I have posted a lot in the past few months on many subjects related to our preparations for the New Year. At one point, I even had all of us keeping track of lists that would allow us to do better in our lives, to improve our relationships with others, and to commit to healthier and happier lifestyles. I asked us all to dig deep, give back to our communities, and stay mindful of the responsibilities that we have to others. I even spoke directly about events in the news that upset or bothered us. It was all in an effort to inspire changes and initiate movement for a dynamic, improved, and hopeful New Year.
Despite turmoil in the world and concerns we may have after the long holiday season, if you all stayed with me, I feel that reading the blog and focusing on how to remain challenged in your faith and in your responsibilities to others will help you enter into 2016 with a certain confidence. I know that we’ve all been thinking about a plan for the new year that will tap into our strengths and allow us to take stock of where we need to change and where we might want to direct our efforts. We should review the past year and determine where it has lead us and where the lessons we’ve learned will take us.
We should focus our priorities this year. In recent weeks, as we made our way through the busy Christmas season, I reminded us all to be hospitable and let faith guide us into relationships and fellowship with others. I encouraged you all to open your hearts and sing the praises of Jesus as we celebrated His birth and all the blessings that He brings us. In this brand new year of 2016, we need to shape our lives to fit the role we think God has in store for us. We need to reach out and allow others to see what we’ve become as a result of our challenges, our triumphs, our questions, and our answers. Our path to happiness lies with God and His expectations of us. The path to success is paved by the behaviors we use to reach that happiness goal. What can we do to reach out? How can we help others? What needs to happen in our lives to make us fulfilled in our eyes and in the eyes of God?
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (NIV)
Just as hospitality is important to the family dynamic as we celebrate our blessings this season, so too is the graciousness of forgiveness. During the high intensity of this season, we sometimes allow the smallest things to get to us. We are so overscheduled that we can’t see past our own commitments, worries, and other mixed holiday feelings. This can lead to arguments with others. Whether we are in a crowded grocery store or attending a family gathering, the close proximity and amped up activity level can test even the best of us.
During this time, we have to remember that family should be our focus. With increased proximity, there will come opportunities for interaction that we don’t always see during the year. When people are feeling especially nostalgic or compassionate toward others, a whirlwind of other emotions may present themselves. Maybe there are past differences that can be mended, or good memories to be shared. Regardless of the tone, the sense that family is important should always be prevalent. Just as the hospitality of allowing others into your home or sharing experiences with others is important, so too is the sense that past grievances and new annoyances need to be forgiven. In this season of hope, there is no room for hurt feelings and personal grudges. It is time to be the bigger person. In order to keep the love and hope alive this season, we must be more gracious than we have ever been.
In the spirit of healing our families, our communities, and the world, we need to maintain a sense of charity to all. We have to be open with our feelings, generous with our time, and warm in our approach to other people. Jesus came into this world to heal, to be a friend to those with no friends and a mentor to those who had lost their way. We need to live in His image and according to His plan. Forgiveness, friendship, and family need to be a top priority this Christmas season.
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (NIV)
In a time of swirling holiday activity and great interaction with friends and family, we have to remain vigilant about our sense of hospitality to others; we must gauge how we treat others. During the Christmas season, we often try to focus on goodwill toward others. While we believe our intentions for generosity are being practiced, sometimes we get too busy to fully carry out our plans. With bills mounting and activities and responsibilities increasing, sometimes we have a tendency to become so overwhelmed, busy, and pessimistic that we don’t notice the needs of others.
Even when we are out tending to our own responsibilities, we still have to remember others. While we shop, run errands, and try to keep our own heads above water, we need to remember that in this season of great rejoicing there are often a lot of lonely people who have no one to celebrate with. While it is not always easy to identify opportunities for outreach, if we simply adopt the routine of continuously reaching out to others, we will find those who need help, and we will find ourselves capable of offering that assistance when needed.
In order to be able to tend to yourself and others, we need to live strong. When we show support for others, reaching beyond our own families into our communities where people are in need of a kind word, reassurance, or support, we are shaping our own priorities in life to include a responsibility to others. In our hearts, we will know that by tending to another’s needs, we are doing the work of God. With feelings of fellowship and hospitality close, tending to others can become second nature to us, setting an example for our families, members of the church, impressionable children, and people who need to learn how to be more charitable with their time and feelings. In this season of giving and hope, we need to make sure that we share the light that Jesus brings to this world and God’s message of Christmas joy.
Transitions can be difficult; even those meant to facilitate positive movement in life or provide new opportunities can be traumatic. After all, transitioning or changing means adapting and getting used to new routines. It means accepting that old patterns are gone, and new, unfamiliar patterns will be prevalent in life. Again, even if these are good things, they are new and must be handled. Many times, we find that we are not equipped to handle even the things for which we may have prayed or asked God to send us, such as new career opportunities, larger houses, an expanded family, and new friendships.
At the holidays, the opportunities for transitions increase. In fact, we have many changes thrust upon us during this time of year. During the holidays, we are expected to interact with extended family, give back more generously to our communities, friends and family, and begin to think about how we might improve ourselves in the coming year. On top of it all, we are supposed to give thanks and think of others before we think of ourselves. In a way, these are transitions too, such as moving our thinking from our own little circle of family, work, and daily routine to others. It is worth noting, too, that most of the time we do find that we adapt to these changes every year, and we do come out better for it—whether we do so consciously or unconsciously.
During the holidays, it might be the perfect opportunity for all of us to think about additional transitions in life and make these changes and improvements permanent. How should we focus more on family? How could we improve on ourselves in the coming year? These are all details that often show up on our radar during this season. In order to be more successful, we need to actually think about how we might gradually make these changes so that they stick. If we incorporate a workout into our daily morning routine, make sure that the hours fit with our work schedule, and confirm we have a place to shower and get ready, then we have a plan that works and may stay a part of our daily routine moving forward. If we vow to eat right, pick a day of the week to plan our menu and shop for healthy foods and ingredients, and we keep that day open for such initiatives consistently, then we are on our way to becoming healthier. We can do the same when it comes to accepting the transitions that lead us closer to God.
In life, we move so fast that it can seem overwhelming to bring anything else into our daily lives. Praying for more time with our kids and our families can result in a desire to make it happen but no actual time to see it through to fruition. Vowing to give back to the community and getting more involved with ministries at church or activities at our kids’ schools can seem fulfilling and within our reach, but when we go to schedule our meetings and get involved, we find we can’t accommodate anymore giving or meeting in our schedules. In these areas—these frustrating, nothing more will fit, I am at the end of my rope, areas—we need to find our productive transitions. Sit back and reflect. Think to yourself, Where can I scale back and where do I need to give more? Do I need to pray more? Do I need give more thanks to God? Giving attention to how we might achieve this and sitting down to come up with our transition plans will make all the difference. The holidays have a different dynamic than the rest of the year. Let’s tap into that atmosphere for change and make some positive transitions during the holiday season.
2 Corinthians 4:15
All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. (NIV)
When we broke bread and celebrated with family in our respective Thanksgiving celebrations yesterday, we gave thanks for a lot of things. We always praise the food—from grandma’s pies to the perfectly juicy turkey—and we always show gratitude for family arriving safely from all over the country. We pray at the table together, and we ask God to bless everyone at that table. As stewards of His love, we truly wish, in those moments, that our loved ones feel what we do and believe what we do in terms of our faith and our commitment to God and His bounty.
I trust in my congregation and in their ability to wear the Armor of God and to advocate for Him constantly. I trust my congregation to keep the church doing the good that we do in the community through the contributions of time, money, and faith daily as we move forward into the end of this year and toward the beginning of next. My stewards of faith and fellowship are strong, and I encourage everyone to tap into that feeling of thanks and that strong sense of God and our commitment to Him. We felt it at the table when food was presented to us and when the comfort of family and friends surrounded us, and we can feel it again even when we feel put upon, called to action, or asked to step outside the box to help now and then. We can feel it when we pray on our own, in reflection of this blessed weekend, and while we worship among familiar faces. We can tap into our reserves, our sense of commitment, and our true need to give of ourselves this season and send that energy, that faith, and that love to others.
Some of us feel that we need to give monetarily to the church. Some of us feel like we need to see what the inside of a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter looks like. However, we all know that giving thanks starts at home—in our places of worship, our homes, and our communities. We are the stewards of God’s love. We have to be active in our show of thanks to Him and in our abilities to give His love and assistance to others.