Christmas is the one time of the year when my entire family makes the biggest effort to get together. You would be amazed at the time and energy we spend throughout the year to plan one week of vacation. Everyone weighs in to pick a location, flights are booked months in advance, hours are spent pursuing reviews on Tripadvisor.com to pick the best accommodations and an extensive menu of our favorite holiday foods is amassed on a Google document and shared with each member for review. We then board planes, trains, buses and cars and brave snow, rain, wind and fog to gather together and share where life has taken us in the last 51 weeks.
Yet, shortly after carols are sung, gifts are exchanged, and final remnants of the Christmas feast has been finished….the bickering begins! It’s the smallest of infractions that gradually disrupts the delicate harmony of our limited quality time. It’s the natural heightened emotions, unmet expectations, unresolved grievances and reopened wounds that result in spending time with those you love most. After all, the places we choose to meet may have changed, but the faces and, unfortunately, the baggage they bring has not. Year after year, we carry with us attitudes and mindsets that only those closest to us may recognize.
I observed this ritual, on our final days of vacation, as we began to repack and part ways in preparation for another year. It made me stop to consider what patterns of my character that I knew needed to change was I continuing to carry with me from place to place. This form of introspection is common, as many slow down from the hustle of the holidays in order to reflect on the past year and scribe a thoughtful list of resolutions that could lead to a better future and more evolved sense of self. But what I’ve noticed over time is that many list toppers--lose weight, quit smoking, reduce stress, have better time management, get out of debt, and spend more quality time with loved ones, are based on our shallow ability to modify our behavior. They have little to do with a much needed change of the heart that only God can work within us, if we let Him.
While there is nothing wrong with making resolutions, we must also realize that when the clock strikes midnight the only thing that will change is time. There is no magic. We still bring our old selves into the New Year along with all of our grand expectations.
To be completely candid, I could stand to be a lot more compassionate. The baggage I carry with me into 2014 is a growing apathy and callous demeanor that has developed slowly over time. It sneaks up on me when someone less fortunate asks me for money on the street and I turn away in annoyance or when I neglect to help a friend in need if it will even slightly interfere with my daily schedule. It’s the idea that my needs take precedence over others because I believe that for some reason I’ve prayed/worked/strived harder to deserve my place in life and the things I want and need, especially when it comes to my time.
It’s through this self-involved nature that causes many close relationships to suffer and deteriorate, as well as drawing us further away from our call as Christians to be light and hope in a dark and lonely world. And as I’ve spent more time in the Word in the last few days of 2013, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians revealed a beautiful truth about the blessing of God’s grace when applied to our sinful nature.
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
I wish I could will myself to be more selfless. I wish writing the words “Love people more” on a list of resolutions would assure a change in my character by a certain date. But that’s not how it works. Instead, I’ve realized in this passage that my shortcomings are revealed as a method to not only remain humble but bring me closer to my Creator, who is the only one who can fix what is broken. I’m then reminded that God’s grace bestowed upon me enables me to show His love through grace to others in my daily life.
Grace is the simple act of saying please and thank you, paying a sincere compliment or kind gesture just because I can and being quick to apologize and humble in accepting someone else’s forgiveness. It’s going out of my way every day to find at least one opportunity to bless someone knowing full well that even if the act of kindness is not returned or fully appreciated God is always working behind the scenes to bless me in bigger and better ways.
If a label is required, then I declare that grace is my New Year’s resolution for 2014. But as I draw closer to God in the upcoming year, when I’m able to look back and find my heart has grown a little softer, if my response is a little kinder and my willingness to serve others a little stronger, I hope to surpass the need to rectify my weaknesses based on an annual date on a calendar. I want to have the same urgency for God to work within me on March 14th as I would on December 31st, as personal growth becomes less of a resolution and more of a way of life.
Like Paul, what weaknesses do you realize you need God to work within in order to reach a new level strengthen in 2014?
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