Black Friday has now come and gone, and admittedly it was not all that big of a deal for me. I don’t do much at the malls; I may go out to get a gift card for my sister at one of her favorite stores, but I do what I can to avoid the crowds and will have most of my Christmas stuff shipped to me.
While I have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be getting for family (Kirby is the easiest to shop for, he’s good with either turkey, salami, ham or chicken) as I was thinking about what to give people, I couldn’t help but think of year round gifts. Sure, there is the jelly of the month club membership (the gift that keeps on giving) but there are a number of gifts that we can give loved ones that really do make a difference throughout the year. Most of these don’t have a monetary value either so you won’t have to stand in line. But they do require a bit of time. So as you are sending out the cards over the next few weeks, consider these gifts that can really make a difference in the lives of others (and yourself). In no particular order:
- Pray for the people in your life. Praying for the living and dead is one of the spiritual works of mercy. Prayer connects us to others, and helps us think of one another. Make it a point to pray daily both loved ones and people in your life you think could use some extra prayer, including those who you might not be on the best of terms with.
- Visit loved ones, especially those who aren’t as mobile. People often look forward to Christmas cards, or get-togethers, but so many times we can’t find the time to drop in and visit people. Time is a limited commodity for us all, so maybe as the year goes by you can think of people you could spend more time with and give them the gift of your presence.
- Make time for your family. It sounds obvious, but we are such busy bodies. Sometimes the family dinner, a family game night or movie night, or just spending a night in is a foreign concept. When we break bread together or spend time together, we’re able to know what’s going on in one another’s lives, and have meaningful conversations. A family meal shouldn’t just be at Thanksgiving.
- Occasionally, take it easy. This too should be self-explanatory, but if God took a day off we can too. It’s important to have time for rest. Try to have down time for yourself and your loved ones.
- Do things without being asked. Growing up sometimes our parents need to remind us to do our chores, because we find that it’s more preferable to say watch TV or hope that someone else does them. But on the one hand while we do need time to take it easy, sometimes we can take that too far and take advantage of others. In real life there is no fairy godmother or Mary Poppins. We all have to do our fair share in our homes, so take initiative.
- Do something nice for someone on an ordinary day. Birthday cakes, graduation parties, and other milestones are great, but one of the things I encourage couples to do in my wedding homilies are to have date nights on occasion, and to do nice things for one another on any ordinary day. It’s a nice way to say “I love you.”
- Our parish thrives because so many people give freely of their time. There are so many opportunities to volunteer and serve both here at Saint Joe’s, in your school and in the community. It’s a rewarding thing to give of your time.
- Be a mentor. We are so used to a rapid-pace life, we can forget that people need patience, guidance and advice. This could mean being aware of what’s going on in the lives of your kids and spending more time listening to them, or helping a friend or other family member. The advice, prayer and support of others has done so much to help me on my life journey.
- Assist the elderly and handicapped. One of the things that I learned as a child was that when shoveling the walkway, it was automatic that I’d shovel the walkway of my grandparent’s neighbors. Both were at a point where it was dangerous for them to shovel, and it was the least I could do for them. Maybe you have people in your family or a neighbor who needs a bit of help shoveling, or grocery shopping or with some other housework.
- Make Mass a weekly priority. If you are reading this you probably were at Mass recently, but one of the greatest gifts we are given as Catholics is the Eucharist. The Eucharist gives us grace and love of God. God loves us so much, and a great gift we are given is God’s love. But when we make Mass a priority, it sends a message to others that this is the most important thing of our week too, and encourages people to have a long-lasting relationship with God.
- Letting go of grudges isn’t easy, and perhaps there are people in your life whom you are estranged from, or have a hard time with. Maybe you’ll come across some as you work on Christmas cards. Try to reconcile with them, and let go of anger. It will help you as much as it will help them.
- Show kindness. It can be easy in life to tear others down, to be blind to their needs, or be condescending. Simple kind acts can do so much to brighten a person’s day and remind them they are loved. A nice word to a waitress or salesperson, holding the door open for someone, a compliment to a coworker, teacher, police officer or member of the armed forces, letting someone into your lane, not tailgating, etc. The list is endless. Random acts of kindness added up do so much to bring people closer to God. So do them, every day.
- Who in your life needs you? What are people you care about trying to say but maybe have a hard time saying? Who might be hurting? When we listen to others and truly get to know them, we might find they need us to help them deal with a school bully, a class they are struggling in, a difficult marriage, or other life transition. Spending time with people we can truly know their deepest needs.
I’m sure Santa will bring many gifts for your family this year, and while I’ll be buying gifts and enjoying seeing people open them come Christmas, as I reflect on my family and the great people who fill my life, it really is the many simple things that people have done for me that have left such a big impact. I’ve yet to have a funeral planning session where someone shared with me the incredible tangible Christmas gifts from years gone by, but most every funeral planning meeting includes some of the many things on this list. Never forget what a great gift you are to the people around you – use the gifts God has given you to help people see Him every day.
Have a blessed week!