Christmas and Thanksgiving mark the beginning of a holiday season supposedly centered on selflessness, contentment, and service.
However, this season often does not “feel” particularly happy or religious. In fact, with Black Friday hordes, Christmas to do lists, and advertisements of perfectly primped and styled families, it all feels very pressured, backwards, and stressful. I know that’s not how I want to feel. Nor is it how I want to act. So this year, as I look forward to holidays, I am making my own wishlist with a personal agenda.
What do I want for Christmas?
Time over Gifts
When I look back over the years, I don’t think, “Wow! What a great Christmas–that was when my grandma got me these shoes that were the very latest fad!” I think back on times when my family spent time with me. Basketball games played with cousins, hymns sung as we all crowded into the living room, sharing and passing and laughing at an overcrowded table.
These are those precious moments, those things that you store up in your heart.
It is a blessing to receive and to give gifts. But one gift doesn’t cost anything and means so much–the gift of your time. This year, I want to give that gift to my family.
Sometimes we get the idea that just because an activity is a “good” activity, we should do it. Well, I am only one person. And I’m pregnant and a mom and a wife…the list goes on. I can only do so much. Doing fewer things and doing them well not only helps me to be less hectic (my family will thank me later for not being so snippy and grumpy!). It also helps me to actually be present and enjoy the activities we choose to do. Less truly is more: more patience, more attention, more grace.
The Strength of Will to Focus on the Godly
There are many wonderful things about Christmas. For instance, there is no other time in the year when even the lost and the worldly are thinking about Jesus! What a great opportunity, not just to share goodwill and gifts, but to share the best gift ever given: the story of the Christ, His cross, and the salvation it brought.
Yet somehow, it is easy to “fudge” our focus. To be distracted by the hubbub, the travel, the rush of the holiday season.
It’s easy to say to myself that I’m still doing good things. That what I am doing still “counts.” Dashing around to six different stores to buy presents, filling gift sacks and stuffing fruit baskets for the elderly, signing and addressing envelopes to loved ones and friends–they can all be good things.
But they may not be the necessary things. In the craziness that is our lives, I think it is especially important that we be a Mary and not a Martha. We need to realize that the “better part” is to pause and take our gaze upward: to sit and listen at the feet of Jesus. It may mean saying “no” to some things or losing sleep some mornings. It may mean giving up on having the “perfect” house or the “perfect” schedule. But, as we gaze upwards at the cross, at the face of our Father, we will find not only peace for our hearts but wisdom for our actions.
And we will find that everything is better after looking at Him.
Joseph is such a vibrant character in the Bible. Reading the end of Genesis, his life is exciting, terrifying, depressing, and inspiring in turn.
In Genesis 39, we see him as a slave in Potiphar’s house, put in charge of essentially everything Potiphar owns. And then he comes face to face with temptation: Mrs. Potiphar.
The Story of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife
As you read the story, you get the idea that Mrs. Potiphar is not just some old lady. She probably isn’t covered in warts or plump, jolly, and wrinkled.
Now Joseph washandsome in form and appearance.7 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” (v6-7)
And as she spoke to Joseph day after day… (v10)
…she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” (v12)
She’s at least young enough to catch young, strong, in the prime of his youth Joseph by his garment. And she apparently is attractive enough that he can’t just “laugh” this off.
Neither does he stay to try to “reason” this out with her. What does he do?
But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. (v12)
Joseph has cut his losses and is booking it out of there! He has no pretense. He knows that this would be a sin against God. And he is willing to do whatever is needed to get him out of that situation.
He runs out of the room.
Learning to Run from Sin
I think we have a lot to learn from Joseph. So often we try to justify our sin. We make it out to be something “little.” Something “not as bad” as other sins–instead of seeing it for what it truly is:
How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? (v9)
If we approached our own lives with such dedication to living for God, we might have to get rid of some ugly parts. We might have to feel uncomfortable. We might even have to run the other direction.
But in the end, isn’t that better? After all, if you’re running away from sin, doesn’t that also mean you’re running toward God? There’s no better place to be.
My great-grandmother was apparently quite a personality–warm, vivacious, talkative, and outgoing. Her name was Grace. And while I didn’t know her, her presence and influence lingers, even to my generation. I was listening to my great-aunt the other day say that Grace gave her some advice a long time ago that’s still true today: to do one good thing for someone else every day.
And what a beautiful goal that is! I fear that too often my troubles seem so overwhelming and distressing because that is where I am setting my eyes upon. When I step back and serve someone else, it often leaves me more grateful, more appreciative, and more aware of how abundantly blessed I am.
It might seem exhausting. Do something for someone else? I already can’t keep up with what I am responsible for! Surely, God can’t expect that of me.
And yet, doesn’t he?
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
I want my son to have the heart of a servant when he grows up. I want him to have a heart that sighs with compassion for those in need. And in order for that to happen, he needs to see a life of servanthood in me first.
An Act of Service, Whether Large or Small
So when I am tired, I still can make time to help a friend. When I feel grumpy, I still need to find a smile. When I just want to lie on the couch, I can spare just a few moments.
Because sometimes we equate service with building houses in the Amazon jungle. We think service must be organized and with people and fundraisers and all-out efforts. And while that can be service, it’s not all that service can be.
Service can also be a text to ask how your sick friend is. Service can be a card sent to a shut-in, with a picture your child drew for her. Service can be making a double batch of dinner and taking the other half to a widow or a young mom. Service can be asking a lonely person over for a cup of morning coffee. Service can be listening to that elderly lady repeat her stories from her youth because her mind is slipping and that is the only thing she can hold on to now. Service can be dropping off a friend’s favorite drink at the office where she works. Service can be watching another mom’s kids because you see she needs that break.
You see, service doesn’t have to be flashy or take up lots of time. Often, quiet, thoughtful ways produce the most meaningful service. In love that seeps throughout your life until suddenly one day, you realize that it’s not something you’re working on but now a habit, ingrained in your daily routine.
I’m not there yet…but I’d like to be. Until then, I look at the “Grace”s in my life and learn from their example of what servanthood really is.
Loneliness is a hard thing, a depressing thing, and something that we all struggle with from time to time. There seem to be certain lonely seasons in our lives, times when life seems overwhelming, when we feel misunderstood, when we sink lower into our own thoughts, feelings, and sadness. Loneliness can be crippling to the heart and the soul.
But someone much wiser than I told me something this morning: Loneliness is also very much about choice.
And she was right. While it’s true that I can’t control others and how they view me, while it’s true that I can’t magically force others to invite me or include me, I can do something about my loneliness.
What can I do about loneliness?
Well, here are some ideas:
Pray about it
If we pray about our kids, our money, our stress – why not pray for a friend? God says in Philippians 4:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Wouldn’t a friend be included in that everything? Don’t you think the God that knows you, loves you, and molds you also sees and cares for your lonely heart? Tell him your burden and ask for a friend.
Be open to finding the unexpected
Sometimes, when we pray, we have a very specific list of criteria:
Lord, please grant me a friend. I’d like her to be a great cook and invite me over for dinner. I’d like her kids to be the same age as my kids. And I would love for her to be in the same neighborhood as me and the same church. Oh, and that she likes coffee.
It’s not wrong to want those things in a friend – or to find them. But sometimes, God answers our prayers in ways we don’t at first see:
In the mom who’s ten years older than I am, who is sleeping through the night, who remembers those days of newborns and milk and poop, and yet, has sanity because she is past that exhausting stage. She blesses me with her humor and her experience. She teaches me how to be a better mom.
In the single college aged friend who doesn’t yet have kids. Who reminds me of how blessed I am to have found a Christian man to build my life with. Whose passionate, spiritual nature reminds me of how I need to grow and stretch and read and challenge myself. Who inspires me to be a better Christian.
In the older woman, whose kids are out of the house. She is my “mom away from mom.” She is steady, not hormonal, and so real. She doesn’t pretend like she did it all perfectly and talking with her makes me want to grow mature, like she did. It makes growing older look like something precious, beautiful, and Godly.
God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we expect. But He does always give us what we need.
Put yourself out there
The funny thing about feeling sad or lonely or left out – is that a lot of other people also feel that way. All it takes is one person reaching out to make someone else sparkle and brighten.
A text to invite another mom on a playdate.
A Facebook message to ask someone over for coffee.
A blanket invite to your ladies’ Bible study class to come over and watch a movie at your house. (Popcorn’s cheap, right?)
Yes, it’s hard to be the one to reach out, but if everyone has that thought, no one would ever do anything! Perhaps you will be the highlight of someone else’s lonely day. Never underestimate how the Lord can use you.
So today, if you’re lonely, know that you aren’t alone. And I challenge you to do something about it. Do it with me. We might just find that God has something beautiful in store, if we will only act.
Today, I pruned our rose bushes. This is not my favorite job, even at the best of times. It certainly is not my favorite while being eight months pregnant. Pruning is hard work–prickly, back ache-y, and tough.
Pruning is Necessary
And yet, any gardener worth his salt will tell you that you need to prune your rose bushes. Something happens, even though it seems backwards. That cutting and snipping–with those awful, sharp scissors–it seems merciful that plants don’t have feeling! It would be horrible to feel each clip and snip, to watch your former glory fall off, dead and useless to the cold, wintry ground.
But it does something wonderful for the rose bush. You see, not only does the rosebush grow back, it grows back fuller, richer, more beautifully. The rose bush needed to have its branches pruned, no matter how painful (for the bush or for the cutter) in order for the rose to be at its best and most beautiful.
A Parallel in Our Own Lives
Isn’t that how we are with God? John 15:2 says:
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
God knows exactly what we are capable of. And although pruning is certainly a better alternative to being thrown away, we know it to be painful in our own lives. When God’s deft, loving, and wise fingers prune me, it hurts. It hurts when sin must be ripped out of the dark corners of my life. It hurts when old, selfish habits must be relearned and bettered. When I must change my heart and my actions, it hurts. Because change is hard and often painful.
Pruning Sin from My Life Makes Me More Like Jesus
But I can also take hope. Just as I pruned my rosebushes, not with malice but with an eye to the future, with an understanding that it was for the bush’s best interests, certainly the Master Gardener, the Creator, the Almighty, will prune me with such thoughts. It may sting a little in the meantime, but in the end, I can be even more beautiful than a rose. I can be a reflection of Christ himself.