At my previous school I was charged to deliver an invocation at one of our faculty meetings. My words never left that room…until now. And whether you are a teacher, student, adult, or teen, I hope these words and my challenge will speak to you in the same way it did my colleagues three years ago.
When I was in high school, I used to cut myself. Sad. Angry. Bored. Blasting Brand New, The Used, My Chemical Romance, or another popular screamo band, I’d take the blade I kept hidden in a little tin box and press it firmly against my right wrist or thigh until streams of blood appeared. This was more than a call for attention or a bonding activity between me and my friends. This was an outward expression of some serious internal pain—a pain I could not quite understand, but certainly recognized. I didn’t know where this pain originated or why, but I knew what I felt was real, and I hated anyone who invalidated those feelings. No one understood: not my parents, not my sisters, and not even some of my best friends at the time. I felt lost. I felt alone. And that pain became more and more unbearable.
From race and sexuality to class and religion and everything in between, it can be really challenging to push yourself to have these difficult, mature, respectful conversations. For many, these topics are heavy, emotionally charged, and deeply personal. Of course it makes sense to steer clear of such conversations, and quite frankly, it’s the easy thing to do. Who wants to offend others? Who wants to be judged based on their political and/or moral beliefs? Who wants to second guess everything they were taught and, in turn, the very people who imparted such knowledge? No one ever wants to be that guy, but think about all the good that’s come from folks who were courageous enough to stand up and spark lively conversations about challenging topics: Angela Davis. Tim Wise. Jane Adams. Jimmy Carter. Marian Wright Edelman. Cesar Chavez. Helen Keller. Nelson Mandela. Gloria Steinem. Howard Zinn. And the list of fearless folks goes on and on and on. Again, the work they did and conversations they started were overwhelmingly difficult, and yet they were also—and more importantly—life changing. They leaned into the discomfort, and so should you!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve stumbled upon radio stations playing 24-hours of Christmas tunes (NSYNCs Christmas album, anyone?), seen a myriad of commercials informing your Christmas wish lists (gotta love those Apple and Coca-Cola commercials), and wasted countless hours watching Christmas-themed films (It’s a Wonderful Life and Elf are among my favorites)! It’s so easy to get brain washed around the holidays, so easy to forget the true reason for the season.
Whatever holiday you celebrate, don’t get caught up in the presents, but be present…be in the moment.
Whatever holiday you celebrate, don’t get caught up in the gifts, but be a gift to someone else…give love.
Whatever holiday you celebrate, don’t get caught up in the lights, but be the light in someone else’s life.
Whatever holiday you celebrate, don’t get caught up in the man, but in the Man…celebrate God’s promises.
And whatever holiday you celebrate, don’t get caught up in what society sells you, but listen to your heart for Christmas lives inside of you.
So, instead of letting (only) the presents under the tree bring you happiness, focus on giving and receiving what money can’t buy: peace, love, and joy!
I love the holiday season! It’s a time when folks can go home, reconnect with family and friends, and reflect on both the challenges and blessings of the season.
But with so much happening in the world, it’s also pretty easy to see how and why the holidays can be a time filled with great sadness and pain. It can be a time when people don’t feel cared for or loved. A time when people feel lonely, poor, discouraged, inadequate, and depressed. We get so bogged down by the negatives and the crazy cards that life can often present that we lose sight of what really matters, we lose hope and faith in ourselves and the world around us. We forget about our own well-being and the well-being of others. Don’t.
You may not feel loved, but you are because I love you.
You may not feel wealthy, but you are wealthy with the riches money can’t buy.
You may feel lonely, but you’re not for He is always with you.
You may feel inadequate, but you were made in His image and are destined for greatness.
Don’t give up or let this holiday season get you down– let it build you up instead.
And if you ever feel like you’re by yourself and need someone to talk to, someone to bring you good tidings or give you peace, comfort, and love, I’m here for you.