I admit I am a Christmas junkie. I love everything about it. I love the snacks and appetizers, the crafts and gifts, the events and music. In the true sense of Advent – a time of sacred waiting – I relish it all.
I also love the way the Lord shows me things and speaks to me through and during the season.
I’m an incorrigible people watcher. When I go out to run errands, I prefer to go alone so I can watch people and listen to their conversations. If I have a companion, whether my spouse or one of my kids, I’m focused on conversation with them and can’t eavesdrop as well.
Last week I got an illustration of a horrid holiday as well as a truly Merry Christmas.
At Target, where so much of real life occurs, a dad was shopping with his 2 pre-teen girls. He was on the phone with someone in the shampoo aisle. Screaming into the phone, obviously to the divorced mom, he said, “The girls are claiming you are refusing to buy shampoo and conditioner for them and I demand to know why.”
I wonder how much pain led up to that moment in Target. How many angry fights, brutal court battles, and sleepless nights had this family endured? How were these two young girls weathering the stress? I imagine they have seen adults at their worst and most vulnerable. Will they have a fear of relationships and commitment? How many happy years did they have before everything turned to crap?
These would surely be horrid holidays at their houses.
What simple things could have kept this relationship from eroding? I can think of a few.
But first, I got another Christmas story that very same day. I also had to stop at the Post Office and, of course, it being the big mailing season, the line was long, long, long. Adding to my irritation, this was actually the second Post Office for me for the day because the debit card machine wasn’t working at my regular Post Office.
I committed to waiting it out because I didn’t want to stop at a third one.
I listened to the conversations ahead of me and most of them were complaining. The hassle and weariness of the holiday were hanging on everyone.
One lady, probably my age, was 2 people ahead of me, waiting quietly. I watched her cheerful face as she waited. When it was her turn to approach the sole counter worker, she passed her a small package. “I just wanted to say thank you. Merry Christmas,” she said.
The counter worker was visibly moved. If she weren’t knee deep in customers, she probably would have been even more emotional. Instead, she paused a beat, then sighed a deep, satisfied sigh and called the next customer forward.
Two interchanges, two ways of being in the world.
The dad with the messy family life was struggling with his relationships. How many hurts had he inflicted and received?
The gift-giver and receiver seemed to have light, joyous hearts. They traded dignity and respect for one another.
Those two words – dignity and respect – have been my watchwords lately. I’m examining all my relationships in light of their wisdom.
How much different this old world would be if we simply purposed to treat one another with dignity and respect? Instead we share anger and focus on all that divides us.
My husband and I have walked hard paths. There has been plenty of friction between us. These two words came to me and I began to apply them to my marriage.
I have an index card by my bed to remind me. It says, “Have I done anything to offend or disrespect you?”
Those are tough questions to ask. Certainly this is how the Lord calls us to treat one another. So often we don’t. I have been guilty of being too harsh with my kids at times. I have definitely been disrespectful to my husband, as he has been to me.
Those are also questions to ask about our relationship with God. I was raised Catholic and we confessed our sin through an intermediary who was able to grant dispensation for our faults. Kind of a cool arrangement because generally the Priest didn’t pry into the deep state of our souls. It was in and out and done.
Before going to confession, we were taught to sit and examine our consciences. Essentially, we were to mull over how we had sinned against God and how we had sinned against others. Wow.
As I kid, I sometimes felt I needed to make up sins so I would have something to say. The big ones were lying and disrespecting parents. We were sometimes asked to codify, “How many times?” I didn’t want to be boring, so sometimes I would inflate the numbers.
This process of conscience examination is so much deeper as adults. We have no one to be honest to other than ourselves and our Lord. When we ask God – or others – to reveal our offenses or disrespect, we must be prepared to hear the truth.
Hearing that truth is healing.
What if that husband at Target had regularly asked the question of his wife? She might have shared her heart about the tiny slights, the unremarkable disrespect he might have shown her that built and built and built. If she had asked him with an open heart, he might have shared his irritations and pet peeves that can only fester if left unexpressed.
Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV) says,” Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
The post office ladies must have read this Scripture. I’ve read it dozens of times, but only recently disciplined myself to put it into consistent practice.
In my home, I have repented of my carelessness with my mouth and asked for forgiveness. I have to do it over and over with surprising regularity. Even now, the Lord is working on restoration and redemption of much of our family pain. But it took humility and open ears for His power to flow.
What do you want for Christmas? My life’s prayer is to live with grace toward others and peace in my heart.
Getting to active grace and unending peace is tough. But so worth it.
It is the sacred gift we can give to others and ourselves.
This year, are you willing to ask the questions? Your participation in these holy conversations is the greatest blessing we can experience and extend during this time of expectation and joy.
You can do this and it can be a life changer.