How could God love us so much that Jesus would come to earth, live as a man, and suffer and die to redeem us from the consequences of our own choices?
The Greatest Commandment
When asked what is the greatest of the commandments, Jesus gave a two-fold answer. First, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NASB). And it was important enough to Him to go on and tell us that the second is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, NASB).
He then said that if we can do these two things, we can’t help but fulfill the Law. By loving God and others, we fulfill the spirit of the Law, and live the Gospel.
Two ways we can demonstrate love to others are looking for opportunities to serve and letting go of expectations.
Love through Service
The holidays can be hard, particularly if you’re struggling with depression or grief, but they’re also a great time to look beyond yourself, get outside your head, and find ways to serve others.
One idea is to start early by packing a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child for collection in November. It gets you out and about, thinking about what would be useful or fun and bring a spark of joy to a child living in poverty. Include a letter and pray that the Gospel that is spoken with each box takes root in the heart that receives your box.
My younger son’s junior-high Sunday School class service project for December was singing Christmas carols and songs at a nursing home last Saturday. After the kids sang, they spent some time chatting with residents. It’s a great idea for a group. One family I know visits a nursing home just to spend time with the people. Others serve Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other meals to the homeless, or pack and give out care packages with useful things like toiletries, feminine products, warm socks, underwear, a scarf, gloves, and non-perishable snacks; women’s can be put in new or gently-used purses.
Affirming the value and dignity of others also affirms ours.
There’s no shortage of opportunities to brighten someone’s holiday season.
Start with what seems small, but can take a huge effort and make a huge difference: SMILE at people. As difficult as it can be to not withdraw, make an effort to notice others. Look for opportunities to meet at least one need a week. Maybe today it’s smiling at the tired-looking, sad-eyed woman in the grocery store, or letting the frazzled cashier know he’s doing a fine job regardless of how the impatient customer ahead of you treated him. Maybe it’s buying a coat or boots for the kid down the street and getting them to his mom anonymously.
A gift doesn’t need to cost money to be valuable.
Open your eyes and your heart. Even when it hurts.
Love Gives Grace
Sometimes it’s easier to reach out to people we aren’t close to, that we don’t have to live with or have history with. If someone has hurt us or made us feel unappreciated, it’s difficult to be open to notice their brokenness and need. It’s difficult to give grace to those we feel don’t give us the same. The people we typically spend the holidays with, who may or may not be the closest to us, or the dearest, need grace as much as the child in poverty on the other side of world, the homeless woman sleeping under the overpass, and the overwhelmed service worker having a hard day.
Each of us needs grace.
It’s a toss-up when it comes to whose expectations can most mess with our mood and mess up our day. The ones others place on us… or our own.
When it comes to others’ expectations, it’s crucial to remember that the opinions of others don’t define us. Getting through the holidays, dealing with depression and other hard things, or just in day-to-day life, give yourself permission to be and do your best, not what others think your best should be. Not yielding to others’ expectations isn’t the same as ignoring their needs.
It’s not your job to make everyone happy.
What expectations are you placing on yourself? What do you think you should do? What’s your standard for the “perfect” holiday, and how much will it bother you when it isn’t?
How about your expectations of those around you? Are your loved ones supposed to always be nice, or find you the perfect present? Do you expect them to make you feel happy? It’s not their job, any more than it’s yours to make them happy. If you need something from someone, be honest; don’t accuse. We can’t serve with love when we resent.
What do you expect from the holidays themselves? Do you need a particular experience or feeling to make them worthwhile? Try letting the day unfold without expecting particular things to happen, or to feel particular feelings.
Honestly, I miss the magic of childhood Christmas. For years as a younger adult, I longed for an indefinable something that would make me feel seen, cherished, known, that would fill the void in my soul. The problem? I expected someone to know about me what I was having trouble figuring out myself. I wanted another fallible human to fill the emptiness only God can. That gift I kept looking for? It was given 2000 years ago. And although I’d reached out for it, I didn’t, and still don’t, grasp and hold onto it like it’s the most valuable thing. Jesus came to a manger. He died on a cross. The power that raised Him from the dead lives in me. Jesus sits at His Father’s right hand, interceding for me. Yet I buy the lie that I need more, when all there is besides is less.
If I’m waiting for something else, impossible or possible, I can’t value what I receive, I can’t appreciate the moment-by-moment grace God gives. Nothing and no one can measure up. I can’t love.
Give grace. Accept grace.
Letting go of expectations brings peace and satisfaction.
When we intentionally love God and demonstrate love to others, we have less time to think about ourselves. When our focus moves from how we feel, to what pleases God and how others feel, it’s good for our mental and spiritual health. It’s difficult to turn away from the dark thoughts – the lies – that swirl and overwhelm in depression. We need God’s Truth to not just survive, but find purpose, joy, meaning, and peace.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:36-40, NASB
People aren’t one-dimensional. Our approach to mental health shouldn’t be, either. Body. Mind. Soul. Read more about Faith and Mental Illness.
Read the rest of the How to Do More than Just Survive the Holidays Series here: