Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Present

This weekend I watched a documentary on the life of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan (Road of Hope). Amidst being humbled and inspired by this truly hope-full and joy-full man of God, I was moved by a conscious, willful decision he made during his 13+ years of imprisonment in Vietnam (of which 9 were in solitary confinement):
"I decided I would not wait. I would live the present moment and fill it with love. For if I wait, the things I wait for will never happen. The only thing that I can be sure of is that I am going to die. No, I will not spend time waiting. I will live the present moment and fill it with love."
What an incredibly powerful and liberating statement. Here is this man enduring long periods of darkness (literal and spiritual)...feeling helpless and unimportant...being abused and belittled...and somehow he opens his mind to God's truth...and he hears the secret of life. I mean what a beautifully simple compass for one's life...for my life. "Live the present moment...and fill it with love." I knew as soon as I heard it...that is what I want. That's how I want to live.
So I started thinking about Christmas, because that's where I am right now...in the middle of Christmas...and I didn't want to wait to try and implement this new found direction for my life. Each year seems to be a whirlwind of parties and get-togethers and visits and encounters. And when it is all said and done...I inevitable feel like it all slipped by too fast and I never got to really talk to or be with anyone (except my wife and daughter...and sometimes even that seems rushed). So I started thinking...how do I fill each of these moments of Christmas...with love?

I began with the basics...just trying to understand what love really is...what it means. Love is a verb....at least as Jesus intended it. It's not a thing that you fall into...or lose. It's not a feeling or emotion (although you can feel things because of love.) No...love is a decision...it's an action. And love is outward, not inward. Love is about others...not yourself. It's something you give...not something you get. So from these two basic elements of love I knew that filling moments with love meant doing something (or several things) for others. It had to be about what others felt and took away from their encounter with me. Somehow I had to become God's hands and feet and voice and somehow make His love real in the lives of those I came into contact with. I had to make god's love palpable for them. But how do I do this in fleeting conversations and short visits? How do I deepen the time I have with each person...when that time is so short?

And so I started a list of little things...things I can do in each encounter, each visit, each moment during Christmas to let someone know they are valuable...they are important...they are loved. Here's what I have come up with so far:
  • Find time for "everyone"...even if only a few moments.
  • Make eye contact...and really see the person I'm talking to.
  • Ask about their life...and uncover what is important to them.
  • Express to them their value in your eyes...and don't hold back.
  • Make physical contact...whether a hug or handshake or pat on the back...physical touch helps make God's love real.
I realize these are not earth shattering. In fact, I expect they are some basic tenants from Communication 101. But I also realize how seldom I really do these things, especially with some people...such as the relative I have nothing in common with, or a niece's new boyfriend who has his nose pierced and a sleeve of tattooed skulls down his arm, or the elderly neighbor who talks endlessly and in detail about her maladies and problems, or...and especially at some moments...such as when I'm tired, or I'm ready to go, or I'm hungry, or the game is on, or... Yes, the sad truth is there are so many things always going on...that I get distracted from the moment. And not only do I fail to fill these moments with love...but I fail to fill them with anything...because I'm not there. I'm thinking about how to get out of this conversation or about what I am going to do next. I guess that's why time sees to go so quickly sometimes, because I am often racing to the next moment before I've appreciated the current one. But this Christmas, I want to start to change all that.

Admittedly this sounds somewhat pollyannaish. I haven't even gotten to the first moment with this new perspective yet (or I have and I missed it), but already I am worrying if it's even possible to do this. Can I really focus on the other person I am talking to...really stay there...centered on them...and let God's love fill that moment through me? Can I really tune out all the other distractions around (and within) me...and be with that other person in the moment? I guess time will tell. But if I can....if I can move this lesson from my mind to my heart...if I can live in the moment...and fill those moments with love...then there can be little doubt that a season of moments filled with love is about the best Christmas present one can hope for.

Cardinal Thuan, please pray for me...that the joy and hope you found through living each moment and filling it with love will also find me. Amen.

1 comment:

Misty said...

Wow!! Best one yet. The lesson of really hearing a person, and not hearing myself is a lesson which I have been blessed with this year as well. I came to realize that when talking TO people, and not WITH them that I was missing the actual interaction completely. I believe if we can let go of our opinions and our reactions in the moment when the other person is speaking we can truely feel, not hear what they are saying. It doesn't take us away from our own opinions or prospective, yet it allows us to be with that other person in that moment. That is the greatest gift a person could give anyone. I applaud your thoughts :)