This morning in my quiet time with God, I read the Upper Room devotion for today. The scripture was from 1 Peter 4:12-19. In my old Bible, an NRSV translation, I even have verse 19 underlined. “Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.” I lost it.
The news headlines this morning were that COVID-19 has spiked. More than 11 million cases with over 250,000 deaths in the U.S. The holidays are approaching, and we have to change how we do Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.
I read the news and then read the scripture. Every ounce of my rebellious nature roared! I heard myself shouting at God, “Seriously God?! I have to reinvent myself yet again?! Once more I’m supposed to endure suffering in order to be refined? When is this refinement ever going to end?
“I am more than 60 years old. I have been refined through natural disasters, domestic violence and divorce. You provided for me and trained me as a single mother and then as a graduate student and still a single mother. You refined me even more through the sudden tragic loss of a family member and then as I began my career as a counselor. I have experienced the refinement of 18 years as a church staff member (not as easy as it sounds). And then, to top all that off, I’ve been refined through the diagnosis of an incurable autoimmune disease and finally through dealing with breast cancer. Seriously God, isn’t that enough? This scripture might have comforted me in my twenties when this refinement business was just getting started, but I’m over 60 and six decades of refinement really seems like quite enough if you ask me!”
I am grateful that our God knows what to do with our anger. I fussed and fumed for a few moments. God listened. Then the most wonderful thing happened. God took my release of emotion and transformed it into the energy and focus I needed to write this blog post.
Here is the clarity I found. We are faced with the need to change how we celebrate the holidays. In those six decades of being refined here are four lessons I’ve learned, some the hard way!
- Adjust your attitude.
- Be flexible.
- Celebrate. Always Celebrate!
- Be grateful.
- Adjust your attitude.
I still remember the first Christmas my daughter was to spend with her father instead of me. I whined and complained in a support group about being alone, until someone in the group confronted me about my attitude. I remember being asked what gift I could give myself in her absence. At the time, my world so revolved around my child it took a moment to consider myself. And then I got it. Without having a five-year-old around to wake me, I could enjoy the peace and quiet of a morning to myself! Instead of whining about being alone, I could embrace the aloneness and make it a morning to cherish. So I planned ahead. I most likely had brownies and Dr. Pepper for breakfast as those were my favorite treats. I woke up slowly. It was probably my first, real intentional “quiet time” with Jesus. By the time the clock told me it was time to get ready to join family and friends, I was sad to let go of the quiet. It had been meaningful.
I’m not going to tell you it was the best Christmas ever. I can tell you it was far from the worst. I discovered the treasure of silence. And it is a Christmas memory I still cherish.
- Be Flexible.
Several years ago, I was helping with hospitality for a worship service in mid-February, right around Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day. I noticed a family gathering in the back. It looked like multiple generations and many of them were wearing red, so I complimented them on their Valentine’s Day attire. They all grinned. “It’s Christmas for us,” several family members corrected me. Then one young mother explained, “we wait until the weekend of Presidents Day to get together. It’s a long weekend so most of us can get time off. Travel is easier. And it takes the pressure off for Christmas Day. We’ve done this for several years and we all enjoy it.” They were all attending worship together just like they would on Christmas Eve! I still admire their commitment to gathering as a family and their flexibility to make it work for everyone.
It’s the kind of flexibility that recognizes that most of the dilemmas we face have more than an “either/or” answer. As you look at the challenges ahead in the next few months, give yourself permission to think “outside the box.” What other options are there for gathering? Jesus’ birthday can be celebrated at any time. Memorial Day weekend: We can honor those we’ve lost by celebrating our Savior! Or in July with fireworks! What matters most is to celebrate the gift of Jesus’ birth.
A few years ago, I served on the Care Ministry team that hosted a “Blue Christmas” worship service. Our guest speakers that year were Regina and Vernon Robinett. They described a Christmas when, for health reasons, they had decided to “cancel” Christmas with their family. No decorations. No big meal. No visitors. Their message to the rest of us was, “Do Not Cancel Christmas!” Canceling created more emotional pain for them than they could have anticipated. Besides, Christmas Day arrives whether we want it to or not. So they too scheduled a belated Christmas with their family.
We learned from them how important it is to honor Christmas even if it is in new and different ways. Set out the decorations that are meaningful to you even if you set out fewer. Adjust your meal plan and yet still do something that reminds you this is a day to celebrate. Consider doing something for others. Our missions team has plenty of opportunities for giving and doing something for others. Check out their webpage for ideas. And even if you are alone, you may discover the treasure of silence and spending “quiet time” with Jesus!
- Be Grateful.
Gratitude is what opens us up to new possibilities. It keeps us grounded in Christ’s love even as we try new things. So this year as we approach Christmas during a pandemic, I challenge you to take on an “Attitude of Gratitude” and of Discovery. What gifts can you give yourself this year when the usual hustle of the season is quieted? When you embrace the silence, how are you drawn into the presence of God?
I look forward to the day when we can safely worship together again. I cannot wait to hear all the creative stories of different ways you found to Celebrate!
Until then, have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving! Treasure the silence. Enjoy a different kind of season. Oh my goodness, will we have stories to tell future generations!
Speaking of generations, my visit with my Mother was wonderful. Thank you for your prayers.