As I gaze on our Christmas tree, small but lovely, I consider all the packages underneath – wrapped and waiting. Several are gone already, making their way to Colorado and Idaho. Others are sitting contently, waiting for the big day to arrive. Beneath cheerful Charlie Brown wrapping paper, there are gifts for family and friends. By 2pm on Christmas Day (we start opening gifts around noon…), all these presents will be opened and the mystery will be solved for another year.
When the time comes to prepare for Christmas, I pull out my list of names. These are the people I shop for each year. When I finish acquiring items for one of them, I check him or her off the list. If I am not careful, giving can become rote and calculated. In my quest to shop for everyone on my list, I forget about those who are not on the list – those who have needs greater than a new pair of Santa socks or season six of Gunsmoke.
What about the young boy who walks down our street every day with a scowl on his face? The elderly neighbor outside struggling to put up her Christmas decorations? Or, the girl behind the counter at PetSmart who appears to have the weight of the world on her shoulders. They are not on my shopping list, but maybe they should be on another kind of Christmas list. Maybe they need a little hope and attention this Christmas.
Who needs your attention this Christmas?
- Your Neighbors – “Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:29-31, ESV, emphasis mine). For the most part, I have hit the neighbor jackpot. We have a sweet, retired couple to our left who loves our dog and picks up our mail when we are out of town. Another retired couple lives on our right and they keep a watchful eye over our property for us. They also do some of our landscaping in return for Eric’s computer repair skills. Directly in front of us lives a young couple with six children who give this neighborhood some much-needed youth and vitality! And, her child-rearing Facebook posts leave me frequently laughing. Back in North Carolina, I had some spectacular neighbors also. My mentor, Miss Betty, lived diagonally across from me. To our right was my best friend and her wonderful parents. Across the street lived a family with two young boys whom I babysat regularly. They were all great! But, in order to appreciate the good neighbors, you have to experience the frustrating neighbors. To the right of my parents lives a man who has challenged Mom and Dad’s nerves on multiple occasions. When he first moved in, my dad accidentally mowed about an inch (literally) over the property line and this man made a stink about it. Who gets upset with someone for mowing part of their yard? Even twenty years later, I can barely wrap my mind around that. A few years ago, when a couple of my mom’s chicks turned out to be roosters (… oops), he became upset when he was awoken one morning by a chorus of cock-a-doodle-dos! He marched over to my parents’ house and completely blasted Mom because “he likes to sleep with his windows open.” My internal reaction was so ungodly. I wanted this man to hurt for upsetting my mom. I wanted him to pay. But, my mom handled it a wee bit differently. She got rid of all but one of her chickens and she took him an “I’m sorry” He did not accept the gift, but I wonder if Mom made an impression on his stone-cold heart. Did he have a momentary glimpse of grace? We cannot always choose our neighbors (and I believe God puts some people in our lives to help sanctify us), but we can love them even when they are jerks to you. What can you do this Christmas to show a little grace and care to those people who live around you?
- Orphans – “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27, ESV). This verse is pretty serious. Sometimes, we get confused and think the amount of money we donate, the committees we are on at church, or the theological debating we do on Facebook makes us solid believers. James challenges that theory. True believers should be ministering to widows and orphans. Talk about convicting! We may not have much to offer, but we can all offer something even if it is our time. When I visited an orphanage in Guatemala, the children ran to us as we got off the bus. They already had food and a place to sleep. They wanted attention! Look at me! Listen to me! Talk to me! Watch me do this! Somewhere much closer than you think is a child you can bless this Christmas, and hopefully year-round too.
- The Elderly – “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent” (Psalm 71:9, ESV). Confession time. As much as I recommend that couples go to nursing homes and bring cheer to the elderly, I struggle to go myself – not because I do not care about the people, but my heart hurts and I am often at a loss for words. However, the reasons I struggle to go are the very reasons I should Even if I have to hide behind my mom, the nursing home pro, like a five-year-old for the first few minutes, I should make time for these beautiful people who are tired and often so lonely. It is sobering to think that not so long ago they were in our shoes and probably could not comprehend the idea of being old or living in a facility. Whether you bring them a physical gift or just the priceless gift of your time and attention, remember the elderly this year. If you have a loved one who lives alone or in a nursing home, spend some time talking to him or her. Let that relationship springboard you to other senior citizens who need some care.
- Family – “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Timothy 5:8, ESV). What exactly does it mean to provide? When I read this verse, I immediately think of physical needs – food, shelter, clothing – but could it also refer to emotional provisions? If we take Grandma a plate of food for dinner, but we barely speak to her in the process, is that pleasing to God’s heart? In addition to providing for physical needs (if there are any), think of family members who may wish to have some of your undivided attention. My sweet grandmother is with the Lord now; but, when she was still with us, nothing was as precious to her as her children and grandchildren sitting down and having a good conversation with her. Do you have a nephew who would love nothing more than two solid hours with you – Christmas shopping, playing football, or even just going for a ride to see Christmas lights? What about your aunt who calls occasionally but is always afraid she is taking too much of your time? Do you have any family members who need more of you in their lives? You probably do!
- Your Co-workers – “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (I Corinthians 10:24, ESV). Often more challenging than neighborhood neighbors are cubicle neighbors. When I worked as an academic advisor, three ladies kept me sane and I still think of them often (you know who you are!). In my data processing position, I worked with a handful of awesome guys and gals who made coming to work a pleasure. However, in some of my various jobs, co-workers would occasionally emerge who made life slightly less bearable – some maliciously and others unknowingly. When I was a teenager, I worked for five years as a runner for a small law firm and I loved being a part of the office. Because I was a part-time employee and space was limited, I had a small desk, but no phone (as I generally did not need one). When I needed to make a call, the ladies in the office were very accommodating and let me use theirs. Somewhere along the line, a thin, no-nonsense lady joined the team, and while I cannot remember her name, I do remember the day she walked in and saw me talking on her phone. Her face became tight, and as though she was holding back a sea of fury, she adamantly requested that I not use her phone. She seemed utterly disgusted and her response broke my tender heart. So, I cried, and then decided I was going to win her over. When others in the office did not want to deal with her, I tried my best to be kind. When her final day at the firm arrived, I was the only office worker who showed any sadness at her departure; and, as serious and straight-laced as she was, I think I could detect a hint of appreciation from her. Interestingly, what started as a quest to win her over ended up changing my In treating her with kindness, I started to genuinely like her. Do you have a co-worker who works on your nerves or flat out antagonizes you? Maybe Christmas is a good time of year to start pouring on the kindness (and then keep on doing so!). Pray for him or her in private and show graciousness in public. Take a small treat to work and leave it on his or her desk with a Christmas card. Invite him or her to a Christmas party. Start the process of winning this person over with some genuine Christmas goodwill.
- The Homeless and Struggling – “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17, ESV). Just as I struggle to go into nursing homes, I have a similar struggle visiting shelters or ministering to those who have nothing. My constant thought is, “What could I possibly do to make their lives better? I feel powerless.” But, what we have to remember in those situations is we serve a God who owns everything and sees everything. He can take the small offering we have and multiply it. Don’t despise your work at the soup kitchen, your money spent on gifts for them, or especially your prayers and hugs. Sometimes they simply want another human’s touch. Help to clothe and feed them and give them your precious attention. You have more to offer than you think.
- Your Enemies – “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45, ESV). Paul wrote to believers, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18, ESV). We all know several people who make following this mandate easy and at least a couple of people who make it difficult. Approaching someone who has a problem with you is never easy, but it is necessary. It would be nice if we could say “Well, she does not like me, and there is nothing I can do about it, so I guess I will just avoid her.” But, Romans says, “as far as it depends on you,” which indicates we at least have to try. Sometimes our attempts to live peaceably pay off and sometimes they do not. So, if you have someone in your life who is unkind, snarky, or flat-out hateful to you, take a deep breath and show them some Christmas cheer anyway. Whether he or she receives your gift with gratitude or disgust, you can take joy in knowing the Lord is pleased with your obedience.
Who did I forget? Who else could use some love and kindness from you this holiday season? Is there someone who popped into your mind immediately when you started reading this post? Begin brainstorming some ways you can make a difference in his or her life and never underestimate the power of a small but loving gesture.
We have two weeks to go, everyone! Enjoy every minute of it, even the minutes you spend in checkout lines and traffic. Crank up the Christmas tunes and jam!
Who needs some of your attention this Christmas?