This time of year sure brings out the lists. We put together event lists for the parties we’ll be hosting, shopping lists for market day, and address lists of those we’ll bless with a Christmas card or year-end letter few will read.
But perhaps most important is the list of people for whom we will be buying presents. We’ve all had that horrible sinking feeling when, only days before Christmas, we realize one of the granddaughters has one more present than the rest, and off to the store we race.
Only a well-thought-out and perfectly organized archive of gifts and recipients can avert such a catastrophe!
But I want you to consider a different kind of list this year, with two very different kinds of gifts. These gifts should be given well in advance of Christmas, for two different purposes.
The first, gratitude, will fill your heart with a special joy, while the second, forgiveness, will cleanse your conscience, allowing you to fully enjoy the relationships that make Christmas truly rejuvenating.
Yes, I realize we’ve just finished the season of gratitude, with its turkey and trimmings, but my idea of gifting gratitude and encouragement is a bit different. Maybe a story will help.
Several years ago I received a letter from a man with whom I had worked many years ago. We’d not corresponded or even kept up although I had always enjoyed his company, humor and wit.
One day his handwritten letter found its way to my mailbox, and his words of gratitude for words spoken 30 years ago made my day.
It seems something I’d said stuck in his mind and changed his perspective on life. I still have his letter, and we have re-kindled a precious friendship. His letter was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.
Is there someone in your life you could bless with a letter of gratitude and encouragement? Perhaps it’s a former teacher, or coach, or another person whose advice, guidance or discipline had a large part in making you a successful adult.
Take the time to write a letter reminding that person of the role he or she had in your life’s journey, thanking him for pouring his life into yours.
Your note will be a gift that gives both ways. Your heart will find a special joy, and your recipient will be greatly encouraged.
Some of you reading this column need to go in a different direction. You’ve spent years kindling and rekindling that smoldering fire of resentment and anger toward someone who did you wrong.
Chances are that person once was close, even a family member. Something happened long ago, and even though the actual circumstances are now blurred by years of exaggeration, your anger flares any time you think about them.
Here’s the deal. Bitterness is an acid that eats away its container, no matter how righteous we believe we are in keeping it fresh. But we carefully cultivate it because it allows us to feel good about acting badly.
We think bitterness gives us the right to hurt others, all the while not understanding we’re the victims of our own spite.
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, especially in the run-up to Christmas, is actually forgiving those in your life whose faults have fractured your heart.
Forgiveness means no longer allowing them to rent space in your head because you refuse to hold their past against them. Forgiveness means no longer bringing up their faults to yourself, to others, or to God.
In reality, forgiveness is freeing yourself from having to rehearse and reflect on hurts and pains that will never heal until you determine to move on.
Now understand, forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. Forgiveness simply allows you to clear up your side of the ledger so that if those who have wronged you repent and apologize, no obstacle remains for the relationship to be healed.
The best example of forgiveness is seen when those who have lost loved ones to heinous crimes openly and sincerely forgive the perpetrator. It doesn’t change the facts or the pain, but it does free those who forgive from a lifetime of bitterness.
So is there someone in your life you need to forgive? If so, give yourself this wonderful gift, and then write a sincere note telling that person you’ve forgiven him or her.
Who knows? It may be just the thing God uses to bring the individual to the point of admission and apology. And if that happens, seeing that person at Christmas and once again finding relationship may be the best gift the season has to offer.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs Saturdays in The Signal.