Christmas

How I Will Be Making My New Year Resolutions of Love

If both Hanukkah and Christmas commemorate moments where we remember that God intervened in our lives-- be it by keeping a single-day of oil burning for eight days as the Jews rededicated their temple or impregnating a young woman to give birth to a baby who was to show the world what love looked like in action--then the approach of New Years should naturally stem from the awareness that God is among us.  December reminds us that our lives are more than just ours.  We go into January knowing that there is something bigger at play.

I want my New Year to be birthed from a really divine place.  I want my hopes to feel magical.  I want my dreams to feel in alignment with my work in this world.  I want my resolutions to change more in this world than a few pounds off my body. I want my goals to not just feel like an obligatory to-do list or a re-hash of last years failed attempts.

Whatever belief system you have in place and whatever word you use for that which is bigger than us-- I hope you'll take the time to bring the true spirit of Hanukkah and Christmas into your New Year.

Who We Want to Be In 2013

Jim Wallis, the president and CEO of Sojourners and author of forthcoming book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, sent out a newsletter this morning that speaks to this point.  He spent the first part of 2012 researching and writing this book about the common good and how we seem to have lost this concept in our politics and our society.

He says, "What I learned in the course of writing was how ancient the concept of the common good really is. This quote dates back to the fourth century:

This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good … for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for neighbors."

—John Chrysostom (ca. 347–407)

My roots are in Christianity, but yours doesn't need to be in order for that quote to still matter. In fact, some of the most beautiful "imitators of Christ" are the atheists, agnostics, other-religious, and non-religious people I know.

For no matter the religion we do or don't subscribe to, what most of us still quote would be what we call the Golden Rule:

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

In other words: work toward the common good.  Care about those around you. Love.

Setting Our New Year Intentions

So as I sit with that this morning, I want the seeds of my New Years resolutions to come from that place of the common good.  Therefore the question I need to be asking myself isn't only "How can I improve my life this year?" but also, "How can improving my life this year serve more people?"

Some of the questions I'm asking myself:

  • Am I as loving as I want to be?
  • Am I acting with as much courage as I am meant to have?
  • Am I becoming a more generous person each year?
  • Am I growing in my own self-awareness so that I am taking more responsibility for my triggers, my responses, and my defensiveness?
  • Am I living more often from a place of  joy?
  • Am I growing in my compassion and empathy for those around me?
  • Am I seeing emotional growth in my life that excites me?

For many of those questions, I find myself pausing, unsure if I can unequivocally say yes.  When I notice that pause, I am then asking, "What could I do in 2013 to become this more loving, courageous, and centered person that I want to be?"

Doesn't that feel so much more significant than beating ourselves up about our body weight, our spending habits, or any other number of actions that produce our immediate guilt?  And don't we think that by focusing truly on who we want to become--people with more joy, peace, patience, and courage--that we'll find our other habits changing to align with what is now more true for ourselves? I think so.

So rather than encouraging you to add "Make 3 new friends this year" or "Call one long-distance friend each week" to your New Year's list; I'm instead inviting you to start from a deep and quiet place to ask yourself: "What quality can I grow that will help me love others better?" Who do you want to be? How do you want to expand?

Then whisper a prayer that expands that in you: "I'm willing to become a more loving, forgiving, generous, kind, centered, hopeful, and patient person."

Choose to be one more person in this world who cares about the common good, who doesn't vote only on self-interest, and who chooses to live from love instead of fear.  And from that place of wanting to grow into a more loving person, trust that your love will pull more people in to give it back to you.

Your love will not produce an empty vacuum, but rather will create a circle of love surrounding you with more meaningful relationships, life purpose, and consequential joy. For love begets love. Love drives out fear.  Love invites greater love.  Love changes us.  Love changes the world.

And that is what I call the greater good. Happy New Year!

 

 

When The Holidays Aren't Always Merry...

Happy Holidays!

Except when they aren't.

For many, this year won't live up to the Christmas dream.

This time of year the expectations are raised so high that we are ever more acutely aware of what we don't have, who's no longer with us, and how imperfect our family can look. While it's one of my favorite times of year, research shows us it's also one of the hardest and most stressful.  Loneliness sky-rockets, heart-attacks are more frequent, exhaustion is more prevalent, and finances feel most strained.

When I used to pastor churches I was acutely aware that the holidays were some of the hardest times for many in my congregation. This time of year--with the huge emphasis placed on family, travel, and being together--serves as a mile-marker that can highlight who we have lost in recent years or fear losing in the year to come. For many it was their first Christmas without a specific loved one.  For some it was a reminder that they didn't have any family.  For others who were suffering with pain, age, or uncertain health prognoses it was a time of wondering if this would be their last Christmas season. And for still others, this holiday will be spent around hospital beds as sickness, accidents, and heart-attacks are known to ignore calendars.

Even without tragedy and loss, the picture of a Norman Rockwell family holiday can seem more rare than normal. Many don't have the money or time to travel to be with family, others don't want to be with their family, and still others will go but will feel like they can't always breathe through their family dysfunction and dynamics. We find ourselves wishing that we had the soul mate we've been looking for, the baby we have been trying to have, or the divorce that we can't bring ourselves to initiate.

The Hallmark commercials showing the whole family coming home with grand kids, happy hugs, and big meals often leave us feeling like we've been robbed this illusive experience. It's hard to always feel happy when the bar gets raised.

Add to all of this the gazillion extra things we take on: shopping, holiday cards, cookie bakes, kids concerts, company parties, extra spending, shipping lines, childcare during school breaks, decorating, and all the extra activities that help us get into the spirit of the season.

Yes, I was very careful what I said up front during the holiday season to a church full of tired-looking people. For as much as we want to just say "Happy Holidays!"-- saying it doesn't always make it so.

Love's Blessing For You

This season I want to anchor us in something that we can all exude regardless of the losses, stresses, and disappointments that are sure to be there, too.

So for all of you, my GirlFriendCircles.com community, whether your weariness comes from planning the perfect holiday or whether you're mourning the holiday that won't be this year-- I invite you to a moment of rest.

Christmas heart

"Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest."-- Jesus, the Love we celebrate this season

You're weary.  I can see it.  I know it.  You weren't created to feel this anxiety, panic, stress, or fear. For one moment, can you release it, or hold it more loosely? Can you hold all your stress in your hand and symbolically open your fingers to remind yourself you don't have to cling to it? You don't have to grip it so hard.  Do you see it there in your hand?  Outside of you? It's not in you... you choose what to inhale.  But see this stress in your hand and know that you can choose what you hold, or at least how you hold it. Take another deep breath. And let it out.....

You were created to feel loved, be loved, and give love. And that you can do without dollars in your bank or extra time in your day.

Rest from your unmet expectations.

Rest from your fears.

Rest from your ache.

Rest from your sense of alone-ness.

I invite you, in this moment, to inhale love, and to exhale worry.

I invite you, in this moment, to name something you're grateful for in your life.

I invite you to look around and whisper "In this moment, I have everything I need.  I really do."

I invite you to put your hand on your heart and say "I am deeply and fully loved."  Because you are.

You can be love even when you're lonely. Release the picture of what you think you need before you can feel loved.  Let go of the limitations you've placed on what form it can take.  Be gentle with yourself and know that there is no shortage of love for you.

You are love.  You were created in the image of Love. We so often forget, but today we can remember it.  Remember that we are love.

Today, let our actions be connected to our love.  Let's make sure that the things on our to-do list come from a place of love.  And stay in a place of love.

  • Rather than bake cookies because we have this picture of ourselves as having to live up to Martha Stewart, let's bake cookies as an expression of love.
  • Rather than sit next to a hospital bed with fear and regret, let's stay in the place of love.
  • Rather than bemoan the family that isn't, let's find others to love.

Let's reach out and tell a far-away friend that we love them. Let's find a moment to remember that we love ourselves.  Let's think of someone we know who might be hurting this holiday and drop a card in the mail. Let's love.

Girlfriends, our lives may not feel perfect, happy, and perky this season.  Jolly and merry may not be within reach. But love is already in us.  We can love no matter what.  Let's be women of love-- women who exude love, women who receive love, women who give love.

May our Christmases be centered around love, no matter the circumstances. With tons of love for you!  Hugs!!!

 

The Holidays Don't Always Feel Merry

Having served as a pastor in churches, I know full well that just because words like joy, peace, merry and happy are mentioned more in the month of December doesn't make it more so. In fact, for many, the holiday season can induce more exhaustion, grief and loneliness than during any other time in the year. The Holidays Don't Always Feel Merry...

  • I always pause and pray for those who are grieving for those they loved and lost this year.
  • I hold concern for those whose desires and needs surpass their resources.
  • I ache for those who will experience more hunger, cold and fear this winter.
  • I send love to those who wish they could be close to family but are separated by war, obligations or distance.
  • I feel sadness with those who feel their loneliness heightened during a season where we speak so much of friends and family.
  • I wish hope for those who are gripped by fear-- fear of not having enough, being enough or living enough.
  • I offer peace to those who are weary, overworked, exhausted and strained by their own expectations and the obligations of others.

So we honor those losses, disappointments, loneliness and fears.

But We Can Invite Merry-ness In Without minimizing any of the very real pain that most everyone feels a bit during these busy and high-expectation times, I just want to speak a wee bit of hope into your lives. All happiness research continues to show that our external circumstances don't create our happiness as much as our response to them does.

In fact, one study highlighted that no matter what happens in our lives, we return to the same set point. This was as true for those who won the lottery as it was for those who experienced some sort of physical paralyzing disability. The best things that happen to us give us some elation, but we return to the previous outlook with or without money. The worst thing can happen to us and the same is true, with or without our same body functions.

So if it's our response that proves most impactful as to whether our happiness set point can increase, then how can we influence our response for the positive? Certainly there are many practices that can help shape our outlook, but one of the most compelling ones to me is by surrounding ourselves with meaningful community.

By Connecting With Others There isn't a loss, disappointment or fear that friendship can't touch. Having friends doesn't prevent the pain, but it proves again and again to lessen it, to give hope through it and to provide encouragement and support in countless ways.

  • Some studies have shown that people with a circle of friends recover faster from surgery than those who are unsupported.
  • One study asked people carrying weights to guess the incline of the hill in front of them and those beside a friend estimated it to be less steep than those standing alone.
  • Many studies illustrate our increased immunity and decreased stress levels in direct correlation to our friendships.

The work you are doing this season to invite friendships into your life will pay rich dividends in so many areas of your life. This time next year, you could have several really meaningful friendships feeding your life.

Stepping into the lives of others-- blessing them, listening to them, loving them, seeing them-- and receiving those same gifts, can transform your outlook, raising your happiness set point. I applaud you for inviting friends into you life.

This holiday season, whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, the solstice/lunar eclipse or New Years-- I honor your beautiful intentions and wish deep and meaningful friendships upon you in 2011.

Blessings, Shasta