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Christmas Presents or Presence

Christmas promises peace on earth to people of good will. In the spirit of the season we are encouraged to be of good will: put aside differences and grievances to celebrate together in hope for replenishment that peace and celebration can bring.

Tidy up time

Life is messy, making it a challenge to get everyone on the same harmonious page for a day, even with the best intentions.

At this later stage of life people in my cohort of family and friends are beginning to pass on, compelling retrospection. In tidying up their lives, several have recanted to me previous firmly held negative judgements that have long affected relationships. Where hostility is unwarranted and unresolved, a lot of good life is wasted unnecessarily. People are damaged. Christmas offers an opportunity for reconciliation far loftier than waiting till one is dying to make good on wrongheadedness.

Co-dependency counsellor, Roslyn Saunders, author of the book Emotional Sobriety, offers advice and support for those putting themselves “out there” to be present with family at Christmas. Roslyn recommends setting up a personal structure in our own best interests, with limitations and gracious exit strategy and supports should circumstances on the day work against your best interests. Useful tools that Roslyn offers help people stay in charge of their own emotional wellbeing rather than be negatively affected by the ill will of others – an important factor in keeping alive the spirit of joy and hope of Christmas.

Why wait?

Why wait to be present to those we love and who love us? My earlier blog on Forgiveness elicited a number of responses, a few of whom said there were some people they could not forgive. Each is a person of high integrity and goodwill who has been badly harmed by devastating actions in family and business. No remorse has been forthcoming from the perpetrators, hence no forgiveness. Such suffering cannot be spak-filled: it needs to be named and owned, at all times holding onto hope in our own integrity that should be celebrated at Christmas.

Australian cricketer Steve Smith had the self-inflicted troubles in his life put in perspective by an eleven year old cancer patient he was visiting in hospital. Even under the shadow of death, the young person radiated positive spirit and energy. No point in wasting precious life in bad humour. Smith was visibly affected when the young girl died days later, as we all should be when what promises to be good in life is destroyed by cancerous attitudes. Why wait to concede error and speak words of affirmation (another of Chapman’s love languages) when the joy of reconciliation can overflow into the rest of life and experiences shared?

Presence in three ways

Unlike the presents we buy as Christmas gifts, presence is both costless and priceless, truly in the spirit of hope in the season. We can demonstrate presence in three main ways:

  • Firstly, we can be present by communicating with loved ones to heal differences, whether or not we are the offended party. Keeping the door ajar to healing, redemption and forgiveness does not mean we agree with wrongs; merely that we are no longer under capture to them.
  • Secondly, as we gather together with family and friends, be truly present in the company of others in the spirit of mutual enrichment. Quality time is another of Chapman’s love languages that means so much to those who have been isolated. Put aside electronic devices, along with pre-held resentments, to allow others to be themselves. We might find we enjoy the people and the occasion far more than expected, fulfilling the spirit of the occasion. Above all, don’t be a dog in the manger.
  • Finally, and most importantly, be present to self. Be mindful, as Roslyn Saunders advises, of your own needs and limitations, so that you may also be aware of how you may be affected by others. Christians and Buddhists favour meditation to attain mindfulness.

How good is dis!

An illustration of how a happy disposition we hope for at Christmas has been achieved by poor Indian children taught by Hugh Van Cuylenburg, appears in an article, How Good is Dis!, published in the Weekend Australian Magazine (November 23-24 2019). Hugh found the children’s resilience could be attributed to three principles they practised daily:

  1. Gratitude – the ability to pay attention to what you have instead of worrying about what you don’t have. Title of the article represents the locals’ inability to pronounce “th” sounds. “How good is d’is” was a constant refrain of gratitude with the present. When even the grace of thanks for a meal and for our good fortune living in this wonderful country is drowned out by criticism and demands for ever more money, concessions and action, gratitude would be a welcome relief.
  2. Empathy – the ability to feel what another person is feeling. Empathy is all but a lost grace in an era of self-interest, yet remains essential to the good relationships we hope will prevail at Christmas; and
  3. Mindfulness – the ability to focus on the present moment. That means putting aside what may have preceded and what may be coming down the pipeline, to focus on the joy and wonder of the present.

Merry Christmas

Whether you focus on the presents, the presence, or both, I wish you a merry Christmas and the restoration of spirit, self and family. May peace and joy be with you. I’ll drink a toast to that.

Roslyn Saunders’ book: The Power of No: finding raw courage to reclaim you – https://www.facebook.com/groups/431772140315381/

Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages?

  1. Words of affirmation.
  2. Quality time.
  3. Receiving gifts.
  4. Acts of service.
  5. Physical touch.

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