Finding Strength to Love Well This Christmas

Quote on showing Christ's love with Christmas background

Unfortunately, when I most need Christ’s strength is often when I’m least apt to seek it. When I most feel rushed and overwhelmed, somehow I deceive myself into thinking I can handle the situation and my responses. And perhaps, for a while I can, but the more I rely on myself, the weaker and less loving and grace-filled I become.

As the bustle of Christmas approaches, along with the obligations and gatherings frequently attached to it, I’m reminding myself of this long-verified truth: I am hopeless and helpless without my Savior. Whenever I forget this and allow busyness to steal those precious, soul-fortifying moments I know I need, I reveal though I claim He’s the source of everything good and right within me, somewhere deep within I’ve believed a potentially destructive lie: That I’ve got this, whatever this may be. The longer I operate in that falsehood, the weaker I become and the closer I edge toward hurt and regret.

About five years ago, our family learned a local youth would soon be out of a home, so, though our schedules were full, we took this child in. Though we anticipated challenges, the arrangement proved exponentially more difficult than we could’ve imaged. The teen was hostile, rebellious, and prone to angry outbursts. Our once peaceful home soon morphed into one frequently filled with yelling and slamming doors.

I knew every destructive behavior this teen displayed came from a place of deep pain. I knew Jesus was the only One able to heal this child, and I so longed to continually point to the life-transforming power of Christ. I longed to reveal that power within me, through my words and actions. The problem was, I routinely felt overwhelmed, chasing one responsibility from the next, I had little time for anything other than what I call “shout out” prayers—those frantic requests tossed heavenward as one runs from problem or obligation to the next.

Whenever I put off my time with Christ, I quickly regretted this. I’d respond in frustration rather than grace, reflecting back what I’d received from the child rather than the love of my Savior. Yet each time I pulled away to rest in God’s presence, whether for a moment or ten, His peace washed over me, strengthening and refreshing me as He spoke tenderly to my soul. And almost always, He cleared my vision, giving me a depth of understanding, and with this, compassion, I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Jesus put this it this way: “Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me” (John 15:4, NIV).

Christ’s words make me think of Galatians 5:22-23, which says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (NIV).

Notice, the writer didn’t say, “Now the Spirit helps Jennifer produce love and joy and self-control.” No, text pulled from post with an image of woman standingit says the Holy Spirit produces these traits within me. As I yield to Him, His power expands within me, giving me strength in place of weakness, patience in place of frustration, and self-control where tempers once flared.

Christmas will be busy. I’ve long since succumbed to this truth, and likely events, recipes, and relational interactions won’t quite go as I’d hoped. I can’t prevent the oven from breaking, my neighbor from fuming, or great-aunt Janice from throwing a fit when traditions aren’t followed as she desires. But I can always draw near to my Savior and yield to His love and grace, flowing first within and then without, me. I’ll likely regret numerous things this holiday season, but I know with certainty I’ll never regret that.

Let’s talk about this. How do you stay connected to Christ during busy and stressful seasons? What are some ways you plan to prioritize your time with Him this Christmas.

You might find Wholly Loved’s latest Devotional, Intentional Holidays: Finding Peace in the Prince of Peace helpful:

cover for Wholly Loved's devotionalThis holiday season, God invites us to slow down our hustle and to trade our striving for resting and rejoicing. Immanuel, God with us, encourages us to hit pause in the middle of our crazy, beautiful, and not-so-glamorous moments to experience Him. No matter how busy our days, fragmented our minds, disrupted our plans, or frazzled our hearts, God beckons us to draw near so that we can live filled and refilled. We can experience peace, no matter our circumstances, through the Prince of Peace, our Savior.

Grab your copy HERE.

Additional resources:

Preparing Our Hearts For Christmas, Wholly Loved’s latest Bible reading plan on YouVersion:

This holiday season, take some time to slow down and reflect on God’s goodness and the precious gift of Christ with us.

Find it HERE.

Are You a Mary-Killing Martha?

Most of us are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha. If asked, I suspect many would readily admit we have much more Martha in us than we’d like.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Martha and Mary were sisters in ancient Palestine. They were close friends with Jesus. More than friends–they adored Him. One day, Jesus came for a visit, and Martha went frantic. (You can read the account here.) As would I.

Can you imagine the Creator of the universe stepping inside your kitchen? Drinking from your water-stained glasses? Or am I the only one with dusty furniture, buggy light fixtures, and cobwebs hanging in corners?

Like Martha, when I get on a cleaning-doing-rampage, I expect everyone to join me. For truly, how could anyone possibly sit while so much needs to be done? But in my dolling out tasks and responsibilities, I need to be careful I don’t rob my loved ones of God’s “better.”

It takes a lot of strength … patience … surrender, to sit at Jesus’ feet. We’ve all got to do lists, ambitions, and obligations that threaten to sap our time. Add in a frenzied Martha condemning our efforts, and how many of us can continue to abide?

It’s so hard to be a Mary in a Martha world! For us and our loved ones, which is why we need to be careful not to kill their Mary through over-scheduling.

Each day, I must ask myself–what am I training in my daughter? Am I cultivating an atmosphere that encourages divine-connections, where it’s okay to be a Mary? Do I actively adjust our schedule in order to leave time for God’s best? And what do I praise most, her commitment to Christ or her earthly achievements?

This is a hard one–especially when raising a teen. We want to teach responsibility, service, hard-work ethics. We want to expose our kids to the world. And there’s always so much that needs to be done! That can be done.

To find the balance, I believe we need to continually pare things back to the basics–training our child/encouraging our loved ones to know Christ and make Him known. If their lives, our families, center around that, everything else will fall into place.

This summer has been fairly easy for us. Our schedule leaves plenty of time for family discussions and Bible reading. My challenge will come this fall when sports, classes, and activities threaten to crowd out those family-bonding, spiritually-nurturing times. I pray, when our schedule balloons, God will provide a dose of Mary to balance my Martha, giving me the wisdom to differentiate the must-dos from the can-dos.

Moms and Grandmas, which woman do you relate to today? Are you a Martha, running around ragged, wishing others would help you? Or maybe you’re surrounded by a thousand want-tos–those blessings like amusement parks, sports teams, and gatherings with friends. Be careful your to-do and want-to-do lists don’t rob your children and grandchildren of their time with God.

Maybe you’re a Mary desperately needing time with Jesus, but the obligations of others weigh you down. Today I encourage you to close your ears to the voice of man and tune them instead to Jesus, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one” (Luke 10:41b-42a NIV).

And invite your kids to do the same. Each day show them what it means to abide.

Some things to try:

1. Read a Bible passage after dinner and, instead of teaching, invite each family member to share how God spoke to them through the passage.

2. Create a family quiet time with no tv, soft praise music playing, attractive journals for family members to write in.

3. Take your family on a prayer walk/hike.

Do you have any ideas to share? How have you encouraged your children to draw near to Christ? How have you modeled a vibrant, abiding faith? What are some ways you’ve tackled the schedule monster, and what were the results? What’s *one thing* you can and will do this week to foster an atmosphere of abiding?

Before you begin your busy day, pause to soak in, to rest in, Jesus words, spoken in John 15:4: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” (NLT)

Life’s tough. You can’t do it alone. Neither can our kids. Let’s teach them how to tap into and remain connected to their power source.

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about ways to train up Marys in a Martha world.