Almost everyone thinks Christmas is too commercialized these days, but no one knows what to do about it. Once we get started, we can’t seem to stop; we keep piling on Christmas present after Christmas present until we have busted our budgets (if we even had a budget to begin with). So, I got thinking about how to make Christmas different this year and came up with this crazy idea. Maybe my kids and grandkids, at our annual extended family Christmas party, should exchange only homemade, do-it-yourself, presents that cost little or no money. (Of course, each of my adult children and their families could also have a “normal” Christmas with lots of presents under the tree and the annual visit from Santa.)
To determine how feasible my idea might be, I searched for possible gifts of that type, hoping I could find something cool that would fit the requirement – and one that I could make myself. I soon gave up on the idea. First, there is nothing I could make that any of my grandkids would think was cool, no matter how well I made it. Second, I have no skills in the area of crafts, as I am not particularly good with my hands (which is one reason I became a lawyer). Finally, I determined that I could find better, more productive, uses of my time (like going to movies!) than the hours it would take for me to make do-it-yourself presents. Besides, since my grandkids get so much each Christmas, they often ignore my gifts after a week or two. I might as well take the easy way out and just buy them something. Quick and easy. Perfect. Merry Christmas!
After Thanksgiving, though, I started one of my annual Christmas traditions. I started listening to my favorite Christmas music. As it always does, soon the music put me into the real Christmas spirit – you know, the Christmas spirit that focuses on Christ, love and the true spirit of giving. So, I started thinking a little deeper of the best gifts that anyone could give – not just on Christmas, but throughout the year. Here, then, are five Christmas gifts that won’t cost you anything but some commitment and awareness, as exemplified by the life of Christ, and illustrated by some of my favorite films. And whether we are Christian, Non-Christian, agnostic or atheist, we would do well to follow these examples of Christ. And whether you believe these events about Jesus actually occurred or are just myths, the principles they teach are worthy of emulation.
The Gift of Change: We often want to change the world, but we don’t know how to do it. Christ did it dramatically, taking on the current philosophy of his day and turning it on its head. He changed an eye for an eye into turning the other cheek. He turned love your neighbor, but hate your enemy, into love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and do good to those that hate you. He changed the importance of outward appearances into it’s more important what you are like on the inside.
Sadly, we are still trying to incorporate the lessons of love he taught. So, if someone so admired and followed as Christ cannot change the world after 2000 years, how can we expect to bring about any meaningful change? The answer is simple. First, as illustrated by this clip from Evan Almighty,[i]we change the world by one act of random kindness, and watch it ripple out to others:
In Bruce Almighty,[ii] God gives Bruce Nolan (played by Jim Carrey) the chance to see what it’s like to be God. He soon realizes it is not so easy. After the chaos he causes gets under control, the real God teaches him a great lesson about miracles. If we want a miracle to occur, the best way is for us to be the miracle:
More often than not, if our prayers or pleas are answered, it is through the efforts of those around us. Let’s be a miracle in the lives of others, whether family, friend or a total stranger. And it doesn’t have to be something monumental. As 18th-century essayist, William Hazlitt, reminds us, “A gentle word, a kind look, a good-natured smile can work wonders and accomplish miracles.” By doing so, we can change the world – at least the world around us – for the better.
The Gift of Appreciation: Studies reveal that we are happier when we express our gratitude to others. But we not only need to say it, we need to show it by the things we do, or as John F. Kennedy said it, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” I love this thought by Voltaire: “Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” Don’t you find that to be the case? When we express genuine appreciation to someone, we create a special bond between them and us.
Unfortunately, those we should appreciate the most are those we often take for granted. This clip from The Break-Up[iii]illustrates this point well:
Jesus taught the importance of appreciation. One of my favorite examples is the story of the healing of the ten lepers. These men, of different nationalities, now companions by necessity, asked Jesus to have mercy on them. Christ instructed them to show themselves to the priests, for without being pronounced clean by a priest, they could not return to life within the community. As they went, all ten were miraculously healed. But only one turned back to Jesus to offer thanks. Pained over the lack of gratitude on the part of the other nine, Jesus lamented, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?” While no doubt the other nine were healed by following the letter of the law by going to the priests, their lack of gratitude stands in sharp contrast to the spirit of the one who gave thanks, even though the one who gave thanks was a Samaritan, whom the Jews considered far inferior to themselves. None of us are so important that we forget to give thanks to anyone who does something for us.
How can we learn to be more appreciative of others? Here is an excellent suggestion from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “Give yourself a gift of five minutes of contemplation in awe of everything you see around you. Go outside and turn your attention to the many miracles around you. This five-minute-a-day regimen of appreciation and gratitude will help you to focus your life in awe.” Perhaps at the end of each day, we could take those five minutes and list the things we are grateful for that occurred that very day. But don’t just list them. Take an extra few minutes to make a phone call, write a letter, or send a text or email expressing your thanks. But don’t even stop there. Determine that tomorrow you will pass it on by doing something similar to someone you encounter that day.
The Gift of Encouragement: If I have learned anything from my life so far, it’s that we can’t live a happy, rewarding life alone. We need connections with others. Or, as the song goes, no man is an island. That is not to say that the more friends we have the happier we will be, but everyone needs at least a small group of family or friends who care and encourage each other. There are times in each of our lives when we experience doubt, tragedy, and just plain hard times. It is times like that where encouragement can make all the difference – where we reach the point where we can’t do any more on our own and someone rallies around us, encourages us and helps us to keep going. I love this clip from For Love of the Game:[iv]
One of my favorite Bible stories growing up was when Jesus walked on water. I mean, how cool would that be? When his disciples first saw him walking on water, they were frightened, thinking he was a ghost. But Jesus called to them, assuring them it was him. Peter then did the unthinkable. He asked Jesus to allow him to walk to him. When Christ encouraged him to do so, Peter left the ship and started walking on water toward Jesus. A moment later, when he realized what he was doing, Peter began to sink. But Jesus reached down to catch him and pull him to safety. I doubt any of us have ever walked on water, but through encouragement from loved ones, we can do impossible things. And if we start to stumble and fall, how wonderful to have an encouraging friend or family member there to catch us and lift us up! As author, Yehuda Berg, said, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Let’s make sure our words only encourage, help, and heal.
The Gift of Compassion: To have compassion is to have a deep feeling of empathy for one who is struggling. And with that empathy, we want to do all we can to alleviate that person’s suffering and despair. The Dalai Lama said, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Said another way, to lose our compassion, is to lose what it means to be human. How do we begin to show compassion? We start by applying this Amish proverb: “Instead of putting others in their place, put yourself in their place.” By doing that, we begin to understand what someone is going through, and with that understanding, we not only can help, but we want to help ease the pain, the anxiety, the suffering. Here is a simple example of compassion from the film, Schindler’sList:[v]
Jesus Christ was nothing if not compassionate. Every story of a miracle healing began with compassion. He had compassion on the multitude of his followers who were hungry when he fed them all with a few morsels of bread and fish. He showed compassion when he promised the thieves with whom he shared crosses that they would be with him in paradise. When it comes to our relationship with others, a little compassion goes a long, long way
The Gift of Forgiveness. Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” Often, I find it hard to forgive those I should be the most willing to forgive – my family and friends. But sometimes I find it harder still to forgive myself. Even though it might be hard, we must learn to forgive so we can move on with our lives. Or as radio personality, Bernard Meltzer, said, “When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.” The converse is also true. If we are unwilling to forgive, we remain mired in the past we can do nothing to change. As this scene from Shrek[vi] illustrates, isn’t forgiveness one of the marks of a true friend? To forgive us – whether or not we deserve it:
Jesus Christ was a marvelous example of forgiveness, and he taught us valuable lessons about it. If we do not forgive others, how can we expect others to forgive us? When Peter asked how often should he forgive another who had sinned against him, Jesus answered seventy times seven, or in other words, always. Even while on the cross, Jesus asked his father to forgive his persecutors. Following that example, then, let’s forgive those who wrong us, remembering that forgiveness is just as important to the person doing the forgiving as it is for the person in need of forgiveness.
I wish everyone a happy holiday season. By giving the gifts of change, appreciation, encouragement, compassion, and forgiveness, not just on Christmas Day but throughout the year, every year, we will be giving some of the best gifts we can give.
[i] Evan Almighty
- Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, and Relativity Media
- Director: Tom Shadyac
- Screenwriter: Steve Oedekerk
- Starring: Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, and Lauren Graham
- Release date: June 22, 2007
[ii] Bruce Almighty
- Production Companies: Spyglass Entertainment, Universal Pictures, and Shady Acres Entertainment
- Director: Tom Shadyac
- Screenwriters: Steve Koren and Mark O’Keefe
- Starring: Jim Carey, Jennifer Aniston, and Morgan Freeman
- Release date: May 23, 2003
[iii] The Break-Up
- Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Mosaic Media Group, and Wild West Picture Show Productions
- Director: Peyton Reed
- Screenwriters: Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender
- Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Vince Vaughn, and Jon Favreau
- Release date: June 2, 2006
[iv] For Love of the Game
- Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Beacon Pictures, and Tig Productions
- Director: Sam Raimi
- Screenwriter: Dana Stevens (based on the book by Michael Shaara
- Starring: Keven Costner, Kelly Preston, and John C. Riley
- Release date: September 17, 1999
[v] Schindler’s List
- Production Companies: Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Screenwriter: Steven Zaillian (based on the book by Thomas Keneally
- Starring: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley
- Release date: February 4, 1994
- Production Companies: DreamWorks Animation, DreamWorks, and Pacific Data Images (PDI)
- Directors: Andrew Anderson and Vicky Jenson
- Screenwriter: William Steig (based on the book by Ted Elliott)
- Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz
- Release date: May 18, 2001