Having Christmas In Your Heart

This past week had been very stressful for me—and for many people around me.  Two or three departments at my job were without management, including mine, leaving me to do even more work than usual. Managers, associates, and customers were seemingly extra busy and pressured this past week—especially some of the higher levels of management at my workplace. At church, we just voted in a new pastor, who will officially start a few months from now. Finally, in the midst of all this, my family and I are making our own preparations for Christmas.

You may be also experiencing similar stressors—but, maybe, hopefully not.  Regardless, I was encouraged by God to develop more peace in my life and to incorporate more of the character of what Christmas truly should be about, in my life. As I read in my church bulletin today, Roy L. Smith, had said, “He who has not Christmas in his heart, will never find it under a tree.” So, if we can’t find Christmas under a tree, how can we find the true character of Christmas?  Here is what I learned about finding the true character of Christmas in my heart:

  1. One of the things that I learned about having Christmas in my heart is that I needed to have more peace in my life. – In Matthew 11:28-30, it says that when we rest in Jesus, He gives us peace for our souls (translated in the KJV as “rest,” which is essentially the same thing). Unfortunately during this week, I found myself being anxious about bad things that either never happened at all, or wasn’t as bad as I once thought.  For instance, I was very upset at myself because I accidentally spilled my entire lunch. Not only did it  needed to be cleaned up, but I would have to now waste time and money buying myself a new one so I would be able to sustain myself energy wise to continue to be able to work afterwards.  I was also stressed out as I thought about all that I already spent on presents for various people in my life, and now I had to spend this additional money and have less time to eat my lunch!  However, all my anxiety turned out to be for naught, because although I did have to spend more time and money, I also got to eat some things that I have never really tried before—and turned out to be pretty good.  Additionally, one of my kind and generous friends, Allison*, graciously gave me almost her whole bag of her favorite onion ring chips. What I have learned about not being anxious is to look for the good in my uncomfortable, bad, or anxiety-producing situations. If I can’t think of any, I should try to ask myself what good can come out of the situation at hand. For instance, if I don’t have time to complete my work, I should try to focus on doing a good job on the work that I CAN complete, instead of rushing to try to complete everything and doing a half-hearted job. I also am still learning and have learned that when I let God be in control, my anxiety goes away.  When you become anxious, reminding yourself that God’s got this, or that things often don’t turn out as badly as we fear they might, really can help the anxiety go away, or, at least, lessen in severity.
  2. Another thing that I learned about having Christmas in my heart is to cultivate joy. — Sometimes, in the midst of stress and busyness, we forget to enjoy life.  I know that is often the case with me. One of my online friends even had suggested to me in the midst of me writing about my stress that week to take time and enjoy myself.  Yes, we should love and serve others, but we should also not forget to have joy in doing so.  Also, we need to take time to rest and recharge occasionally so we can minister more effectively to others and not get burnt out.  One of the things that I like to do for relaxation and recharging is to read about various topics such as various recipes, different places around the world (travel),  exercise, inspirational topics, and much more.  I used to be part of an online blogging group that encouraged me to read other people’s blogs, which were on a wide range of topics.  Because of this, I was able to broaden my interests. One thing I would recommend to anyone struggling to find something that they enjoy doing or having more hobbies is to force yourself to read books in a library or articles online on a variety of topics that seem interesting to you.  Then, as you learn about more things, often your interest in that said topic broadens as well.  Also, when we serve others, we should have joy in getting to know those who we are serving and focusing on their contentment, rather than on the stress of having one more thing added to our “list” of things to do. Also, when we focus this Christmas on having the joy in having Jesus come to earth as a human baby to eventually grow up and become the ultimate sacrifice for us, instead of the busyness and commercialism that this society often puts in Christmas, we will be happier to serve others.
  3. The most important thing I learned about having Christmas in my heart is to cultivate love.– Since it says in the Bible, in various places, that Jesus is the embodiment of love,  and since love is what makes Christmas more meaningful, I learned that instead of acting like the Grinch, I should strive to love others more.  Christmas is not only the time to give presents to family and friends, but also to be willing to sacrifice for them and others.  For instance, if Christmas is difficult for someone, sacrificing your time to be there for them to encourage them through it and helping them cope with this time of year, can make their Christmas a little bit brighter than usual.  Giving others hope when they are in a hopeless or a desperate situation can help them to see God’s love and to know that they are not alone.  Another way to love others is to thank the people in your life that have made the most positive difference in your life. For instance, if a teacher or manager at work has really encouraged you in your abilities in some ways, now is the time to thank them and to let them know that they are not taken for granted. If your parents and/or significant other have served you faithfully for a long time, now is the time to let them know that you notice their sacrifice and their service on your behalf.

So, as this post is as much to myself, as to you, the reader, I hope we will cultivate the character of Christmas in our hearts and lives, so that we can impact the world for the better.  When we don’t have Christmas in our hearts, the joy, peace, and love that flows out of the Christmas spirit, will never be found even under a tree. Let’s pray that this will not be true of us this Christmas season, but instead we will embody the joy, love, and peace that this time of year is supposed to bring, not only to ourselves, but more importantly, to God and others.

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An Open Letter to My Facebook Friends

Dear Friends,

I have been saddened by the general climate of the world around me. So many people are hurting, and some people seem to have the need to be nasty to others.  Despite it being the holiday/Christmas season, it seems that a lot of people are more stressed than ever.  I think Roy L. Smith was right when he said, “If one does not have Christmas in his heart, he will never find it under a tree.”

So, how do we have Christmas in our hearts, or how can we have joy and peace this holiday season?  The answer is simple, yet difficult to do: We need to love each other like we never have before.  I don’t mean the mushy, romantic type love. I don’t even mean just friendship love. I mean the all-out, sacrificial, agape love!

Many around you carry deep pain and hurt inside.  Some may have lost a loved one around the holidays. You may even be one of these people, and to you, I say this: There is hope when you can be vulnerable and tell a trusted friend or loved one how you have been feeling, so that you can begin to heal.  Someone out there cares for you. Don’t give up.

If you are not, or if you are already in the process of healing, I say this: Do not let the stresses and pressures of life allow you to overlook these people. Do not let your heart become calloused and apathetic to the hurting people around you. Always strive to be compassionate and caring to others.  It could make a world of difference in their lives, and could even save a life! Don’t just ask someone how they are doing and walk away. Listen to and try to be genuinely interested in what they have to say in response.

Always try to uplift people and encourage them. If you see a peer or co-worker doing a good job, thank them for their efforts.  If someone is down on themselves, encourage them by pointing out the good you see in them.  If someone thinks no one cares about them, tell them that you do and then demonstrate that love and care by doing a tangible act of kindness for them.  Maybe it can be as simple as a kind, encouraging word. Or maybe it can be watching their kids, if they have children.

This can take us out of our comfort zone, especially if we don’t like some of the people we are dealing with, but it is well worth it.

Friends, let us bring joy and love to the hurting people around us today and help them experience the best Christmas or holiday ever!

Patricia

What Christmas Means To Me

It’s that time of year again. For many, it means snow is coming, families and other loved ones are together, gifts are being given and received, and most of all, Jesus Christ’s birth is being celebrated.  Christmas means different things to different people. While it is a joyous time of year for many, for some it holds sad, and even, painful memories. We must not forget these people.

Christmas, for me, holds many special memories. Here is what Christmas means to me and why:

  1. It means reflecting on Christ’s birth and His love for me.—Although in years past I had not taken adequate time to reflect on Christ’s birth and what He means to me, this year I want to focus more on the true meaning of Christmas for me. I enjoy learning about the importance of His birth, how He impacted the world, and how I figure into the whole scheme of things through God’s great work.  I believe in the Christmas story about how the shepherds announced Christ’s birth and how He was born to Mary in a manger, but before my former pastor, Pastor Frank Taylor, explained this story, I never really grasped the full magnitude and meaning of the story. He explained one year about how the shepherds had reputations as thieves and/or low-lifes and that many Jewish religious people despised them. He then explained to us in so many words that God chose the shepherds to be in the birth of Jesus probably as a demonstration of His love for them and all people.  This love is what I want to focus on this year.
  2. Connected to the first reason, Christmas, to me, means sharing God’s love and joy with others.—In the recent past, I found that when I was upset at others, I was not only being too self-focused, but I also was losing sight of what I believe to be my purpose in life—sharing and demonstrating God’s love with others that God has shown me. If I am able to refocus on my life purpose, I have found that I stop getting upset, or, at least, get less upset.  To do this, I want to have a more thankful heart and spirit about me by encouraging and thanking others for any good that I see that they have done for either other people or my friends. I also want to focus more on serving others with a joyful and willing spirit, and not complaining about having to do x, even if it is not the most pleasant task in the world to do.
  3. Christmas means spending time with my family and other loved ones.—I love the emphasis not only on family, but also on the community coming together to celebrate this holiday in the different ways that they do. It is a coming together of peoples of all cultures, creeds, socioeconomic and all identifiers that the world places on us, and it focuses instead on enjoying time together and bonding. Thankfully, my workplace is closed on Christmas, and so are many other places, so I can enjoy the whole day with my family and get to know them just that much better.  A special thanks to the firefighters, police officers, first responders, doctors, nurses, and military personnel and their families for sacrificing this time in order to serve everyone and keep us safe.
  4. Christmas means engaging in the spirit of giving.—Though I don’t like an overemphasis on gifts, I do like giving and receiving gifts. I like that Christmas is a time where everyone can give and get something, even if it is just a smile, a hug, or a kind word.  I like when people put thought into their giving, and not just getting anything for someone else just to check them off their list. Giving and receiving gifts are also forms of bonding with another person.  When you give something and the other person opens said gift or receives it (if it is not material), seeing the reaction (hopefully, of joy) of the other person. When we receive something from someone, we want to know what it is and what the person was thinking about us in them getting that gift for us. Christmas also is a time when people can give much-needed donations to local and international charities, not only so the charities can operate, but also so they can make more of a positive difference to the people who they are wanting to help.

These are the things that Christmas means to me. It means giving of myself, both monetarily and practically to others. It means spending time with my family and other loved ones, in joy and unity with them. Most importantly for me though, Christmas means sharing God’s love with others and reflecting on Christ’s birth and love for me.  What does Christmas mean to you? Please feel free to share in the comments.

The Grinch of Christmas: Harms of Commercialization

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I want to know, what does Christmas mean to you? What do you think it is supposed to mean? For many, it means celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and all He represents.  For others, it may mean spending more time with family and other loved ones.  For still others, it means getting people the best gifts ever.

Though Christmas and the holiday season are supposed to be joyous times, many people become stressed and even disillusioned. One of the major reasons why people may be disillusioned is reflected in the results of a Pew Research poll*, where 33% of those surveyed dislike the commercialization of Christmas, and I agree with the 33%. Here is why I believe the commercialization of Christmas is harmful to the holiday and to us:

  1. It misses the point.—Christmas is primarily not about the gifts we receive from loved ones, but commercialization makes Christmas only about the material things we give and receive. Commercialization is very superficial in this aspect. Commercialization can make us so affixed to the gift aspects of Christmas, that we completely miss the real point of Christmas—celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and what He means to us.  The word Christmas even contains “Christ” in it!  We are supposed to remember the founder of Christmas—Jesus, not just see if we can get the best gifts or give the flashiest and most elegant gifts.
  2. It creates more stress than is necessary.—Besides missing the point of the true meaning of Christmas, it creates a lot more stress than is needed for this time of year. A lot of people, because we have created a society of entitlement and materialism, stress out about what gifts to give others.  They think if they don’t give just the right gift the receiver will not only be disappointed come Christmas, but also may think less of them (the giver).  Some people also stress out about how much they can afford (more on that later) and how much they should or shouldn’t give a particular person. Also, a lot of people buy and cook elaborate meals for this holiday. Now, I am in no way against people cooking good food and having elaborate meals to celebrate Christmas and other December holidays,  but sometimes they get so stressed during the preparation of the meal that they are unable to enjoy themselves or their loved ones, a lot like Martha in the Bible who was trying to prepare an elaborate meal for Jesus and the other guests there without taking the time to get to know him or anyone else there.
  3. People that are marginalized are left out of the celebration when the holidays become commercialized.—Because of all the emphasis this time of year on gift giving, people who are struggling financially or in other ways, are often left out of being able to participate in this aspect. Imagine seeing your friends being able to afford fancy jewelry for their loved ones, and you would like to give one of them to your mom who is sick or dying, but not having enough to buy it. However, if the true meaning and the more spiritual aspects of Christmas were emphasized more, the joy and the hope that Christmas has to offer would be able to be realized by even society’s marginalized!  The privileged in this society would give to those who are more marginalized because they would know and understand that everyone deserves joy and peace this Christmas, not just themselves.  More people would be less materialistic and put more time in to help the hurting and needy, and spend more time with those who matter most to them.

 

These are just some of the harmful aspects of commercialization. Of course, I am not against shopping, as I do a share bit of that myself. However, rather than stress out about food preparations and gifts to give loved ones and friends this holiday season, let’s think about the true meaning of Christmas, and cherish those we love. Finally, let’s bring joy and hope to those who find this time of year difficult.

 

 

*Source: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/18/celebrating-christmas-and-the-holidays-then-and-now/