The time for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s is upon us. For Christians, of course, the most important of the three is Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s birth. But we also love the opportunity to thank God for all that he has given us during Thanksgiving. And who doesn’t enjoy celebrating the end of the year on New Year’s Eve? We love looking back on all that we have accomplished, reflecting upon new relationships, weddings and births. Sometimes we sadly reflect upon those we have lost and mourn the end of certain chapters of our lives. We look to the new year with joy because it represents refreshment, new opportunities, fresh starts, and new loves. Most of us look forward to this festive season.
But there are those who dread them as well. These are people who, for whatever reason, find themselves without friends or family this holiday season. They view all the tinsel and bright decorations with anxiety and stress. Holiday movies fill them with unhappiness. Hearing about other people’s fun holiday plans fills them with a kind of envy or at best, emphasises their lonely condition. The Holidays are nothing more than a torturous time for the lonely and we, those blessed with people to love and to be loved by, need to come to their aid.
I used to be one of those people, so I have a special place in my heart for them when the holidays roll around. They don’t have anywhere to be when the holidays come. They aren’t invited to any parties; no one is expecting their arrival for Turkey Day; no noisy nieces and nephews will be running around, trying not to get their uncomfortable finery dirty. For them, the holidays are a blaring commentary on everything they don’t have in life. It is a time of true depression and for some, even a desire for death. Let me tell you a little about my experience so that you can understand how it is for people without family on the holidays.
I grew up in a violent, broken family. Many people do. But mine truly blew apart with everyone hating everyone as adults. I remember trying diligently to get everyone to forgive each other in my young Christian life- but no one wanted it. Indeed, they got angry at me for my efforts. My father, a career Army soldier, moved us many times throughout our childhood. This made it impossible for us to make long term friends. For every year of high school, I went to a different school. I left high school with only one friend with whom I could claim a bond. This left me as a young adult in society with no family and one friend- and she lived many states away.
Once in the wide world, I could only meet people at work. Women couldn’t understand my desire for friendship (I asked one woman if she wanted to get coffee and she thought I was hitting on her!) and I knew I couldn’t approach men without sexual misunderstanding. It was impossible! I learned that you can’t make friends without some basis of society. I had to belong to something from which to grow. Yet I didn’t belong to anyone or anything- so… from where could I begin to safely meet friends?? I couldn’t figure it out and my loneliness persisted. I often thought, “even criminals have more friends & family than I.”
At the same time, God blessed me with an incredibly lucrative career. I could afford beautiful clothes, perfect grooming for my hair & nails, expensive cosmetics and whatever else my heart desired. But I was so lonely! I couldn’t tell anyone at work (and those were the only people I had to talk to) how lonely I was without appearing absurd. I was working as an international consultant at the time and everyone was young, smart and going places. We would often go out together to drink and de-escalate from the day’s work. But eventually, everyone would go home. I would hate that part because my apartment was empty.
When the holidays came, everyone had plans. They were going home to their husband’s parents or they were taking holiday here or there. They always asked what my plans were. My standard answer was, “I don’t know yet.” Inside, I panicked because I really didn’t have a clue what I would be doing. Would I really be completely alone that Christmas? Would I sit by myself in an empty apartment on Christmas morning? True panic would set in and I would go into emergency mode; did I know anyone in my address book with whom I could spend Christmas (or Thanksgiving)?? Thank God, I don’t think I ever actually spent either Thanksgiving or Christmas alone. Somehow, someway, I always managed to find someone with whom to spend those holidays. Now, upon reflection, I see that God had helped me during those times.
Today, now settled with good neighbors, a husband, children and a beautifully repaired relationship with my dear father, I think about all the lonely souls out there feeling exactly like I used to feel. My heart aches for them and I pray for them. I talk to my children about them during Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner to help them understand how fortunate they are and to help them to understand their need to reach out to others in need. And of course, when I see lonely people, I invite them to my home as much as possible.
I do hope that each of you actively looks around you before the holidays come. Look around the church; look around your work; look around whatever club you are in- is there a person you know is single and far from home? Is someone divorced and their children aren’t speaking to them? Is there someone whose husband or wife has died? Is there someone whom you suspect might be lonely? Invite them to come to dinner at your house. If they have plans for that one day, then have them come over a different day for a cup of coffee, a drink or dinner. Just get them out of the lonely place they live! If they are coming to your home for Christmas gift time, make sure that they get one too. A nice, well considered one.** You might be the only one in the person’s life who is showing any love at all toward them during the holidays. Imagine that. You might be the only person who is even seeing them and acknowledging that they are alive during the holidays. Every drop of human kindness you are bestowing is precious to them, especially if you act as if they aren’t lonely at all. You would be shocked how loved that person will feel. Do these things for someone and you will have loved your neighbor just as Jesus commanded you to do. And you will know that you have shared the true riches that God has given to you: friends and family to love and to love you back!
**p.s. a friend once took me home for Christmas because she knew I had nowhere to go. When it was time to open presents, Her mother gave me a little package. In it was a baseball hat that her dad had gotten from some rally. It was new, but he said something like, “Yeah, it was lying around for so long- I figured you might like it.” It hurt my feelings made me feel even worse than I already did. Better to give nothing than an unfeeling or offhand gift!
I am keenly aware of my deficiencies as a witness for Christ. I can’t think of a time when I said everything I wanted to say or said it as effectively as I would have liked. Indeed, I remember times when I felt that I needed to rebuke people within my witness. These episodes are almost always related to times I have spoken to atheists and vehement haters of God. I will admit that I felt great anger during some of these exchanges. I didn’t hate the people, but I detested what they said about God and Jesus and I denounced it in the strongest terms. I warned the speakers in the strongest terms. I chose to speak to them rather than simply walk away in the hopes of reaching the tiniest percentage who might be receptive. Is it not better to warn than to ignore? Might there not be someone there who is not so evil? Someone who might be receptive to God’s Word and his warnings? Those are the times when I am most troubled at night. That’s when all the doubts come flooding in.
Those are the times I lay my heart open to God, along with all my doubts and ask for forgiveness, grace and mercy. I beg for his wisdom and learning so that I can do it better the next time. After I pray to the Lord, I can’t help but feel that it was better to have spoken than to have walked away. It takes courage to speak under any circumstance; it takes valiant courage to speak when evil is being done against the Lord. That has to mean something in God’s eyes. I can’t help but feel that it is always better to say something rather than nothing. God is needed in every situation, even if we look the fools.
No one who tries to talk about the Lord does it right. That’s just a fact. None of us can be like Jesus who held the crowd’s rapt attention with his brilliantly spoken words. Instead, we bumble; we fumble; we are in complete darkness ourselves. Jesus said, “You do not know how wretched you are.” I am beginning to understand how wretched I am. This is a blessing because it means that I also know how glorious he is! The only light we have is our faith in what God gave us: His Holy Word. The Bible tells us that: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. “ Jesus = the Word =the Bible. Jesus and the Bible are the same. Thus, the Bible is the light at the end of a very long, dim tunnel.
God intended for us to be blind and deaf and dumb. We are nothing in comparison to him. That is as it should be. We are meant to stumble around like idiots as we try to tell people about God. We show the world our broken bones and our warts and our idiocy when we preach the Word of God. How can it be otherwise??? When the simple pot goes around telling the other pots about the Maker it was blessed to see, the other pots no doubt will mock the foolish pot. How can the cracked pot be qualified even to find the vocabulary to describe its glorious maker? How can the other, even more misshapen pot have the ears to hear about their Maker? Yet God does not make mistakes. Our foolishness and our ineptness must be part of his plan- his methodology. In fact, he claims this is so in the bible. He uses broken pots to deliver his message to prove that all power and perfection lies in God, not his creation. It is to confirm that every blessing they see upon the heads of the stupid pot could not possibly come from the crude crockery. It demonstrates, without any doubt, that the things we do with power, such as call things into being or out of being, cannot come from us- but from our God. Jesus said, “..for my power is made perfect in [your] weakness.”
This being so, I am always abashed and disheartened when one Christian rebukes another for not witnessing ‘correctly’. Especially when the critiquing Christian rarely, if ever, witnesses to strangers himself. Does it help to mention the one time a fellow Christian used a minor curse word out of the hundreds of times he witnessed in your presence? Especially if it was more humorous or descriptive rather than profane? Why tell the Witness that they were ‘too angry’ or ‘too mean’ when they were clearly confronting those who hate God with all their hearts? Why tell them that they were ‘too lenient’ or ‘too easy’ on those who are theologically mistaken, but love Jesus with all their hearts? Why say that he or she wrongly used scripture when they rarely read the Bible themselves and thus, are poor judges in the matter? Why distrust the Witness’ motive when there is no proof that he has had any other motive than to serve Jesus? Why gossip about the Witness when no evidence of wrongdoing has ever been found? Why is it that there always seems to be a small group of loud Christians ready to critique the few Witnesses strong enough to stand up against evil? Especially when those same Christians rarely witness outside the church themselves?
Thus, why take pot shots at the one pulling back the blanket from the pile of manure? Evil always hates the light and Jesus told us that he is the Light of the World. Through him, we are also the light in the darkness. He told us that we are not to cover our light but to shine it forth from a high place. Our job is to shine the light of truth on evil, not help it remain in the shadows by either ignoring it or by silencing those who would expose it. Wouldn’t it be better to address the manure that was uncovered? Would it not be better to warn others of the evil hiding in their midst? Or to help find a way to clean it up? Or even better, try to help those who are creating it to understand why it is wrong and how they can find peace in Christ?
It’s never easy to confront those who are already doing great evil against God. Most likely, they will tear you to pieces due to their hatred of Jesus. They are the pigs and dogs of which Jesus spoke. But there is always a chance that some who are with these evil people don’t really want to be there- they are just going along with the crowd- especially the younger people and children of these. Your message can get through to them, even if they never acknowledge you. Some are simply afraid to show interest. Witnessing to them, even imperfectly can save just one person. Isn’t one soul worth your embarrassment? Giving Witness to the truth of Christ matters in every situation, even when people are doing a great evil. Perhaps especially when they are doing great evil. Yet, this is when our witness will be the most challenged and imperfect. To me, it is worth our effort to try in these situations.
We all see the flaws in delivery when one of us stumbles forward to deliver the Word of God. Ignorant, damaged pots can hardly handle something so big, so holy, so devastatingly beautiful as the Word of God, can they? At least the Stupid Pot is trying- so help it! I call on all of you who Love the Lord to think before you criticize the method of delivery from someone else. Think before you criticize! Only satan would want to dishearten the Witness or make them feel like an even bigger fool than they already know themselves to be. Think whose work you are doing in this situation. Remember that God is the one in complete control. He doesn’t need perfection in our witness. All he needs is a willing heart. He sets the stage for the encounter. He opens the hearts of those listening. He knows what they need to hear- sometimes they need a gentle word and sometimes they need a stern rebuke. Let God guide you and trust that God is guiding your fellow broken pot. Though we stumble, mumble and botch the delivery, it doesn’t matter. We only need open our mouths with the intention to deliver and the Lord will do all the work necessary! Have faith in God!