In these last moments before Christmas, many of us are preparing final material gifts, food, cleaning, decorating, and all the special traditions we hold dear.
Do you have anyone left on your gift list?
Below is inspirational list of some of the more spiritual gifts we can offer family and friends near and far, hopefully helping us to see the Christchild in others.
ENDURING GIFTS OF SELF:
A new beginning
A fresh look
A smile, even through tears
A word of encouragement
An act of kindness
A helping hand
Another try, another chance
Want to know more about how to live and offer each one of these gifts over the holidays? Read on…
In human life, open minds and open hearts are needed to keep us human. It can be challenging to face people and situations that don’t share our views, values or lifestyle, even in our own families, but Jesus is an example of someone who is able to approach the lost and struggling with openness. Sometimes the best way to keep those we love close is to accept them as they are and surrender their poor choices to prayer. Sometimes, they need actual intervention.
Boundaries are important in life and in relationships, and are necessary for limiting harm in our life; in no way should we ever open up to evil.
Assuming we are defining openness in the context of growth in charity, Christmas can be a good time to reevaluate the structures in our lives and ask whether at this time these boundaries are still valid as they are, or if they have become more like walls and contempt.
It can be hard to be loving to people who are hurtful, and we are tempted to cut them off. There is a fine line between praying, loving, openness…and enabling. So, evaluate if there is new growth and space for openness. Perhaps there is something or someone that we now have the grace to crack open our hearts and minds to.
Practice envisioning God in each person you encounter // Consider opening up connection or invitation to the person you were going to avoid // Pray by name for someone hurtful who you have to keep at a distance.
Quality time can seem obvious, but in our supercharged culture, learning to just *be* with another can take practice. Time is one of the greatest gifts and can be a sacrifice. Focus on the quality element rather than the time calculation.
Pick a few advance conversation topics, or an activity that will create engagement between yourself and the person(s) you care about. Watching a movie is technically “time”, but the time that will sink right into the person’s soul is the time spent interacting with you. A suggested rule for true quality time: put away the devices, especially the phone. (Consider taking the courageous leap to turning it off? EEK!)
Want your giftees to feel cared about? Look them straight in the eyes, ask interesting questions and actually listen to their answers with periodic feedback. The telltale phone “chime” or vibration will break their concentration and establish the feeling that he or she is not really a priority right now. Conversely, meet people in person for those long overdue conversations or get togethers you’ve been planning for ages, and catch up with some quality time, while you have it.
Host a meal party with engaging topics // Take a hike together // Plan a hilarious PARTY GAME LIKE THIS ONE (click here for THE CATHOLIC CARD GAME link) // Gather everyone together for a group rosary // Sing Christmas carols // Actually schedule time to meet one on one with someone you’ve been missing
3. A new beginning
Everything about Advent and Christmas cries out, “It’s just the beginning!” As Christians, our “new year” begins liturgically with Advent, so we are already in the mode of newness of life and soul. However, it’s also possible that the material preparations have overcome us, and now is our time for peace. Either way, it’s as if we have all the hope in the world for a fresh start and a new beginning, for several weeks in a row.
What will your new beginning be this year? A new friendship? A new baby? A new attitude? A new perspective on your circumstances? We tend to mock the well-intentioned (and then dropped) new year’s resolution, but there is actually GRACE in this season for taking stock and planning realistic life changes.
HOPE is one of the essential elements of God’s virtue theology! Hope is from God. Give yourself permission to hope in good things for you, no matter how many sufferings you’ve borne. Where there is life, there is hope. Fight for it.
No matter what stage you’re at in life, give yourself permission to dream about a hope-filled future and what good desires God has placed in your heart // write your dreams down // Plan a retreat or getaway with prayer and relaxation to practice discernment // Take on something new with courage
4. A fresh look
Christmas leads us into a season of beauty all over the world. Christmas can remind us to look at people, situations, and our home differently. Let us be people of memory that retain and ponder the experiences and memories of Christmas, and practice new perspectives.
If at all possible, leave your Christmas decorations up for the full 12 days of Christmas, as a reminder that, for us, the octave of Christmas and the feast days all the way up until epiphany are as meaningful as Christmas Day // Take photos, then go back and look at the photos from the experiences of the holidays // Refresh decor with new flowers and decor as we enter into January // spend some time cleaning and donating anything that doesn’t bring you joy
5. A smile, even through tears
What an impact a sincere smile can make to the aching heart. It is very easy, especially with age, to grow a hidden underlying indignation and live with a more and more disgruntled visible affect. Particularly if we are suffering some burden, it can be easy to go around sighing and socializing our pain. It is natural: we are in pain and seeking relief.
It is scientifically proven that a smile can not only improve the moods of those around us, but it physically improves our own moods! Consider postponing worries, stresses and bad moods for later, and pausing to take some time – 15 minutes even? – to just begin counting blessings and smiling at ourselves and others. Your smile will be seen by God and is virtuous.
“A smile through tears is beautiful and is a prayer.” Pope St. John XXIII
Smile at everyone around, most of all when you’re tempted to get angry or upset // If you find life very burdensome and/or battle anxiety and depression, PRAY THIS LIFE-CHANGING SURRENDER NOVENA (CLICK here for the surrender novena LINK by the Norbertines of st. Michael’s Abbey, or simply google “surrender novena”)
6. A word of encouragement
It is of such little effort to us to make a kind word of encouragement, but to the person who receives it, it can mean everything.
Encouragement, also known as affirmation, takes a degree of empathy and selflessness to look into the other’s life and come up with something praiseworthy to say.
Warning: A word of encouragement is not the same thing as the passive aggressive remark that is a veiled cut. Deep down, not many people appreciate a tease, a sarcastic comment, or a joke about them. We sometimes have a family who revels in banter, but if it generally turns nasty, it can be a symptom of underlying hurts. If we are the ones who make these types of comments, we can strive to take deep breaths and think of the positive comments before speaking.
People love to be praised! Praising and affirming those around us leads to happy guests and interactions.
Enter into a family/friends gathering (or Christmas morning) with the specific determination to compliment or affirm every single person there // Try literally going one by one, as if on a list, remarking on some special feature or blessing about or meaningful to them, building everyone around you up // If you are a parent, some words of affirmation that children love – need – to hear, are: “You are lovely.”* “You have what it takes.”* “I love you.” “I’m so proud of you.” “I’m so grateful you exist.” “I’m so grateful to be your mom.”
*From John Eldridge’s books Captivating and Wild At Heart
7. An act of kindness
Whether overt or covert, acts of kindness take awareness of needs.
Sometimes we are so inundated by our own needs, that we fear responding to the prompts of the Holy Spirit. “Will this be well-received?” can also be a fear. Let us lean into our inspirations and discern them well and quickly.
Pray, then act. If we let the Holy Spirit work in us like Mary, our fiat could make an irreplaceable difference like hers.
HOLD THE DOOR OPEN // SECRETLY PAY FOR SOMEONE’S ORDER // light a candle for someone // give away a rosary // write a letter to someone you haven’t seen in a while // read a story to a child // make someone’s plate (Heat it up if it got cold)
Let us make space for silence on many levels this Christmas. In the early morning quiet and the late night glow of lights and candles, where we breathe in the true spirit of God’s love for us, we practice silence. We can be afraid of silence and to be alone with our own thoughts, but it is here that we can make space to take in the voice of God.
We also can practice silence of spirit in the midst of the flurry of activity, where, within ourselves, we can pause inside to thank, praise, pray, bless secretly. That little voice inside our heads? Everyone has it…and it’s where God can speak to us, if we listen.
We practice silence from negativity, so that there is space for blessing with words. Let’s keep mean words and thoughts inside and find a way to diffuse them. Avoid remarking on other’s flaws or faults or bringing up the most recent gossip. Share information and stories that are uplifting, if at all possible. If bad news is needed, we can impart it without drama. Take an intentional break from social media and bring on more peace by reading a book instead.
Say no to lesser priority activities or engagements that will be extra draining, so that you preserve energy for the priority activities // Prioritize love // Make time in the morning for prayer and reflection, in a quiet environment // Invite (or enforce, if you have small ones) a quiet down time throughout the day, so that everyone can recharge // Take breaks in a peaceful part of the house to recover from constant interactions and work through emotions // take time out in nature, away from busy-ness
Ahhhh…offering forgiveness is the epitome of the sacrificial gift, especially if someone has wounded us deeply. At times, forgiveness seems impossible, but with God’s divine life within our hearts through Grace, we can forgive. Oftentimes, unforgiveness keeps us bound in anger and sin, and can be a source of great pain and spiritual danger to our own souls…the devil often preys on unhealed wounds and unresolved conflicts. It seems unfair: we are the harmed, not the harmer…but, sadly, additional to the original injury done to us is the unforgiveness that grows in us later.
Offering forgiveness to someone who doesn’t deserve it or hasn’t even asked for it, can heal our own hearts, and can be done without facing the person… Perhaps this Christmas, we engage our will to forgive in secret, because we can’t bear to face the one who injured us.
If you don’t feel courageous enough to offer forgiveness, pray a prayer like, “I don’t forgive (so and so), because they don’t deserve it. I don’t even want to forgive (so and so). In fact, I wish them the same harm they did to me. However, I know these attitudes are harming my soul. So, I want to want to forgive, because I know you want this, Lord, and that it will heal my heart. Please help me want to want to forgive.” Even this most vulnerable prayer can work miracles.
The most healing balm for the wounded heart is the sacrament of confession. It is possible that even though we ourselves are the injured ones, if we confess the seemingly resentment, anger and unforgiveness that comes from the injury, and receive an outflowing of Grace for the healing.
It can also be consoling to look at how abused Jesus Christ himself was. From the moment of his conception, Jesus’ little life was marked with trial and tragedy, all the way up until his own death on the cross. He has been there…so he knows the ache of shame, bullying, betrayal, lies and torture.
Pray a prayer of forgiveness of others (by name) // Actively pray to release unforgivEness // Forgive as many times as it takes, because the feelings can crop back up // Make a hope-filled confession // If you are the one who hurt another, ask for forgiveness and make amends
10. A helping hand
There are myriad opportunities to serve this holiday. Whether it’s helping with food and dishes, warming up a car in advance, bringing the Eucharist to the homebound, or helping load tired kids into the car, or a kind gesture to a family struggling at mass (at least they’re there!).
Facilitate people’s happiness this week.
Find ways to help people relax by pitching in, even when it’s hard // Try to serve without complaining, but seeing Jesus in each person // offer to host
In close quarters, we see all sides of each person. Consider offering mercy to family, friends and even strangers, and letting go of small conflicts.
At the end of each day, let go of all the negatives of that day and hang on only to the positives.
Pray a bedtime prayer of release, such as, “Jesus, I leave all the joys and heartaches of this day with you. I surrender myself to You. Take care of everything.” and just let them go // In interactions with others, dwell upon the positive remarks and forget the rest
12. Another try, another chance
How many of us are looking for a second chance when we’ve messed up. As mentioned before, there are times when a lack of boundaries can lead to enabling. However, there are those who are on the brink of a behavioral breakthrough and simply need someone to believe in them enough to give them a second chance.
Do you have a child, spouse, or friend, who is in desperate need of your support, despite how you think or feel about their poor choices? Practice caring for them on healthy terms.
Help a loved one find a therapist with good spiritual and moral values to help them work through minor or major issues // Stay in dialogue with a difficult person, in spite of how much they try your patience.
The immediate antidote to so many vices like envy, greed, and selfishness is that rare beauty of a virtue called gratitude.
Actively shift language and perspective by practicing counting blessings and thinking of life as a gift and beautiful
Give *experience* style gifts vs. material gifts. With all the exhausting activities and gatherings, it can be tempting to skip the more spiritual celebrations. In actuality, attending mass and church celebrations faithfully will ground us and those we love in what really matters, the true “spirit” of the season we’re all craving. Give centrality to spiritual celebrations also clears our minds and hearts so that we are recollected and strong enough to practice the virtue needed over the holidays. It’s easy to fall apart when we are so preoccupied with anxieties, and spiritual experiences such as the liturgy, prayer alone and in a group, and singing can keep us together and bring us close in heart and mind.
Guarantee a clear and simple mass/church attendance schedule and that it is easy to get to (don’t plan anything that conflicts with it, and plan everything around these moments) // Take out old photographs and reminisce with those you love // Share stories from your childhood // Watch family videos // Talk about the provenance of each Christmas decoration or ornament on the tree // Many Christmas traditions inherently generate new memories…try to involve children in preparations and activities, so they continue to develop their sense of each tradition’s beauty
Peace is not something we can achieve on our own, but is rather a fruit of practicing positive interiority.
Create a safe haven for all those who enter, full of warmth and love
What enduring gift will you give this Christmas?