More Anxious about Christmas than Joyful
A Word of Confession and Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
I was talking with a group of friends last week when one of them said, "Thanksgiving isn't even here yet, but I'm already freaked out about Christmas. Anybody else feeling that way?"
Nearly all of us nodded, a little shame-faced because we know that isn't the way it ought to be. I certainly couldn't say very much, because the ugly record shows that I have gotten sick, really sick, nearly every Christmas since I was a young bride. Inevitably, the doctor says something like, "This is just stress. Why are you stressed?"
Why wouldn't we be stressed, with all those Christmas traditions to be kept? Dig out the Christmas decorations from the attic. Choose a Christmas tree, hang the ornaments instead of tossing them at it, and keep the cat (and maybe the baby) from knocking it over. Outside lights on the house-will they meet the neighbors' critical standards? Go to the school production each child is in. Get the Christmas card photo made, order prints, find elusive addresses, write greetings, and mail them. Worry about what to buy for each person on the gift list, worry about whether or not they'll even like what you bought, and then worry more about where the money will come to pay for them all. Show up at the Christmas parties your friends give. Plan Christmas dinner for the extended family, gingerly make the invites, remembering which family member isn't speaking to whom, and who is on a vegan or paleo diet. . . .
. . . And then on Christmas eve, arrive at the church for the Christmas service, all the children scrubbed and cherubic, but we are exhausted, thoughts in such chaos it's difficult to worship the Savior whose birth we intended to celebrate by all our frenetic activities!
Perhaps it's time for me (and you, if you find yourself in this annual mess!) to think seriously about what your family and friends truly need They need your love. A thoughtful note could perhaps express that better than a gift. They need the promise of your prayers for them, infinitely more valuable than any gift money could buy. A grandchild would love the gift of an afternoon with you, with your undivided attention. The new grandbaby won't care how much a little stuffed animal cost you. Your adult children might treasure more your honest, "Good job, well done!" than they would another scented candle or fancy lamp or gift card.
I'm not trying to tell you how to resolve your freaking out about Christmas. I am reminding you, and myself, that if what you've been doing isn't working, then it's time to find another way.
The Lord Jesus Himself is God's indescribable, holy Christmas gift to us. Wouldn't it be terrible to spend the month getting ready for Christmas, only to miss the wonder of His presence in our hearts? May this Scriptures from 2 Corinthians 9:13 color every activity you undertake this Christmas season:
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
Or, as the New Living Translation puts it:
Thank God for his Son-a gift too wonderful for words!
"Though Much Is Lost, Much Abides"-Thank God!
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
A man named Ulysses was king of Ithica several thousand years ago (if indeed, he really lived and is not just a myth!) He was kept from his home for twenty years by a war with Troy, of Trojan horse fame. He came home an old man, to find his wife aged and his son a stalwart, full-grown man. He tries to plan what he should do with his life in the years ahead, weakened as he is by years of stress and deprivation. In a poem Tennyson wrote about him, Ulysses says,
Though much is lost, much abides.
Some of you, I know, feel it hard to face a day of celebration. You have some unfinished business, some irritations you haven't been able to fix. But wouldn't it be sad to let minor inconveniences stifle your thanks to God for all of His bountiful, loving blessings?
Some of you have suffered deep grief, grave disappointment, the loss of a cherished dream. I truly grieve with you. You face a bleak new year. There seems to be no way to ease the pain. It almost seems a mockery to plan a day of Thanksgiving. Let me encourage you to think not only about what you have lost, but also to remember to thank your gracious God for the blessings you still enjoy. Yes, you may have lost much. But yes, much still remains to bless you. Perhaps that is what King David had in mind on a thanksgiving day long ago when he talked out loud to himself:
Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The LORD executes righteousness And justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
How many wonderful things God still gives us so generously, even in our losses: sins forgiven, healing, protection from evil, even good food to eat! He promises He will give justice; He tempers His anger for sin; He shows us great mercy. Let's talk to ourselves this Thanksgiving, and say:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits!
A Life of Quiet Desperation?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
Henry David Thoreau said: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
I know it's true for so many all over the world, struggling just to find food and water and shelter. How often I've tried to help someone with the burdens of just surviving! But I wondered, "Does Thoreau's statement hold true for Christians who love God? Are their lives as quietly desperate as the people who know nothing of God's love and compassion?
I thought of one of my Christian friends who seems to cope with a difficult life with dogged determination, if not exuberance. He works at a very demanding, high-tech job, analyzing and servicing machines critical to manufacturing. His two grown children live far across the country. He has to be away from home much of the time, traveling all over the continent to do his work. He and his wife both have severe health issues, so they have constant financial pressure. Does he live a life of quiet desperation?
I asked him, "What is the hardest thing you face when you go to work each day?"
He answered thoughtfully, "Making sure I do exactly what God wants me to do. So I ask, ‘Lord, please show me Your will for today.' And then all day long I hear His voice guiding me. Sometimes it's a hard-to-please customer. Sometimes it's a malfunctioning machine I need to get back on line. Sometimes it's a problem management needs me to solve. At the end of the day, I feel like I have done what God wanted me to do."
Isaiah was an Old Testament prophet God sent to confront the nation of Israel with their sin. He went through such a time of "quiet desperation." God had told him,
"You are my servant. You will bring me glory." (Isaiah 49:3)
But nobody was listening to Isaiah's warnings. Nobody wanted to give up their greed and lust and selfishness. So Isaiah said to God,
"But my work all seems so useless!
I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose at all" -Isaiah 49:4
Quiet desperation. Futility. He was a failure, Isaiah thought, trying to use well the one life God had given him to serve Him. But then Isaiah came to the right conclusion:
"Yet I leave it all in the Lord's hand;
I will trust God for my reward." -Isaiah 49:4
But, like Isaiah, and like my friend expressed so poignantly, "I want to know I'm doing what God wants me to do." So God answered Isaiah with comforting authority:
"And now the LORD speaks-
He who formed me in my mother's womb to be His servant,
who commissioned me to bring His people of Israel back to Him.
The LORD has honored me, and my God has given me strength." -Isaiah 49:5
So, dear friend, if you struggle with "quiet desperation," listen to God's authoritative answer: He made you to serve Him, and you do it all day long by doing the tasks He's given you to do, however mundane and physical they may seem to you. The Lord will honor you, and He will give you the strength you need for today's extraordinary tasks. He promised He would!