Where is Your Silent Night Sanctuary?

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The week before Christmas and quiet surrounds us as we anticipate the Holy Night to come. We are relaxed in our peaceful sanctuary. The gifts are all wrapped, and plans are all in order. The children calm, and not so much as a runny nose threatens to change our plans. No bills to pay, no deadlines to keep, no…

“NO WAY!” you say. “THAT”S NOT MY LIFE YOU DESCRIBED! WHAT A JOKE!”

Our truth may fall far from the wished for ideal. In fact, we are likely in a tizzy trying to get ready for the holidays. We are feeling the stress of the ongoing pandemic, the stress of gift giving, the stress of financial expectations, the stress of relationships. Too many people to please; too little time and money. On and on the list of tensions may go. On the other hand, we may feel overwhelmed by the absence or loss of those we love, and the holidays approach- not with the whiteness of fresh snow but rather the gray haze of sadness. We look back on holidays gone by, and the present feels hollow and meaningless by comparison.

Where, we wonder, can we find sanctuary from this contradiction that comes at this season of peace and good cheer.

Let me make a few small suggestions:

Lower your expectations. Sometimes it all feels like too much, and we need to know that it’s okay to take the holiday by the spoonful. Stand still in front of a Christmas tree- your own or one in a store display. Gaze at the lights and decorations for a moment or two. Have no expectations. Just be. Breath slowly and deeply; visualize all the urgent concerns tumbling out of your mind and disappearing into thin air, as the lights and beauty of the tree wash over you. This is reality. This is the simple, renewing gift you can give yourself.

Remember the meaning of Christmas- before it became commercial. Yes, there was a time when Christmas wasn’t a money- making venture for the business world. There was a time when people didn’t max out credit cards and a time when people weren’t ashamed to give a gift they “could” afford to their kid or their friend. There was a time when greed and glitz did not dominate the airwaves. There was a time- and still can be- when the “Christ” in Christmas was the focus of the season. We can make a point to spend time thinking about the true meaning of this season- reading the Biblical story of the first Christmas in Matthew and Luke- and classical stories that reflect the season. O’Henry’s short story, Gift of the Magi and Dickens’ tale, A Christmas Carol are forever beloved.

Step back and slow down. We are so accustomed to rushing around that we forget that it isn’t a natural state. Ask yourself, ‘Is this really necessary?’ and ‘How can I do this activity with less stress?’ Follow through.

Jot down a list of all tasks you feel must be done over the coming 24 hours. Now, prioritize– one, two three etc. 1-10? What falls to 8,9 and 10? Which ones can be crossed out or allocated to someone else? Which ones can be postponed until after the holiday? It always feels better to get our ducks in order.

Do something kind for someone else. Give of yourself- from holding a heavy door for an elderly stranger to a gift bag of little chores you will do for someone who finds them a challenge. Imagine the person who will appreciate the gift you offer. I have a dear friend who has graced my life over the years with gifts of hand quilted potholders and lovely handmade blank books for my poetry. Those “heart gifts” have meant as much, if not more, to me than the expensive gifts that have come my way. Another friend recycles greeting cards by cutting off the lovely fronts to send a second time. Her heartfelt messages on the re-sent card front always please me, and we know a good cause has been served in the process.

Take time to give yourself a sense of peace. Sanctuary begins in our mind. Find short periods when you center yourself in the reality that has nothing to do with the holidays. Go within to a quiet, safe and tranquil place. Create a vision of that place as you sit, for just a few minutes, with closed eyes, now and then. Feel the release of your muscles and the slowing of your heart’s beat. The gift of your best, relaxed self will be a treasure to all who come into your presence, and you will move through the holiday season free of the tensions that rob us of true enjoyment.

LET NOTHING DISTURB YOU, LET NOTHING FRIGHTEN YOU. ALL THINGS ARE PASSING, GOD IS UNCHANGING. St Teresa of Avila

MY PEACE I LEAVE YOU. MY PEACE I GIVE YOU. John 14:27

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