It’s December. . .again. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I am not a fan of what we call “the holiday season.” I have fond memories of Christmas from my childhood and early adulthood. I suppose my feelings began to change when my sister’s family moved to Texas, and there were no more Christmas celebrations with my nephews. When you are single and don’t have children, there is less wonder and joy in the proceedings. And, as time passed, I became increasingly disenchanted with how Christmas is celebrated in our culture. I saw this perfectly displayed on a front lawn in my neighborhood, where a large inflatable Santa Claus towered above a small nativity scene.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.2 Corinthians 9:7-8
Yet I can’t honestly blame my holiday grumpiness on a deep desire to see God glorified in the celebration. I have come to the conclusion that much of my attitude stems from not liking to be told what to do. When I look back, I recall being more generous to the people around me and enjoying Christmas celebrations more. But at some point, I became jaded by the demands, assumptions, and expectations of the people around me. I don’t like being told how to spend my time and money; I don’t like being encouraged to over-eat. Last year, when I was out of the office for a day, I got included in a “Secret Santa” activity. My knee-jerk response was intense anger. In hindsight, I over-reacted. This was the first clear indication that my real problem was with people deciding for me what I would do, not with the activity itself. I followed through with participating, and enjoyed blessing a co-worker with a gift, but it took me time to get over the anger of other people telling me how to spend my money.
God has convicted me that anger and grumpiness don’t honor Him, in December, or any other time of year. I have tried different tactics to be a happier participant in the festivities, but what makes me happy and what makes other people happy seem to be in opposition to one another. I am trying to decide whether, this year, I will give in and let myself be dictated to, or if I will decline to participate and offend people. Will I find more joy in pleasing other people, or doing what I want to do? When I weigh out the options, it feels like a no-win situation. I keep thinking to myself, I just want to be left alone. Yet, I know that is not the real desire of my heart. I am tired of feeling alone in this life. I suppose what I want is to share the celebration with people who aren’t making demands of me. My family fits the bill, but I spend a lot more time at work than I do with family.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.1 John 4:9-10
The greatest joy I have found in this season is Operation Christmas Child. Perhaps this ministry has replaced the joy of buying gifts for my nephews, who are now adults, with the joy of buying gifts for impoverished children. I remember that when a friend first introduced me to this ministry, I was resistant to her efforts to get me more involved. I have to laugh that what I once resisted, I am now am eager to do. Each year, my participation increases. Packing and processing shoebox gifts is what I think of when I hear, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. . .” I have learned that I enjoy most giving the gifts that no one asks for. I want it to be my idea! So, as I pack shoeboxes, I know that they are going to children who, for the most part, have never received a gift. They wouldn’t ask for one because it is a foreign concept. What greater delight could there be than giving to these unassuming recipients? I spent Wednesday at the local Operation Christmas Child processing center. I wanted each box that went through my hands to be a perfect gift for the child who would receive it. I suppose whenever I give a gift, I want it to be perfect and make the recipient happy. But the more we have in this life, the harder we are to please. Maybe that is why it seems easier to not get involved in the festivities than try to please other people.
I know that my attitude needs work. I have been praying that God will soften my heart and will lead me to make good decisions about what to participate in and what to skip. Once I have decided, I need to follow through joyfully. I have to remember that I have made a choice. Reluctance and grumpiness don’t glorify God. Ultimately, I want to be a God-pleaser and not a people-pleaser. And therein lies the true wonder of Christmas: Jesus came to earth to give His life for us, taking the punishment for our sin, and creating a way in which we can actually please God. I cannot earn God’s good graces with my behavior. I try to please Him because I love Him. I love Him because He first loved me, and sent His son. . .