A couple of days ago, I happened upon a short Christmas message from Bob Dylan, on the subject of the Christmas blues. In his characteristic laconic drawl, Bob notes that the holiday season, which should be full of joy, can, for some, be a time of loneliness and sadness. Family times like Christmas are often reminders of lost loved ones, and for those alone, the sense of isolation can become acute.
Bob’s remedy for the holiday blues? “You don’t need Dr Phil…you don’t need me. Just go out and help someone more unfortunate than you.” Bob suggests going to a soup kitchen, or a retirement home, maybe even a prison” to find someone to be with and to bring some cheer to. “No matter how bad you have it, somebody got it worse.”
Bob’s spot on with this bit of advice – it’s amazing how just taking your eyes and attention of yourself and your own problems, and starting to focus on the difficulties someone else has, suddenly makes your own situation look, well, not so bad after all.
The trouble is, we’re completely saturated with messages from the advertising, entertainment and media industries that tell us we need this or that product or experience or upgrade to be really beautiful / successful / happy / fulfilled. It can be hard to resist. We get sucked in to thinking about all those things we don’t have, but maybe could have – and, aside from not enjoying the things we have, we end up anxious, unsettled, our lives dominated by what we consume.
Bob’s got the answer for the blues that arise from all of that. As Jesus famously said – “If you love your life, you’ll lose it.” It’s those who “care nothing for their lives” that have the best reward (John 12.25). My experience has been that the people who seem to be able to do this best are those who have very little – I recall my great discomfort sitting in a little slum hut in India, being served food that I knew the family could barely afford. But their neighbourliness, their care for the stranger, their hospitality was, for them, the most important thing.
The most important things for us sadly, are precisely that – things – stuff we can do without. Bob reminds us this Christmas that the short-lived pleasure of getting more stuff, often followed by the desire to acquire yet more stuff has a simple remedy – “instead of adding to the sadness in the world, why not lend a hand, help somebody out. And not just at Christmas, why don’t you give it a try all year round.”