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Your Morning Cup of Inspiration

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For many of us, the holidays are disappointing.  They are neither magical nor meaningful time. I find that to be incredibly sad.  In my opinion, regardless of whether you are Christian, Jewish or atheist, this time of year should be special.

For me, the disappointment of the holidays started when I was a kid. When I was growing up, every kid on my street was so excited for the arrival of Santa Claus – except me.  My parents were academics, and evidently the idea of Santa offended their intellectual sensibilities.  As a result, at an early age I was informed that “There is no Santa Claus!”  Wow.

So, as a child, I never experienced the magic of Christmas. I never experienced the excitement of wondering if Santa would come or how the reindeer would land on our roof.  I never experienced that child-like wonder, which is the great part of being a kid.

As a result, when I became an adult and had a child of my own, I bent over backwards to make my daughter’s childhood “magical.” Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy all came to our house.  The holidays were incredibly fun because I went to great lengths to create a world for my daughter in which a man came down our chimney and brought her elaborate presents.  She grew up believing that there was a bunny who would hide eggs and presents all over the yard every Easter.  The Tooth Fairy always brought her books and toys whenever a tooth was lost.  And it wasn’t until she was well along in years before she figured out my rouse.  But for a time, there was magic in her world – and in mine.

Now my daughter is a teenager, and the magical years are over. So, until I have grandchildren (which is a long way off!), I have no little kids in my life.  As a result, each year I now try to figure out ways to make the holidays meaningful, since they are no longer magical.

Below are some ways that I’ve found to make the holidays a little bit more meaningful. If you apply them in your own life, you can have a holiday season that is both emotionally and spiritually satisfying.

Just Say “No”: The holidays quickly can devolve into a pile of obligations.  It is overwhelming to feel obliged to buy a gift for every last person that you or your child has crossed paths with over the year.  Then, there are the parties, school concerts and (if you are a Christian) church events.  It is endless.  So, at a certain point, you have to say “no.”

I will freely admit that there are a jillion people, from my hairdresser to my next-door neighbor who all deserve a present from me this year. But there is only one of me.  So, at some point, I will pick and choose to whom I am going to give gifts.  And unfortunately, not everyone is going to get one.

I also have to say “no” to attending the endless events involved in the holidays. I whittle down the holiday events that I attend to the ones that I “have to” attend (my daughter’s school concerts and church services), and ones that will be spiritually satisfying to me in some way (seeing close friends).

Saying “no” is the only way to keep your sanity during this season and to have the time to do things that have meaning to you.

Read Something Inspirational: The activity of reading is unique because it forces us to stop everything and just sit.  You can listen to music and drive.  You can cook, knit or do crossword puzzles and watch television.  But when you read, you can’t do anything else.  You just have to sit down, stop everything you are doing and focus on one thing.  That is why reading is incredibly good for your sanity during the holidays, when life pulls us in too many directions at once.

But to make your reading time valuable, choose to read something inspirational. Choose to read a story about someone who overcomes an obstacle.  Read something spiritually uplifting.   Fill your mind during the holidays with positive, good thoughts.

Do Something Unexpectedly Nice for Another Person: Christmas is a holiday full of obligations.  We are obliged to buy gifts for people because they are related to us, or because they teach our children, or because they deliver our mail.  There is nothing wrong with that, but those are gifts that we buy out of obligation.

It helps to make Christmas meaningful by doing something for someone not out of obligation, but out of inspiration. Think of someone who has had a tough year and could use a little pick-me-up, and do something for that person.  The point isn’t the cost of the gift.  The point is to show another human being that you care about them.

For instance, give a busy mom a Starbuck’s gift card that she can use after she drops her kids off at school. Or maybe give a struggling teenager an inspiring book.  Or give an elderly person a box of chocolates.

The point isn’t the gift itself.  Rather what is important is the fact that you did something thoughtful to show that you care about another person. When we give in that manner, that is when we really feel the spirit of the holidays.  We then are giving because we want to show our love for others.  And they in turn know that they are special to us.

This holiday season, join me in making the holidays something meaningful. There is a great deal of beauty this time of year.  The lights, scents, music and stories are just gorgeous.  Enjoy it all.  And perhaps you may not just have a meaningful Christmas, but a magical one as well.

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“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of[the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12: 1-2 (NRSV)

God has set a race before each one of us. Or rather, I would argue that He sets “races” before us.  Periodically during our lives, he tells us, “I have something I want you to achieve.  It won’t be easy.  You won’t be able to do it with your own talents, but with my help, you can achieve it.”

Throughout my life, God has stepped in and helped me achieve things that I could never had achieved on my own. God enabled me to go to law school and become a lawyer, when growing up, I knew no lawyers, and I had no idea what was involved in becoming a lawyer.  Moreover, I didn’t even have an undergraduate degree that would have prepared me for a legal career.  But God wanted me to serve the underprivileged by becoming a lawyer.  And that is what God has had me do with my life, against all odds.

The thing I’ve learned is that when God sets a goal for us, that doesn’t mean that He is going to make the path easy. So, realize that obstacles in your path are not a sign that God doesn’t want you to achieve a certain goal.  That is why I appreciate the author’s powerful words in the book of Hebrews, when the author says that Jesus, “who for the sake of[the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame.”  The pain of the cross wasn’t a sign that Jesus wasn’t doing the will of God.  Quite the converse.  The pain Jesus endured on the cross was part of God’s plan.

In the same way, when we encounter obstacles, we can’t allow them to discourage us. Instead, when we are presented with obstacles, God wants us to seek Him out.  He wants us to pray to Him for the strength to endure whatever trial we are facing.  He wants us to ask Him for the wisdom to know how to best handle any problem.  And then when we do achieve our goals, it will be clear to us that we achieved our goals only because of His intervention.

I can assure you that I have achieved nothing in my life without the intervention of God. My own intellect and strength have been insufficient to meet the tasks that God has set before me.  But I know (I know!) that God does not place a goal in our hearts that He will not help us fulfill.  If we do our small part, He will do His very large part.

When my husband was in the hospital this past summer, and for a time was on life support, I thought, “How will I endure this stress? I don’t have it in me.”  And in fact, I didn’t have the strength.  But God stepped in and gave me the strength to be there for my husband and the presence of mind to oversee his medical care.

While my husband was in the hospital, I was working during the day, and every night I drove 90 minutes (each way) to visit him after work. Many times, I thought to myself, “I am so exhausted.  How can I possibly sustain this schedule of work and nightly hospital visits?”  But for 45 days, I did just that.  God gave me the strength to do my job and to still be able to drive out and see my husband at the end of each day.  He protected me while I drove so I didn’t have an accident.  He also helped me to arrive at the hospital each day with a cheerful attitude to encourage my husband.  None of that was my own doing.  My ability to do that was due to the grace of God in my life.

Do you currently have a race set before you? Does it seem as though what God is asking you to do is just too hard?  I have felt that many times in my life.  And each time, when I have asked God for help to get me from Point A to Point B, He has done just that.  So, keep your eye on the finish line of the race that God has set before you.  And know that He will give you the strength, talents and wisdom that you need to accomplish your goal.

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When we are young, it is easy to grow and achieve. Youth is built for that.  When we go to school, with each passing year we graduate to a higher grade, and we learn new things.  If we come from an advantaged background, our parents may pay for us to take music lessons or to learn a sport.  This lifestyle of learning gives our younger years a certain energy and momentum.

But once we leave behind the schooling chapter of our lives, and we start the work and family chapter, we often get into a holding pattern. Personal achievement ends up taking a backseat to real life responsibilities.  And then we stagnate.  We stop learning.  We stop improving ourselves.  And suddenly it feels like life is passing us by.

As adults, we do all kinds of things to pretend that we aren’t stagnating. For instance, we pretend that being busy is the same thing as achieving.  I know a lot of people who are addicted to being “busy.”  Certain mothers I know love to be busy chauffeuring their children from one activity to another.  I know other folks who love to be busy with their jobs.

This obsession with busyness is a way for people to distract themselves from the fact that they they’ve stopped growing personally and intellectually. Their lives are like someone running on a treadmill.  They are doing a lot of running and getting nowhere.

God did not create us to stagnate. He did not create us to simply “survive” life.  Our routine should not be to get up in the morning, meet our basic work and family responsibilities during the day, watch television in the evening, and then go to bed at night.  That is bare minimum living.  We each were made for more than that.

We were made to improve ourselves continually, until the day we die. If we stop continually improving, we naturally feel dissatisfied.  I believe that most midlife crises are not the result of people being concerned about getting older.  Rather, people have midlife crises because they are frustrated because they have become boring.  They have stopped learning, developing new skills and growing in emotional maturity.  So, they mistakenly look for quick fixes to deal with that frustration – extra-marital affairs, excessive shopping, extreme adventures, etc.  But none of those fixes deal with the underlying problem, which is that they themselves are personally stagnating.

The main reason why we stop growing is that we don’t have time the time to pursue the activities that would allow us to better ourselves. Or rather, we do have time, but other people hijack our time.  Certain people continually ask us to do things for them or with them.  As a result, our free time to pursue our own interests goes out the window.

I currently am blessed with a husband who never makes demands on me or my time. If I take the time to do things for him or with him, he is delighted, but he never expects anything from me.  His independence allows me to pursue the things that interest me – writing, studying foreign languages, reading, playing my flute, etc.

But I have spent parts of my life dealing with people who took up my free time with their needs, personal issues and dramas. And very often, my own need to improve myself took a backseat to their selfishness.  That is no way to live life.  We were meant to learn about things that interest us.  We were meant to continually acquire new skills.  If we don’t do those things, we truly feel like life is just passing us by.

If you feel like you are stagnating in a sea of mundane responsibilities and your time is consumed with addressing the needs of others, today is the day to turn that around. Pick one accomplishment that you would like to achieve over the next twelve months.  Maybe it is to start learning a new language.  You can motivate yourself by planning a trip to a place where they speak that language.  Perhaps you want to learn to play a new instrument, or resume playing an instrument that you haven’t played in years.  Spend the next year taking lessons.  Then treat yourself to a concert with a musician who plays that instrument.

Maybe you have a special interest you want to pursue. For instance, many people are history buffs.  They pick a particular period of history and delve into it fully.  You may find the Civil War to be fascinating.  Read all the books that you can get your hands on which focus on this period.  Watch the best films and documentaries about it.  Then treat yourself to a vacation at some of the most important Civil War sites.  I refer to that as “adult learning” – learning for the joy of the knowing more about a subject versus learning for a grade.

Take time this week to consider how you might make your life a little bit more interesting. Stop watching television.  Stop texting, tweeting, posting, and surfing.  Stop letting life pass you by while you engage in pointless activities.  Instead, grab life by the horns.  Invigorate your life by learning new things or new skills.  If you do this, you will feel more alive and rejuvenated.

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We live in a world in which many people don’t live authentically. They hide who they really are from everyone.  Perhaps they hide their sexual orientation.  They may hide their past mistakes.  Or they may hide the fact that they grew up in a poor or dysfunctional household.

However, it is exhausting to try to hide who you truly are from the world. Pretending to be someone you are not is tiring.  But I understand why people do so.  The world is a very judgmental place.  And it takes a lot of self-confidence and emotional maturity to not care what other people think of you.  But it is only when we stop worrying about what others think of us that we can start being ourselves and be happy.

In order to live an authentic life, you need to be honest with the world about who you are – and who you are not. That means being truthful about the messier parts of your life.  For instance, I grew up in a home that was very dysfunctional. Worse yet, when I was a teenager, my parents had a messy divorce.  I, in turn, unfortunately divorced in my mid-forties.  None of that is anything to brag about.

But trying to hide these parts of my life won’t help me. These experiences have shaped who I am.  They’ve allowed me to know both the good and bad of human beings.  And they have made me a more resilient person.  I am tougher because I’ve had to endure difficult experiences.  Trying to hide these parts of my life due to embarrassment would prevent people from understanding me completely.

It is shame that prevents us from being our authentic selves. We may be ashamed of who we are.  Or we may be ashamed by what we have experienced, or what we have done.  But there is no reason to ever be ashamed of any aspect of your life.  Why?  Because God’s opinion of you is the only one that matters.  And God loves you just as you are.  If you’ve made mistakes, God forgives you, as you would forgive your own child if he or she made a mistake.

God doesn’t care about the messiness of your life, the mistakes you have made, or the imperfections of your personality. In fact, from God’s point of view, these imperfections serve a very important purpose – they make you a better person.  Your mistakes are there to keep you from being judgmental toward others.  Your bad experiences are there to help you feel compassion for others who are suffering.  And your imperfections are there to inspire you to seek God’s help and counsel.

So, you don’t need to be afraid to be your authentic self. God loves you, and He is fully invested in using all your imperfections to help you become the best person that you can be.  He will take the messiness of your life and use it in some creative way to improve you and benefit you.

Once you start living your authentic life, you can start to relax. Trying to be someone you are not is exhausting.  For instance, trying to appear to be rich when you are poor is a quick way to get into a lot of debt.  People who try to appear to be rich end up buying clothes, cars, and houses that they cannot afford.  Instead, be happy with what you have today.  Take good care of your belongings.  Live within your means and take pride in the fact that you are financially responsible.

Trying to appear to be young when you are older likewise can lead to poor results.  How often do we see women who otherwise would be quite beautiful, if they had not overdone cosmetic surgery.  I will admit that growing older is hard.  My face and body do not look the same as they did in my twenties.  Sometimes I look in the mirror and think, “My neck!  Why is my neck wrinkly?  When did that happen??”  But I am learning to accept my body and face for what they are.  So, I try my best to look as nice as possible with what I have.  And to a certain extent, I enjoy the challenge!  Looking good when you are in your twenties is a no-brainer.  However, looking good when you are pushing 50 is an accomplishment!

Another area in which people can be inauthentic is with regard to their sexual orientation. Pretending to be straight when you are gay leads to your lying to everyone.  I know two women who are gay but who cannot bring themselves to be honest about who they are.  As a result, they live double lives – the one that they share with their families and their work colleagues, and another secret life.  It is a sad and stressful way to exist.  In this day and age, there is no reason to lie about your sexual orientation.  Yes, there may be some people who will disapprove of you, but those are an unenlightened few.  Most educated people simply will not care one way or another.

My best advice is this: Life authentically. Be who you are.  Don’t be ashamed of the unique person that God has made you to be.  Don’t be ashamed of your past or the mistakes that you’ve made.  Don’t be ashamed that you are not as far along as you would like to be professionally, financially or in terms of emotional maturity.  Each of us is a work-in-progress until the day that we die.  Instead, let people know the real you.  By allowing others to see us for who we really are, we can then relax and truly enjoy life.

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