My Grown-Up Christmas List

grown-up-listLike many of you, I find myself in a reflective state at this time of year. Another Christmas. Another year over. (And what a year this has been.)

Many of us pray for peace and for an end to suffering, oppression, injustice and loss — yet it seems that our world never really inches closer to that wistful goal. It’s easy to become discouraged and to wonder where God is in all of this. The reality is that when I am an old woman many years from now, our world will likely still be mired in corruption, war, oppression and injustice.

But it is not hopeless. Though “it is finished,” what happens here still matters. Our response to what is happening around us will make us into people of the Spirit — loving, joyful, kind, peaceful — if we will let it.

Since I desire all those things in my life, this is what I hope to be a vessel for this year.

Quiet.

There is so much noise in the world today, so much shouting. When it’s too noisy, I can’t hear anything — not you, not myself, and not what I sense is God. There are many ways in which I can seek quiet in my life, my mind and heart and offer it to my environment — but it takes intention. I can certainly find quiet by talking less and listening more, and by unplugging from voices of negativity, fear and shame. A huge benefit to seeking more quiet is that my experience has been that God communicates in a gentle whisper most of the time, and so it is so much easier to hear him when I am quiet. Fear does not not thrive in the calm and quiet. Trust does.

A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger. ~ Proverbs 15:1

Attention. Presence.

Karen Maezen Miller writes that “attention is the most concrete expression of love.” All my loved ones deserve my focused attention and presence. There is no greater gift I can give them. I have had to seriously assess my social media use because I did not like the distraction it was causing me. I don’t want my children to remember me distracted. My parents who have given me so much loving support and attention over the years, I need to support them as well and give them my attention. The same is true for my extended family and my friends. We all know when someone is really listening to us and when they are not. You know you are loved when someone hears you, sees the real you, and sticks around.

Strangers need our compassionate attention as well. While I can’t possibly give my full attention to everyone I encounter, I can make a concerted effort to pay more attention. I’ve experienced it myself as a sometimes-harried mother out with my children. Strangers have the power to lift burdens or add to them with the smallest of things — a smile, an encouraging word, a glare, muttered criticisms. These things, good and bad, take only seconds, but they are so powerful. They truly can make or break someone’s day (or week).

Creation testifies to a present, attentive God. We always have his attention and presence. We have only to turn our minds to him and to open our eyes to the miracles around us. They may not seemingly be the big ones we desire, but our eyes simply don’t see even close to everything. He’s got this. Life isn’t going to make a lot of sense because no matter how we try, we humans can’t see the forest for the trees. But the hopes for better within our own hearts are there because humanity was created for all things good, beautiful, just, honourable and true — and deep down, we all know it. This life is only the beginning. Much better is to come once we’ve learned the lessons that only suffering can teach us.

“We can never have enough confidence in God who is so good, so powerful, so merciful.” ~ St Thérèse of Lisieux.

Belonging.

Shame-research and author, Brené Brown, writes that belonging is a primal need that we all have — and that it is not the same as “fitting in.”

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. ~ Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection.

I can offer those I love and those I encounter a sense of belonging that has nothing to do with agreement and conformity. For true belonging to occur, there must be no requirements for friendship, and no disqualifiers — only acceptance at the soul level. Time and again, I’ve seen (and experienced) friendships built on commonality implode when disagreement occurred. There was never true belonging when that happens. True belonging only happens when people are permitted to be vulnerable and to be their true selves without fear of rejection. I want to be braver this year about letting my friends see my true self, and to refuse to “hustle” for their approval as Brown writes that all humans are so prone to do. I know the result will be a stronger sense of belonging for me and for my friends (the ones that stick around at least). And I wish most of all for my children to feel safe sharing their true selves and vulnerabilities with me always. These kinds of relationships are precious and all too rare. They are heaven sent.

God offers us exactly the kind of belonging that we crave. It’s so easy to doubt it, but it’s true. Our true selves really are safe with him and he loves and accepts us in all our imperfection.

The “Third Way.”

…true peace does not exist until there is justice, restoration, forgiveness. Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free. ~ Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

The answer is not aggression and oppositional energy, and it is not to turn away from the many difficult challenges our world faces. There is a third way — Jesus’ way that honours all life, and sets both the oppressed and the oppressors free.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease. ~ O Holy Night, lyrics

How countercultural — how unlike retribution-obsessed humanity throughout history and today — and yet, how incredibly beautiful and right.

Merry Christmas, and a very happy New Year.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

 

 

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