It’s that time of year again. The Christmas season is over. The carols silenced; the torn wrapping paper discarded; the leftovers of the Christmas feasting eaten, and the tree gone.
It was always the day after Christmas in my family that sibling squabbles would break out. Tears, accusations, pouting – and the day after all the generosity and love and camaraderie always ended with everyone being sent to his or her room to spend the afternoon in the quiet solace of self-pity.
It is at this time, right after going to the greatest lengths of goodwill, that we begin to find our kindness exhausted. Compassion fatigue sets in. One more good cause, one more gift, one more selfless act seems just too much to ask after all we have already done. All of our resources – emotionally, mentally, financially – have already been drained. Unfortunately, it is probably the time – not in plenty but in want – when our empathy is most in demand.
I remember it well. We had our great big delicious ham in the oven on Christmas day. We had chosen the largest one we could find in honor of our coming guests. That is when our oven died, not even halfway through baking. My grandparents arrived in Mississippi, tired and worn after the long, tedious drive from Virginia through a sudden winter storm. They arrived to us standing in the ice storm trying to toast the ham to a finish on the BBQ grill. They waited a long time, patiently, to be able to eat the charred rinds with a nice cold center. Later my grandfather and brothers went back out into the frozen night to look for parts to repair the stove.
But none of us argued on that holiday. We found another source for compassion – not out of our strengths, but considerately responding to others’ weaknesses and needs. It was just a matter of being in that time and place and doing what you were able to do for the sake of others. For example …
The train lurched through an unwanted and unseasonably snowy day in mid-April. With the early morning commute, the train was packed. I had to come all the way to front of the train to find a seat. Now, I was ready to just soak up the passing scenery. But the lady next to me wanted to talk. She asked me about where I was going and why. Then, she told me about her journey; she was heading to her next round of chemotherapy for stage IV breast cancer. This would be the hardest bout of it, she told me. She kept on talking. Finally, as we slid one stop away from Philadelphia, I asked her if I could pray for her. “Yes!” she said. “I’m a believer. I believe in Christ; I believe in His healing.”
We hugged once briefly, and then we got into the line to leave the train, once again two strangers passing each other by. I’m not saying I ministered to her. More likely she ministered to me; I didn’t have anything to give. But I know what happened there made that trip worthwhile. A touch of grace coming from the unknown, unlooked for, was healing for her even before she got to the hospital. In a small way, I can relate.
I was feeling down one day last year in the week before Christmas. I can’t remember why; I can only remember what abruptly lifted me out of my discouragement. The only thing that might bring any good to the day was a hot Christmas-special coffee, I thought. When I got to the drive-thru window to pick up my drink, the woman told me, “The lady in front of you has paid for yours. She said, ‘Merry Christmas.’” Surprised, I grabbed a quick glance at the vehicle ahead as it pulled away. It wasn’t a car I recognized. But somehow that woman who was a stranger, through such a small act, reached into my bad day and pulled my attention back into focus. It was as if God had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Do you know how much time I spend thinking of you and caring for you? Look at all that I’ve given you, and by the way – here’s a little something extra, just for today.”
I don’t know the motivation for that lady’s gift, but it reminded me of the source of all charity – not outside circumstances or feelings – but gratitude, which gives birth to joy, for all that has been given. Even down to one small cup of hot coffee on a very cold day.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9-10).