gunter. Thank you so very much for taking the time to write this and share your heart. It really ministered to me. Grateful for you!!

  7. Lori Chiappe says

    John – Your timing is impeccable. As I prepared to face Christmas as a singleton, I found myself carrying a heavy heart. I am blessed to have some amazing friends and family, but still feel alone at times.

    As luck would have it, I came down with pneumonia, the flu, and a sinus infection two days before traveling with friends for the holiday. Sad, and heartbroken, my travel plans were cancelled. What good can come from this? I coughed, and cried, and coughed, and cried. And then they came, they called, and texted, and emailed. Friends near and far have reached out to offer help, love, even “make-up Christmas” plans. I realized something … I’m not single, I’m part of tons of great relationships! And I’m blessed to know each and every one of these people.

    Merry Christmas to you, John!

    • says

      Lori, great hearing from you and great addition to this blog!

      Funny how many times down time and alone time are exactly what we need, though we often fight against this. At least I know I often fight against it.

      Glad your holidays picked up and ended up being a great time.

      Merry Christmas!

  8. says

    Thanks for sharing this perspective … for acknowledging both the pain AND joy of singleness during this season. I’m grateful we celebrate and walk with this Christ who is with us through it all! Merry Christmas!

  9. ces says

    I’m from Asia, working in America and I can relate to spending Christmas away from my family for years now. But God is great as he provides everything that we ever need including people to celebrate Christmas with. As a single, I have always been blessed with friends who are eager to invite me (to the point of dragging me to their celebration).And yes, being single and Christmas is not such a bad combination at all. It’s just a matter of perspective and complete trust in the Lord.

    Have a happy new year Mr.Gunter. May you continue to be an inspiration to Christians (singles and married) around the globe.


  10. Curtis "the real Gunter" Gunter says

    How many of those sweet innocent children in that picture have you asked to ” Pull Uncle John’s Finger ” ?


I would love to hear your thoughts on this. . .