As I was driving into work yesterday, I started thinking about this Christmas season and what our family would do to celebrate this year. For several years now, our family has decided to forego gifts for each other and GIVE our money instead. Some years we would give a collected gift or donation, and other years we would all give to what our nuclear families felt led to give toward. Mostly, our “sacrifices” were financial.
But this year I have a different tug on my heart. As I continue to live among and invest in those who struggle with cyclical poverty and dependence on systems, I grow stronger in my conviction that most people living in America don’t need clothes, food, or STUFF. You guys, our government has literally set up a multitude of options and opportunities for people who are struggling financially in our country. Not to mention all of the non-profit organizations who also help. And can I just tell you, from an insider’s perspective, a very small number of those options actually help our neighbors out of their dependence.
I remember walking into a neighbor’s home last Christmas to drop some kids off after our reading program and stumbling over the gifts under their tree (as in, too-many-to-count). As I stood there, looking at all of these gifts, I thought to myself that I (an upper class, suburban child) didn’t even have that many gifts under the christmas tree growing up. Ironically, I was planning to talk to their mom that day about another opportunity she had (through a non-profit) to receive some gifts for her children for Christmas. But after being blind-sided by what I saw…I hesitated. Do they really need more gifts? I knew I needed to follow through, so I asked if she would be interested and she said “Of course!”…and I just stood there in disbelief. What have we done…
And before anyone starts thinking that I am generalizing here, I am going to sneak in a disclaimer. This is NOT everyone. And even for this family that I speak of, they alone are not solely responsible for where they are now. There are families in our country who are longing to give their families a Christmas that is meaningful and are so appreciative of whatever help they can receive. I have seen this first hand, our family helped families like this. My intention here is to draw you into the PAUSE that I am feeling…a moment to think about what we are really doing to benefit those we are reaching out to this Christmas.
And this is where my heart stirred on that day in the car…
First, with conviction. I am prone to take the easy road. There are many days when I want to or just plain DO choose to “sacrifice” some money for the sake of saving my time and energy. And sacrifice is a loose term as you can see, because it doesn’t feel that sacrificial when you are giving what you HAVE. It is easy for me to come to Christmas every year and give some gifts to those in need, because it doesn’t require me to get messy…to dive into the deep junk that comes with living at the bottom of the totem pole in our society. And for those of you living in the suburbs…I’ve been there too. It was easier for me to shovel my neighbor’s side-walk as an “act of service” than it was to invite them in for a meal and engage in their lives. If there is anything that I have learned about people – broken, messed up people (which includes me, by the way) – it is that our deepest need is relationship.
Second, with action. What if we, as a family, give the gift of intentional relationship to another family, or neighbor, or co-worker this Christmas. What if our gift actually feels like giving something instead of feeling like we are checking off our “good deed.” What if we give a gift that someone actually needs. If we do this, then we have to be ready to give up more than what we’ve got for the sake of someone else. Which brings me to my final point…
Jesus. Our atonement. Our sacrifice. HE gave up his will for the sake of mankind. He gave up his LIFE – every minute, every moment, every breath – to give a gift to us. Relationship with him. And right before ascended to heaven he gave US a charge and a challenge – to make disciples. Relationship. Giving up time, money, and energy for the sake of others.
I truly believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give this Christmas is the blessing of relationship. Our family can become a family for someone else, our kids can become someone’s joy, our dog can become someone’s companion, our home can become someone’s safe place, our life can become an example for someone to live by, our words can remind someone of who they are and who’s they are. Our family, our person, is a gift to others. And so this begs the question…Am I willing?
Are you willing?