2016 Finale: Working Silently, Alone, in the Dark

2016 Finale: Working Silently, Alone, in the Dark

I. The Romance & the Reality

We said our “I love yous” But what did we know? When we had yet to find How very proud we are so #db

It’s very clear Our love is here to stay ; Not for a year But ever and a day. The radio and the telephone And the movies that we know May just be passing fancies, And in time may go ! But, oh my dear, Our love is here to stay. Together we’re Going a long, long way In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibralter may tumble, There’re only made of clay, But our love is here to stay. – Love is Here to Stay

“I didn’t sign-up for this.”

I don’t know how many times I have thought those words (and sometimes even spoken). I’ve said it to myself after fights with Yasmin. I’ve said it to myself after a long day, or a difficult meeting, or during avoidable and unavoidable drama. I’ve said it when people haven’t met their commitments to me, or when things don’t go my way after trying so hard, or when life feels just so damn difficult. “I didn’t sign-up for this.” It’s me saying, in a way, that the life I have isn’t the life I want. It’s me saying the difficulties I’m facing is unfair to me. I’ve come to realize that what I’m doing is accusing God, who gave me this life; and accusing myself, for steering myself to where I am through my decisions. Either way, I tear down the One who can help me most: God, and the one who needs to help himself most: me. I’m glad Yasmin has corrected me about not saying this. It’s a very destructive statement, even if unsaid. But why do I do this? Why do I default to wanting to rationalize the letting go of difficult circumstances instead of digging deep and finding courage? Why am I so easily shaken? I think it has to do with my crazy expectations, starting with the misunderstood expectation that I have certain inalienable rights, which I have romanticized without the foundational reality that these expectations have a price to be paid to be fulfilled. Let me give you two examples:

1. I love the idea of freedom. I love the idea of being able to choose. But I’ve forgotten that the ability to choose does not mean I get think, say, or do whatever I want, when I want, where I want, why I want, and how I want. That is the romantic idea of freedom, a romantic idea that appeals to me. But the reality of freedom is not “everyone is free”, in fact, I would argue most are not free, lacking the necessary self-control to truly be self-determining. The romantic view is that “we’re all free”. The reality is without self-control there is no personal freedom, without rule of law there is no mandate to prevent the different freedoms of diverse people from encroaching on each other, and without moral absolutes there are no standards by which we can base laws on fairly. The reality is, without curbing our freedom to choose with wisdom, we destroy that very privilege, and that is what freedom is, a privilege, not a right, that if abused, we will lose. Don’t believe me? Think of a man who argues that he is free to eat whatever he wants and goes on to debauch on large volumes of food, until the day his organs give way, drastically limiting his bodily functions. Free to choose but not free to choose consequences. Better to choose well before that final consequence or final victory we will all face: death.

2. When Yasmin and I got married, we were so excited. Me and my beautiful best friend were going to take over the world. Before the wedding, we planned the ceremony but we also planned the marriage, reading up on it, talking through difficult topics, and even discussing whether our life purposes integrated. Nothing is as romantic as marriage, the exclusive commitment to another for life. But the reality many times looks like arguments, like a lot of bills with little money, like a lot of time flying by, like two people who can’t sleep as they get used to having a roommate, like little annoyances that lead to full-scale wars, like a lot of frustration. It looks more like two proud people looking into the clearest mirror they’ll ever have, each other, and reeling at the ugliness they see. To a lot of young people today, a relationship promises the greatest joy one will ever find, and there is some truth to this. But without an understanding of the reality, that truly beautiful romances are not built on great expectations and fleeting passions but on sacrifice, faithfulness, and forgiveness, one is most likely just going to end up jaded. I found our wedding day to be a very joyous occasion, a comment we were told by people who witnessed it, but a much greater joy for me has been the realization that I could love so much and be loved so much, and I realized this not by achieving a picture perfect marital existence, but through the words “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” over and over and over again.

Reality without romance is joyless, and this leads to a cold and ruthless existence that cannot appreciate beauty. But we also cannot have romance without reality, for romance without reality is meaningless, a series of fancies, followed by doubt and despair when they pass. Romance without reality makes us desire beautiful things without knowing the price of beautiful things. We want the passion without the commitment. We want the freedom without the responsibility nor the accountability. We want salvation without obedience. And so we end with neither.

My prayer for 2017 is to live with more wisdom, at least much more wisdom than I have lived 2016. How does one do this? By understanding What Is, doing What (One) Ought, and defining What Will (Be).

II. What Is, What Ought, What Will

Worse than the one who does not know Is the one who thinks he knows For he moves confident, though ignorant And does not correct where he goes #db

Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense. – Proverbs 12:11 NIV

I get a lot of questions on my blog and Facebook page, and while I would like to say that most of the questions indicate intelligent, wise, and high-impact people, the reality is (here we go again with the word “reality”), most of the questions reveal how people who buy into today’s popular ideas will naturally become shallow, foolish, and selfish. The bulk of what I’m asked are similar to this questions, “Where are all the great guys/girls?” I’ve written about this before, you can search for it on my blog, but a quick answer to this, my normal answer to this is, “They’re hiding from you!” Seriously, I’ve never seen a great thing, when fully flourished lack attention. Neither have I seen a truly substantial thing need attention to validate itself. If you find yourself always wondering why you don’t have a great guy or girl, I think you should get a more difficult job or at the very least spend your life on something more engaging. Only people who have the luxury of living in a fairy tale, or think they have the luxury of living in a fairy tale, have time to think like this. Maybe it’s because, as an adult, I’ve had bills to pay and shareholders to be accountable to, that many times the only option for the day was to keep my head down and work, and before you know it, it’s years later, and there’s some success.

Another question I get a lot is “Can you be my mentor?” I personally have no idea why they would want me. I saw my cousin over Christmas break and he mentioned that word in our common business circles is that I’m “intense”, and in Yasmin’s more specific estimation, “harsh”! Now let’s apply some logic to this request: I’m guessing that if someone is seeking a mentor, it’s because they want to grow in wisdom or become more like their mentor in the area they’re seeking mentorship in. Yet, most of the time, when talking to people who want to be mentored, they don’t seem to understand the most basic ideas of duty, obligation, and responsibility. The simple idea that one must do what one does not feel like doing simply because it is one’s duty is super basic. But when I hear people telling me why they want to move jobs because it’s “hard” or “people are mean” or “it’s not my passion”, I have a hard time not getting impatient. I can’t mentor someone like that. I don’t think anyone can. Mentoring isn’t simply meeting up to blow smoke up someone’s ass. Besides, if a person won’t fulfill his obligations to people who gave him life, his parents, and even complains about them and their shortcomings, the chances of this person really listening to me, who has done nothing for him, is not going to be good. My answer to this is usually, “You don’t need a mentor. You need to commit yourself to your life’s roles and find a way to do a really good job in each. You’ll find the lessons you need. You’ll find the teacher you need.” I can go on with the questions that worry me. They worry me because they reveal that majority of people are preoccupied with basic ideas of identity and purpose. We are insecure and think we can find it in identity, in being someone, which is sort of true, but if who we are, the someone we are, is of weak character, of little competence, and no credibility, then it doesn’t matter how many relationships we have, or how many involvements we can list, because we will still be insecure – not because the world is a dark place – but because we are unable to handle reality. We swing between points of being lost, being bored, and being fleetingly excited because we seek the next “must see”, “must have”, “must eat”, and “must experience” instead of our daily “must do”, and doing our tasks in an excellent way. I didn’t find my life purpose by seeking mentors or reading self-help books, nor by reading blog posts (such as this), or having a prayer partner.

The reality is, I didn’t start with a life purpose. I don’t think anyone does. I started with what my parents gave me: duty, obligation, and responsibility. I didn’t start out with “It’s my life’s goal to build an NGO when I have money”. I started out as a 5 year old being exposed to a squatter area, “David, you don’t have everything but you have so much. These people have very little It is your job to be grateful everyday for the things you do have and to be very generous, especially with people who have less.” The life purpose of helping the poor started with duty. My parents explained to us that is was our job to help. Neither did my purposeful business building start with a great idea or glamorous startup. It started with having to take over a failing company which was a family obligation. I didn’t like having to come to work at 6am. I made myself come at 6am because there was no time to lose and because I was too worried to sleep anyway. This heavy obligation led to an amazing character building experience which has led to other wonderful things. The things I enjoy today didn’t come simply because they were handed down to me. They’re the product of living responsibly, being taught as a young man, “If you don’t develop your mind, you won’t be smart.” or “If you don’t use your time wisely, someday, in the future, you won’t have anything to show.” or “If you don’t eat your vegetables and eat a lot of junk your body will suffer.” It was responsibility, the lesson that I needed to take control of the things that mattered to me and cultivate them, that led to fruitful living. It did not start with romantic ideas, big dreams, and Big Hairy Audacious Goals (all of which I love), but with little seeds planted during times of duty, obligation, and responsibility, which are, to me, the way God tills our hearts in preparation for His word. God uses these three things to break the soil of our hearts and prepare them for planting.

So instead of starting 2017 thinking about, “What do I want to do?” or “What are my goals?” Start with the questions, “What are my roles? What does my immediate world need from me?” Am I student? How do I excel more than ever – even when I’m bored or frustrated? Am I a husband or wife? How can I love my spouse more deeply this year? Am I a son or daughter? How can I honor my parents more meaningfully this year? Am I “leader”? How can I fundamentally improve the lives of my followers this year instead of just pleasing fans? Am I an employee? How can I see make my boss great? How can I make my team great? How can I make my company great?

Start with your roles and identify your duties, obligations, and responsibilities. Start by identifying what’s required of you and commit to fulfilling them.

Personally, I’ve divided my efforts into three: – Understand What Is, meaning understand universal spiritual and physical principles, so that I will have strong foundational concepts upon which to build on. I’ve been loading up on Physics, Chemistry, and Biology reading, as well as going back to Math, Economics, and Theology, not taking for granted what I may already know, but desiring to increase my knowledge in these fundamental areas. – The next thing I’m focusing on is to Do What (One) Ought, meaning, do the necessary things, especially the necessary difficult things. After understanding the foundation principles, these should help inform me daily decision-making to live wisely as I face daily opportunities and challenges. – Finally, when one Understands What Is, Does What (One) Ought, he will inevitably Define What Will (Be), meaning he will shape the future, at the very least his future, not letting it fall into the hands of random chance, but with diligence, refuses to be a victim to the workings of others, but learning to control the world by controlling himself. A lot of people are excited about this third thing. We’re usually excited about what we’ll create or build or achieve, but to do these, we need to go back to the first two. Do we Understand What Is? Do we Do What (One) Ought? If so, we need not worry, What Will (Be) is going to be beautiful.

III. Working Silently, Alone, in the Dark

I’ve learned to love the ripples Of unknown achievements Why does anyone have to know? We made possible these moments #db

If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small. – Proverbs 24:10 NLT

This is probably my eighth stab at writing this piece. I have drafts saved in computers and notebooks, outlines on scattered pieces paper, and I can’t say I’m happy with it. I guess it will have to do. Maybe I’m trying to share too much, putting too much pressure on one article to help change prevailing mindsets. Maybe it’s time I got an editor. But I guess if I could sum-up my encouragement for my readers, it would be this: Get really really really good at working silently, alone, in the dark. Get good at being excellent invisibly.

Get good at studying without awards.

Get good at working without recognition.

Get good at standing for what’s right on a daily basis, even when you’re alone, especially when you’re alone.

Get good at doing the necessary hard thing.

It’s easy to march in a rally. It’s hard to walk in unity. It’s easy to express our personal frustrations. It’s hard to address our personal mistakes. It’s easy to post on social media. It’s hard to cultivate an inner life. It’s easy to message, text, and snap. It’s hard to bootstrap. It’s easy to compare. It’s hard to live aware. It’s easy to blame. It’s much harder, the soul, to tame. It’s easy to seek applause. It’s difficult to admit our flaws.

Get really really good at working silently, working without fanfare, without needing to make a fuss, without complaining about how stressful or hard things are, and without pride and arrogance. Get really really good at working alone, developing personal conviction and developing the independence required to live in interdependence. And get really really good at working in the dark, like the roots of a tree thickening, unseen, surrounded by dirt, under the ground. Trust that your personal efforts in understanding, diligence, and empowerment will bear fruit, and that someday your stem will break through the soil, and even more, as your oak grows, you will have the roots to hold it strong.


Eat because you're hungry. That is enough.
Paint because you have color in your heart. That is enough.
Write because you have something meaningful to say. That is enough.
Enjoy the moment in the moment. That is enough. 
Love because you've found someone to love. That is enough.
You don't need the approval of "likes" to validate your existence, to validate you activities. If people like your stuff, wonderful. If they don't, just as good. Who you are is enough. #db
The Popular Death

The Popular Death

You are not wise
Because you know much
About beautiful excuses
And how to utilize such
To convince yourself
And your cheerleaders
All the while dying
By your choice bleeders

 

There are many very popular and highly-resonating ideas that if misunderstood will lead to frustration and failure. A few that come to mind now are:

1. Do what you love – I looked at my schedule this week, and I can’t say that I “loved” most of the things. In fact, I probably DON’T love most of what I had to do. Who I do love is God, my wife, and family. What I do love are my teams. What I do love is our mission to fundamentally improve the lives of workers. And to truly love all of these, I need to do many things I don’t love. I need to swallow my pride a lot (and get faster at it). I need to work even harder. I need to spend more time on the budgets. I need to be more focused. I need to make hard calls. I need to make sacrifices. I need to face consequences. I need to confront mistakes. If I only did what I loved or felt like doing, I would lose all of the things I actually truly love.

2. Surround yourself with people who support you – I think the better way to say this is “Surround yourself with people who challenge you to become the best version of yourself.” Misunderstanding this will lead someone to surround himself with cheerleaders and remove the necessary iron that sharpens iron. The best performers in the world did not become great by surrounding themselves with cheerleaders. They became great by surrounding themselves with experts, with coaches, with trainers, with people who helped them achieve difficult but great standards. People today are more praised than any past generation yet more insecure. Of course! Insecurity does not come from lack of praise or encouragement. Insecurity comes from lack of competence to face life’s realities.

3. Find a mentor – I think life gives us natural mentors. Their names are Duty, Obligation, and Responsibility. There’s a lot of people seeking “celebrity wisdom”, thinking they will change their lives with some special insight. This doesn’t exist. More high impact is looking at your life’s current roles, identifying what’s expected of you in each role, and committing to do whatever it takes to be excellent in each. If you’re a student, commit to studying hard every single day. Commit to getting great grades. Even if you don’t get top grades, the exercise of sticking to something and finding a way toward a goal will help you for the rest of your life. In your role as a son or daughter, honor your parents in every possible way you can. Get really good at that. In your role as an employee, make your department the best. Commit to improving in your job every single day. Commit to hitting better results every day. Commit to improving focus, to improving network, and to improving competence. These will improve your life way more than spending time with me or anyone who seems to be smart. Mentors are great for people who have committed to achieving great things in their areas of responsibility. In my observation, they’re practically useless for people who don’t understand the basic commitments of natural duties and obligations. How many times have I encountered people, particularly men, who have access to time with great people yet never amounted to anything? They puffed themselves with knowledge, even as they lacked any commitment to build others and other things up.

Remember this quote:

“When the student is ready the teacher will appear.
― Lao Tzu

 

4. It’s the thought that counts – Tell this to the hungry. Tell this to the suffering. Tell this to the people who actually have to make things happen. Our thoughts are important but it is our output that truly counts. It’s not enough to feel pity for the hungry. The question is, did we feed them? It’s not enough to wish for world peace. The question is, are we contributing to peace on Earth? So many people think that their job is simply to think of great ideas for their company. Nope. It’s your job to think, yes, but also to execute, to implement, to learn how to navigate different personalities, different limitations, and still be effective in impacting for good. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people complain that they have great ideas but no one listens, as if they’re entitled to people listening. No one is entitled to being heard, that’s why we develop credibility. No one is entitled to the rewards of success simply because they had an idea, that’s why we work hard.

5. Everyone has a different reality – to a point this is true. But let’s say we don’t use the religion card, there will still be absolute realities such as Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry. If you jump off a building, you will fall and die. That’s physics. If you take certain substances, even if you’ve had a bad day or a bad life or whatever, these substances will twist you mind. That’s chemistry. If you keep going down a foolish road and finding it harder and harder to change, that’s physics, that’s inertia. If you keep running out of money, that’s physics, the law of conservation of matter, it’s also economics. If you feel like you don’t have energy for more productive work, that’s physics again, the law of conservation of energy. And these are absolutes, that, if challenged, will result in predictable consequences. So instead of using “your reality” to excuse bad behavior or bad performance, use your time, money, and energy to understand universal principles and get good at harnessing those. That’s wiser, more logical, and more useful.

I can go on, but these 5 currently standout. They’re very popular. They sound very nice and resonate with a lot of people. But they are wrong. We are not wise not because wisdom is not available, but because we have mistaken resonance for wisdom. We are walking on our journey and encountering different paths all claiming to point to the same end: joy. And instead of seeking understanding, instead of verifying, validating, and testing, we take the road that resonates with us most, and this leads to disaster. Your heart is only a good guide if you have developed it into a strong moral compass that’s anchored on a true north, without which you will be directionless no matter where you go. You will be moved in church but also easily moved in Sodom. And you will wonder why you are so weak when you’ve followed “good” advice, not realizing that “popular” advice is very different from good.

Brothers Bonifacio – This Christmas

Brothers Bonifacio – This Christmas

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart

But the very next day you gave it away

This year, to save me from tears

I’ll give it to someone special

- Wham

 


 

Our First Christmas Decorations

“More tape please.” Yasmin said, as she stood on two Monobloc chairs, the same two plastic chairs she bought for the apartment when she realized her fiancé didn’t have furniture. “David! More tape! You’re not listening!” I did hear both times, but the first was heard in the man-dimension, that place where time slows and instructions seem more like arrows whizzing-by in the Temple of Doom, things to be dodged, not caught. “Sorry!” I quickly apologized and stretched my hand out to her so she could get the cut-up strips of double-sided tapes sticking to my fingers. “One more.” She said, as she carefully placed the double-sided tape on the wall and firmly pressed the end of a faux-pine garland with small green, gold, and red Christmas balls hanging from them “There!” she said. “Done”

She stepped down and we admired her handiwork. “Do you like it” she asked me. “Yup. Looks nice.” I answered. “I would like it better if we had a sofa under everything instead of this extra mattress.” She said. “But I’m happy we have something Christmassy”

“I’m happy too.” I answered. “I’m happy too.” I don’t think I’ve been that happy about Christmas ornaments since I was a kid, when the trappings signaled the season. But this was a different kind of happiness. As a kid, the joy came from the great expectations of festivities and gifts, but now, it isn’t that at all. It’s seeing Yasmin truly satisfied at making that part of our wall more beautiful.

A few days later, I was sitting on the floor beside a stack of books and my iPad, when I noticed figurines of a small Christmas Tree and an angel. A few minutes later, Yasmin texted me from the bedroom (like we modern folk do), “Did you see the Christmas Tree?” She seemed really excited about it. She loves these random small things. I’m more of a planner. I prefer to have things intricately planned and executed more than randomly cobbled together. I’m the guy who insisted Yasmin plan out the way the Christmas balls were attached to her garland in a consistent alternating of colors. But for some weird reason, these little out-of-place figurines beside the flat screen (also from Yasmin, as I had given my TVs away), looked like they belonged. I stood up and walked to the bedroom. “I saw the figurines.” I said. She smiled, and that smile cut through my cheapo heart.

I decided to increase next year’s Christmas budget.

Nothing like the sincere smile of someone you love to melt your heart.

 


 

My First Christmas Decoration

”…but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

- Mark 4:19

I didn’t have much. My place was still furnished back then (it was the year before I decided to go minimalist), but I didn’t have a lot of cash in my account, in my wallet, nor in any of my pockets. It was a tough year like every year has been since taking over that company. But I had it in my heart to use the Christmas season to rekindle a love for God, a love I could feel was still alive, but suffocated by the worries of life and wrong decisions.

So I decided to do what my parents used to do with us as kids: Advent Night, and I went to the store to buy my first Christmas decoration: a wreath and Advent candles.

Here’s a quick reference on Advent candles:

There are three purple candles and one rose-colored candle on an Advent wreath. The purple candles are lit over the course of the first two and fourth Sundays of Advent. These candles represent prayer, penance and preparation for the coming of the Lord that each person is expected to undertake during the Advent season. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, and it represents joy. Gaudete Sunday is seen as a day of rejoicing because it marks the midpoint of Advent.

A white candle can also be placed in the middle of the Advent wreath. When used, this candle is often called the Christ candle. It is only lit on Christmas and represents the birth and purity of the Christ child. The candles are lit progressively throughout Advent to show the hope and expectation of the first coming of Christ and the anticipation of the second coming where Jesus is to judge the living and dead.

- [Advent Wreath](https://www.reference.com/holidays-celebrations/advent-candles-represent-fdfceb390d042274)

I took these and set them up at home, taking care to pray as I would light them at night. I remember celebrating with some friends as well. This is before we all started getting married and having kids. Everyone’s so busy these days. But I do remember a remarkable effect on me as I used an old tradition to trigger a new desire for Christ. Despite the brokenness of my situation, the anchoring practice of coming home, lighting the candles, and praying was good for my soul.

In an age where everyone is after the latest and greatest, that year, I was reminded that many times what we need is not some new technique or new insight. What we need are solid foundations, firm paths under our feet to help us walk steadily. I’m in the business and tech space, an industry that is obsessed with the future, but despite this, whenever I feel a little lost or even incredibly lost, I go back to those old paths, those old traditions taught to me, remembering old stories, implementing old practices, and performing old disciplines. These ancient paths have a way of grounding me, and helping me find my way.

 


 

The Ancient Paths

As I remember the lessons of past Christmases, thinking about all these old traditions and how times are changing fast, displacing many who refuse to change, and leaving many people lost. I was reminded of a question someone asked me about encouraging creativity in the church. He asked, “Where does creativity come from? From the leadership or from the staff? When it’s up to the leader, he reaches a point where his ideas aren’t that creative anymore. When it’s the staff, sometimes they take too many risks or fall away. How would you manage creativity without losing the way?”

I told him, “I don’t believe creativity comes from either. Creativity comes from loving your customer, from truly understanding them deeply and finding ways to serve them in higher impact ways. Look at the most creative organizations in the world. They’re not commanding creativity. They are sparking creativity by understanding their customers.”

What does that question have to do with this article? What does it have to do with Christmas? Well, it has to do with the wave of modern practices engulfing us today. I think it’s important for us to ask ourselves and our families, “How do we enjoy a creative and joyful Christmas without losing the meaning of the season, which is the Love of Christ?” Many times we think that modernization and innovation are at odds with tradition and foundations. But they don’t have to be.

A few weeks ago, I read:

Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

- Jeremiah 6:16

The words Ancient Paths stuck with me. The verse clearly said that finding this path would lead to rest for our souls. What an awesome promise.

So I did a little more digging, which is probably what I’m doing if you see me busily hammering away on my iPhone, ignoring everything going on around me. Here’s what I wrote in my notes:

What are the ancient paths?

  • The way of faith: The way of complete trust and obedience
  • The way of holiness: The way of transformative love

How do we NOT walk in the ancient paths?

The ancient paths are not about the age or the recency of the concept but about alignment with God’s original purpose of living each day in faith and transformative love.

When new ideas, new concepts, new innovations lead to less faith in God (less belief and less obedience) and less holiness (less transformative love) then we fall away from the ancient paths.

This led me to this decision:

Never be too modern, too edgy, too disruptive, too innovative for faith and holiness. We see this when:

    ○ Ideas of grace condone sin
    ○ Technology causes sin
    ○ Disruption causes division

The I also thought:

When old conventions, old policies, old traditions lead to less faith in God (less belief and less obedience) and less holiness (less transformative love) then we fall away from the ancient paths.

Never be too conservative, too formulaic, too defined, too stable for faith and holiness. As seen by:

    ○ When we live by convention not conviction, and sacrifice creativity, limiting transformative love
    ○ When we lead by policy not by purpose, destroying passion, and preventing transformative love
    ○ When we mistake tradition for obedience, fooling ourselves, and destroying our ability to impact with transformative love

The Ancient Paths, are the decisions we make that lead us to greater faith in God and greater transformative love. And t his simple verse gives an elegant way to discern our activities this Christmas:

Will this lead us down to more trust, more faith, and more holiness?

And connected to this:

How can I make this activity (whatever it is I am doing), a way that exercises faith and leads to more transformative love?

Let’s get practical.

  • Don’t just give gifts. Pray for every person you’re giving to as well.
  • Instead of just showing up for church, rekindle faith and spur loving action.
  • Don’t just sing the carols. Worship with your soul through obedience.
  • Don’t just get together with the family. Remind the family of your role in blessing others by being generous, especially to the poor.

I can go on but I don’t want you to think that this is about prescriptions. It’s not. Those were just ideas. The point is, this Christmas, go down the path that leads greater trust in God and greater holiness. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re buying gifts or fighting guilt, having a Turkey or scrambling for change, spending time with grandkids or learning how to buy your wife a gift she’ll like. The point is to ask yourself: Does this lead to greater faith and transformative love?

If yes, we should keep going. We’ll find rest. If no, we need to stop. We can’t head home if we run away from it. We won’t find heaven if we seek hell.

I’d like to share a part of an old post to end this one:

There was a time when my father had lost his business, we had to move into a much smaller house, had to get rid of our cars and really most of our stuff. Christmas, like for everyone else, was usually a big event for our family but this year we really didn’t have any money so the nicely wrapped giant boxes were missing from under a smaller tree, and the turkey was a big chicken with misplaced gravy (that’s another story). But even as we downscaled what Christmas was to me, God was setting up a backdrop for one the greatest lessons I would ever learn. He had to remove the trappings, the traps we fall into, that distract us from Him.

Having very little resources, my mom decided that our Advent would consist of a walk around our tiny village – which was one small circle. My brothers and I were complaining of the flies and having to walk, actually, I think I was the only one complaining. I was such a grumbler looking back. When we got back to the house we realized we had left the keys inside. We were locked out.
So there we were sitting on the curb, my dad, my brothers, me, and my mom, who was still trying to turn everything into a lesson.

I think Joe’s, mine, and Joshua’s minds were thinking “Be quiet”, “Shut up”, ‘Candy” respectively.

Then my mom said:

“Maybe this is how Joseph and Mary felt being locked out of every inn. Imagine what they were going through. And Mary was pregnant. This is what we do to Jesus when we don’t let Him into our lives.”

Years later to today, I still remember her lesson, but I think I’ve realized something deeper. More tragic than what we do to Jesus when we don’t let Him reside in our heart, is what we do to our lives – we leave it a dark empty shell with no light and no life.

I think about that Christmas lesson, and about all the other Christmas lessons, each of them a step towards greater faith and greater holiness as we draw closer to Jesus. This gives me peace. It gives me peace because I am reminded that though circumstances change, some seemingly for the worse, I only need to look for the step that exercises greater faith and leads to transformative love, and then take the next step, and the next. I may not know where these steps will take me through. I do know that the promise at the end is rest.

I’m really looking forward to a restful Christmas.

Merry Christmas everyone!