The holiday season is a time for giving. When most of us think of giving, we think of gifts. The mere thought of tackling that Christmas list can be daunting. Maybe there isn't enough money to buy the gifts you'd like to give. Or perhaps you have a few of those "hard to buy for" people who have everything. So you put on your Betty Crocker hat and spend hours in the kitchen making cookies, sweet breads, and fudge to give as gifts. You make homemade ornaments and other Christmas crafts, or you buy another pair of socks and another boring tie.
I'm going to ask you to think a little less traditionally about gift giving, and consider giving of yourself this holiday season. I've been reading Rick Warren's new book "God's Power to Change Your Life". In his book, he discusses a well known topic - the fruits of the spirit. I got to thinking about how wonderful it would be to make a conscious effort to give one or all of these nine gifts. These gifts can be given to anyone and everyone, they cost you nothing but your heart, and they never go out of style.
What is love? So many people think of love as a strong feeling we have. We love our kids, our spouse, and our friends, especially when they are nice to us. But do we love people when they are unlovable, or do we love people who have hurt us deeply? Love is a matter of choice, and love is an action, not a feeling. How can we stretch ourselves and offer love in the most difficult situations? Give the gift of forgiveness to someone you've been holding a grudge against. Think loving thoughts of people when they are really aggravating you. Act lovingly to someone you do not like, and pray for people that mistreat you.
The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, but yet many of us don't feel it. We equate joy with happiness, but the two are not the same. Your happiness depends on your circumstances - whether you're having a good day or bad day. Joy, on the other hand, is an attitude we can choose to have. Regardless of our situation, we can choose to be joyful. Consider changing your perspective and chucking self-pity. Focus on God's love and His plans for you, which are always good, even when you have to walk through the valley first. Give the gift of gratitude, cheerful giving, and service. Everyone loves to be appreciated and served with a smile.
Most of the time, the holidays are anything but peaceful. The stress that often comes with holidays makes for a chaotic time. So how can you offer peace to the people around you when they most need it? Spend time in prayer so that you can receive the spiritual and emotional peace that comes from God. Then you can give relational peace to others by having an internal sense of peace and turning away from conflict. Meet criticism with a calm and listening ear, instead of defensiveness. Offer compassion and understanding instead of anger and fighting words. Manage your own stress so you can be an example to everyone around you.
Rick Warren says you can test your patience in four ways. How do you deal with interruptions? How do you handle inconveniences? How do you respond to the irritations in your life? What is your reaction when you have to wait? Let's face it. The holiday season can really test our patience. Whether it's having to drive to 5 different stores to find the one toy that is out of stock, dealing with irritable and snobbish people, or waiting in endless lines, our reaction is the true test of how patient we are. Give the gift of patience by developing a deeper love for people, changing how you view situations, learning to laugh at the craziness, and depending on God to see you through the stressful times.
Do you ever stop and ask yourself how you can be kind to someone today? Acts of kindness require thoughtful effort. Smiling at people who are having a bad day is an act of kindness. Kindness can be expressed by taking the time to listen to someone who is hurting. Giving people genuine compliments and seeing the best in people is a way to show kindness. Go out of your way to do something nice for someone, and don't wait until it's convenient for you because that time often does not come. In this busy world, everyone can benefit from a little kindness.
According to Rick Warren, "God says in his Word that the good life is not based on looking good, feeling good, or having goods. He says the good life is a life filled with goodness - being and doing good. When you are being good and doing good, you are going to feel good, and you are even going to start looking good - or at least looking better." How can you give the gift of goodness? By being and doing good according to God's word, and not the world. Whenever I am perplexed by how to handle a tough situation, I always ask myself, "What would Jesus do?" How would Jesus offer goodness to people this holiday season?
Giving the gift of faithfulness means you are reliable, trustworthy, dependable and consistent. If you say you're going to do something, do it. If you make plans to meet a friend, follow through with the plans, and do not cancel. Keep your promises and be a woman of integrity. Let people know you can be depended on for help this holiday season. Avoid gossiping and instead be a trustworthy friend. Be faithful to God by spending time everyday thanking Him for the love and blessings he gives you, as well as giving of your time, talent, and financial resources. We all need faithful people in our lives - don't underestimate the power of this gift.
Everyone loves a gentle spirit. Gentle people are well liked and offer the gift of love and healing to wounded souls. There are so many ways to be gentle to people. Consider having compassion and understanding by being able to set aside your own needs and see things from someone else's point of view, instead of demanding your own way. One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone is that of being non-judgmental. Have you ever wanted to share something that was really important to you, but you feared how people might judge you? How good it would feel to be able to open your heart to someone that was totally non-judgmental. Gentleness involves talking to people with respect and disagreeing peacefully. James 1:19 says, "Let every man be quick to listen but slow to use his tongue, and slow to lose his temper".
Give yourself the gift of self-control. Many of the problems we face in our life develop from a lack of self-control. Whether we face weight loss issues, financial debt, bad habits, or disorganization, the root of the problem usually starts with us. So how can you give yourself the gift of self-control? It starts with taking responsibility and committing to change. Think positive, believe in yourself, and do not let your past failures dictate your future success. Ask someone in your life or hire a life coach to hold you accountable to the change you'd like to make. Stay away from anything that tempts you to backslide on your goal, and rely on God's power to see you through to the end. While the holiday season is about giving, you too deserve a gift.
There is no reason to worry about money or buying the wrong gift because everyone appreciates receiving gifts from the heart. So this holiday season give your family, friends, neighbors, strangers, God and yourself the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.