I love gifts. I love giving them, and I sure as heck love receiving them too. But a few years ago, I learned a lesson that gifts that come straight from one heart to another are treasured a lot more than what’s usually found under a Christmas tree (more on that below). Gifting someone a pair of socks is great – it’s practical and useful. Yet, giving something to someone that leaves them with warm fuzzies, makes them feel loved or in some way advances their faith walk, will have an even greater impact. Long after that pair of socks comes undone and is a distant memory, giving someone a memory to treasure will be far more appreciated.
Back in my first year of seminary in Canada, I wasn’t able to go home to India for Christmas as it was too expensive. I bid farewell to my brother seminarians as they left for the Christmas holidays and settled into our community house all alone, expecting to have one of the loneliest Christmases I had ever had. But God had another plan. Word got around that I was going to be alone in a foreign country for Christmas and the doors began opening. I landed up spending Christmas Eve with one family and Christmas day with another, as several families competed to make me feel loved and welcome in a new city. I encourage you to consider doing something similar this Christmas.
There’s bound to be someone in your parish or neighborhood, or maybe even a relative or friend, who has no place to go for Christmas and is spending it all alone. It may not be a single individual, but it could also be a family that’s going through a challenging time because of a death in that family or some other troubling situation. A little cheer this Christmas could be spread through you. Perhaps you don’t necessarily need to have them over. A family that’s going through financial difficulties may appreciate help with getting a decent meal for themselves or gifts for their kids. If you know someone’s going through a rough time this Christmas, for whatever reason, send some love and compassion their way in a tangible way.
The holidays can be a challenging time for most families. There’s always some drama, especially in the kitchen as the Christmas meal gets prepared or as families get ready to go to Church and someone’s hogging the bathroom. In my family, it’s usually trying to get everyone organized for Christmas pictures with aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Thankfully, we all have a good laugh about it afterward.
Not all these dramatic moments end on a positive note though. The holiday season can be a source of pain and hurt for some people. The problem is that old baggage usually surfaces as little annoyances trigger older and deeper wounds. The Beatitudes teach us to be merciful, for mercy will be shown to those who show mercy (Matt 5:7). So, tap into your capacity to be a source of mercy this Christmas. It could be in the little things you do that make you an example of peace and forbearance. Or it could be about bigger things too. If you’ve been holding a grudge against a loved one for a while, use this Christmas as an opportunity to forgive them for something they did to hurt you.
Better yet, if you know that you need to make amends with someone for something you did, don’t miss this wonderful occasion to reconcile with that person whom you hurt. Obviously, how this is done would depend on relationship dynamics, so pray about it and talk it over with a friend before doing anything. In any case, forgiving someone is a decision we make and then live out. Whether or not we actually tell the person verbally is sometimes a secondary matter.
Bring Christ back into Christmas! If you can find a way to take someone even the smallest step further in their faith, you will have given them a gift for a lifetime. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have had a personal encounter with Jesus at some point in your life, share that! Be strategic about it, so that the opportunity to testify about your new life in Christ is not wasted. Knowing whom you will meet around Christmas, plan ahead and look for creative ways to share your own spiritual journey, so that you speak to each person you want to witness to in ways that will most effectively reach them.
Most parishes have some gatherings planned around Christmas time catering for people of all ages. Find out when the kids will be having their event and when the youth group will be having their Christmas party and take a loved one to these programs.
Encourage friends and family who may either be lukewarm or may have fallen away from their faith, to go to Confession, or at the very least, to accompany you for Mass on Christmas Day. If you give someone a check for Christmas, suggest that they use that money to attend Alpha or some other local retreat (or if you know them well enough, just go ahead and pay the registration fees yourself and tell them the retreat is their Christmas gift).
Think about your Christmas memories from over the years. Can you list every gift you ever received? Probably not. But think about the ones that you do remember. Do you remember the material gifts you received or do you remember the ones that struck a chord in your heart? Giving of your love, mercy and faith will leave you immeasurably fulfilled. For now, just think of it as a gift to yourself. The joy you will feel in knowing the difference you made in someone else’s life this holiday season will be the best gift you can give yourself this Christmas.
Think your child could never live without the material gift that they desire? Watch this powerful video as impoverished children are given the choice of receiving the gift that they want for Christmas or being able to give a loved one a gift.
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