‘Tis the Season to be jolly, right? Yes, it’s that time of the year to spread our good cheer as we go along our (Merry?) little way. But lately, I find myself doing something more like dashing through the woe, instead of the snow, and I have to tell you, that’s not very holly jolly, my friends!
I warn you now…this one is kind of long. Because it’s hard for me to open my eyes very wide on this one without going through quite a little process.
The last couple of days, I have, like most of the rest of you, been out and about trying to “get through” some Christmas shopping. Every year, no matter how I approach it, I end up feeling stressed and somewhat panicked as Christmas day approaches ever closer, even though I am fully aware that it is not about the presents and the treats! But I still need to go out and buy them, right? Because I do like to share gifts with others as a way of celebrating our Savior’s birth.
So why have I been in such a bad mood about it all? Why do I set out every single December saying to myself “I am going to keep the reason for the season in mind this year and not get stressed about any of it….I’m keeping the Christ in Christmas, and that’s all there is to it! I will go shopping with joy in my heart for the opportunity I am being given to celebrate Jesus in a special way.” But it hasn’t been happening quite that way (again, sigh) and tonight, I am thinking about just why that is.
Our merry little way isn’t always so “merry” is it? As I was shopping yesterday, trying to go store to store to take care of my sweet little list of well-thought out and heartfelt presents for those that I love in my life, I started to notice how grumpy everyone around me was. The employees at the stores would say “have a nice day,” and I could see what they really meant was “get out of my way.” People at the drive thru lines (when I would be there to get some coffee or something to drink – poor me, right?) were short and rude, didn’t look me in the eye, and displayed an overall sense of grumpiness and resentment that I was there adding to their long line of customers waiting for them to serve them. And let’s not even talk about how people were acting on the roads as they drove to their individual destinations.
Yep, everyone else’s poor mood was definitely impacting little ol’ me. Sniff. Was it my fault that they were rubbing off on me in such a horrible way? How could I be responsible for the fact that time and time again, when I encounter this type of discouraging behavior towards me, that after a while, I end up becoming grumpy and a little angry myself? Don’t they know that I need to have a nice day? Don’t they know what I might be going through and how this is impacting me? Why can’t everyone else just be nice, and then we (cough, cough, I ) can all have a decent day? Hmph!!!
And then Jesus reminded me……………just like He always does………….
“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Whoa. I sit here in wonder and awe once again, at my utter and complete selfish nature. I sit here thinking about the fact that I know this stuff and I know better, and I realize with everything that I am that it is up to me to act in love regardless of how others around me may be acting. I sit here and think, “how can you be so dense, Anne, after all this time to still not see it coming?” To still be in that place where I don’t see it at all! Where I don’t realize that it’s time to think outside of myself, especially when it’s time to truly be celebrating our Savior’s birth and all that He sacrificed during his life here walking this planet, and on the cross…for us.
Now, let me digress for just a moment here. Some of you may be thinking that I am being awfully hard on myself right about now. But I beg to differ. Why should we be held to a lower set of expectations than Jesus held Himself to? Believe me, I will not dwell on the negative aspect of this realization about myself forever, so if you are worried about that, please be reassured that I will be using this little life lesson to change and be more joyful, not to dwell in the abyss of self-condemnation. But to do that, I have to take a hard look in the mirror sometimes – and that means being a little hard on myself for just a few moments. That means opening my eyes to see the reality of what work it is that really needs to be done here. And opening our eyes is hard at times. They sting until we adjust our line of vision. Things become more clear once we look towards Christ. And that is exactly what I am doing right now.
So let’s get back to our wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ. HE didn’t cry and complain about how others around him were “affecting his mood” and HE certainly didn’t allow it to change how masterfully He displayed true love and compassion, affection and joy towards those very people. Not only that, but He even allowed Himself to suffer at the hands of those people; essentially at the hands of you and me. Of all of mankind; Of the entire world!
But He stood strong and firm in His love for us. And He still stands strong now. He is waiting, always, to equip us to do the same. Wow. What a wonderful and Mighty Savior we have, indeed.
Here I am thinking “poor me…the mean guy at the drive thru!” The fact I even have the luxury of going to a drive thru, of having food to eat at all, at having the money and the time to go out and exhibit acts of kindness for those that I love and give them nice presents? And here I am complaining within myself!
Beyond the fact that it’s time for a heart check today about all of this, and beyond the fact that I should appreciate what I have and what I am capable of doing, what is more important is the burning question of “what did I do to bring joy to others today?” Did I look them in the eye and truly smile from my heart? Did I mean it when I said (if I even bothered to say it at all) “how are you?” Did I conjure up a beaming smile from deep within and display God’s love and joy to others and wish them a truly Merry Christmas? Did I thank them for all they do for us each and every day at their job and through their acts of service? Did I pull aside or slow down or speed up a little to make someone’s experience on the crowded roads a little easier? Did I really even bother? Did I really show I care?
The answer is a resounding “no.” At least, not enough. I gave up. I threw up my hands. And in that, I somewhat failed. But there is great joy to be had in the face of that failure, because God brings correction into our lives and helps us to press further in to what we know to be true and turn that into good action for change if we only do the asking. And it is all for His glory!
If we never fail at anything, we don’t realize we still need work, we don’t get that reminder (that we definitely need, quite often) that we still, and will always need God, that we still need to stay vigilant about showing His light and love to others, day in and day out, moment by moment, in every smile, every look, every “how are you” in every.single.solitary.thing.
In this, lies true joy and true “success” in living out the Christian life and the calling that the Almighty has placed into our hearts and minds, because it reminds us of just who we can really be in Christ if we only allow Him to do His special and magnificent work in us, even and especially through our failures.
I think of Philippians 2:3-4 as I prepare to close my thoughts on this tonight…..
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
In a world that loves the motto “it’s all about me” this is hard to do, to say the very least. It is far easier to blame it all on everyone else. It’s convenient to say “I tried, but everyone else brought me down.” It’s simple to hide behind an excuse like “well, I decided to just shut down a little because I was getting in a bad mood and not saying anything was just better.” It’s tempting to think about employing the principle of “if you don’t have anything nice to say (or do) then just don’t say (or do) anything at all.” But that’s not the whole truth. That’s not God’s full will for us. That’s just halfway, if even that. And that’s just far too easy.
I talk to myself here more than anyone else when I say that we are specifically told by God we have to try – all the time, not some of the time, or just when it’s easy for us. We are asked to go far beyond just “not being mean back.” We are asked to basically suck it right on up, my friends, regardless of what others do or don’t do and to even put them before ourselves – especially when we don’t feel like it!
Trust me, I get it – we certainly are not Jesus! But we are asked to try to be like Him (what better calling can there be than that?). We are asked to allow Him to work through us to show His love to others and glorify His name. And even if we never get to see the results, even if it makes us very weary, even if others decide to punish us for it, He promises that He will work His will into the world and in each of our lives for good. But we have to do our part. Annie definitely has to do her part, and has a long way to go!
Jesus sacrificed Himself for every single sin and wrong-doing that we ever committed or will ever commit. He willingly took that punishment upon the cross in order to cover all of our sin. He was spit upon, mocked, whipped, beaten, and then crucified. But he did rise again. And he reigns in heaven, and he reigns within us!
And my little “punishment” today was that some guy in a store or a drive thru didn’t smile back at me.
Seems pretty trivial when I really look at it. When I truly open my eyes and look at it in the whole of it all, I see that it’s actually a blessing. I have it pretty good; I have it exceptionally good. That is God’s grace in action, truly it is. He’s just placing that opportunity right there on a silver platter for the taking. He uses things that seem uncomfortable or unfair, trivial things in all reality, to bless us and bring us closer to HIM and closer to being able to be like HIM. Unbelievable. Unfathomable. I can’t wrap my mind around that kind of love – not fully. But I sure do appreciate it. And I sure do want to be able to display even just a glimmer of that towards others.
So today my friends, Annie’s making a list. She’s checking it twice. And she’s going to decide not to be naughty ~ she’ll be nice. Especially when she doesn’t feel like it.