I love Christmas.
Love everything about it…
Except for the sharp sides of humanity that sometimes cut through our illusions of perfection.
The truth is:
Sometimes Christmas feels hard.
The holidays can bring us face-to-face with:
Illness (physical sickness, or depression).
Loss and grief.
Loneliness or feelings of isolation.
Loving well when you’re hurting or struggling is hard, fifty-two weeks out of the year.
But Christmas time can accentuate the pain, and leave us feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or even completely shut down emotionally.
Today we’re going to talk about that, and unpack a few ideas that I pray will encourage and strengthen you at this holiday season.
If you’re not in a hard place right now, then I imagine you know someone who is.
This can help you love and support them well, too.
In various ways, I’ve experienced each of these struggles too.
I know that you’re no stranger to these very common pains of being a human in a broken world.
So, how can we love well when these (or other) struggles make the holidays feel hard, or even impossible?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and the Scripture that keeps coming to mind is Romans 12:18:
If it be possible, as much as lieth within you, live peaceably with all men.
Within this verse, I see at least three dynamics of loving well:
The second phrase in this verse states, as much as lieth within you.
Other translations say it this way:
As far as your responsibility goes… (PHILLIPS)
So far as it depends on you… (ESV)
Taking personal responsibility is the first step in loving well.
Everything doesn’t depend on me, but I am definitely responsible for a few things:
- my attitude
- my responses
- my expectations
For me, a really huge part of this has been to intentionally let go of expectations of other people.
I can’t expect others to make me happy, or even to make me feel loved or valuable.
I have to find fulfillment to those human needs in Jesus Christ.
And when I am full and whole in Christ, it’s a lot easier to let humans be humans.
The other side of letting go of expectations is that I can’t demand that others respond when I love them/forgive them/invest in them.
In fact, people may or may not respond at all.
Or they may respond in ways that feel hurtful, or even devastating.
>>>>> Bottom line: I can’t control other people, and God doesn’t hold me responsible for them.
I am responsible for my own choices.
I can always choose to love well.
Love is Proactive
Did you catch that last little clause in this verse?
Live peaceably with all men.
A quick look at other translations reveals the same thought:
Live at peace with everyone. (PHILLIPS)
Live peaceably with all. (ESV)
This tells me that love is proactive.
The command is to live.
Living requires a lot out of us, even in the hard and impossible times.
What does proactive living and loving look like?
It can mean reaching out, even when others may not respond.
It can mean speaking life when others are choosing to be negative.
It can mean intentionally taking each day by faith, instead of giving in to crippling fear.
Loving proactively can look like a million different choices.
>>>>> Take a minute and think about what it would look like in your own life.
I was curious about this word, peace, as in live peaceably.
I looked up the Greek word from which this word is taken, and the idea is
- to be at one
So much of life is at odds with this idea of peace, isn’t it?
>>>>> I am strongly convinced that this peace has to originate from within.
Inner peace is not a personality trait that a few lucky people are born with.
It’s not a result of perfect circumstances, a great upbringing, and it’s definitely not a knee jerk reaction.
Inner peace has to be cultivated, and I tend to think it’s a lifelong process (and we have to start somewhere!).
When we intentionally cultivate inner peace and quietness, we have a rich source to draw from.
And it’s true: some situations, and some people, in our lives will always require us to draw deeply and give generously of this peace.
The good news is that Christ has provided everything we need to own this peace.
>>>>> It’s up to us to choose to live into that provision, to grow in that grace.
As we head into the Christmas week, let me share a few thoughts on choosing peace, and loving well.
>>>>> Sometimes peace means holding your peace.
Years ago, I read a great article called “Don’t Stir the Crazy Pot.”
Sadly, I no longer have access to that article; but the idea made an impact on how I view difficult situations.
Sometimes, the less said, the better.
Don’t stir the crazy pot; don’t even go there.
>>>>> Sometimes peace means saying no.
If ever there was a time of stress and over-commitment, the holiday season is it.
I don’t know about you, but for me it’s impossible to maintain an inner peace when my schedule is completely out of hand.
A few intentional no’s can save your peace-of-mind at the holidays.
>>>>> Sometimes peace means being thankful.
Consider this Scripture in Colossians 3:15:
Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called… and be ye thankful.
So often, gratitude (and peace) boils down to a matter of choice.
Are we choosing to focus on the goodness of God?
Or are we choosing to dwell on the negative and imperfect things (and people) around us?
No one said that this is an easy choice.
Just that it is a choice, which means it’s something over which we have control.
Perhaps that’s why God is calling us toward thankfulness, and away from our self-focus.
Thankfulness can bring inner peace.
>>>>> Sometimes peace means being accountable.
If you’re heading into an exceptionally difficult situation, or living through a hard season right now, please find an accountability partner.
Someone who will pray for you, support you, give grace and ask you some hard questions, if necessary.
A few ideas for an accountability partner:
- an older, trusted, emotionally healthy friend
- a mature spiritual leader or mentor
- someone outside your usual circle of friends or family (so as not to be emotionally engaged in your situation)
- a professional, Christian counselor
A Few Final Thoughts
Earlier this week, Jeremy read our Scripture reading for Advent.
I’ve heard and read this verse in Luke chapter two about a million times, but it struck me in a fresh way this time:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.
Have you ever really thought about that?
The angel’s announcement was wishing peace and goodwill (compassion, benevolence) toward mankind.
Friends, this is the reason Jesus came to us.
So his peace could cover our brokenness.
So his holy perfection could cleanse and heal our sinfulness.
>>>>> Yes, his goodness and kindness must meet us at our selfish places of pain and pride.
But that’s why He came.
To save us from ourselves.
Not necessarily save us from the hard places; but from ourselves.
Live deeply into his provision of peace this Christmas.
Here’s to living and loving well,
P.S. Looking for community? I’d love to connect with you over in my Living & Loving Well community on Facebook. (You can request to join right here.)