Walking Our Faith: The best present is God’s unconditional love (column)
Walking Our Faith
Christmas wrapping paper is strewn across my mother’s living room, empty boxes tumbled into corners of the room. The first part of our day is done, my mind is already racing ahead to the 12 guests who will arrive in hours for Christmas dinner.
There will be roast turkey and ham, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts with a balsamic glaze, shrimp cocktail and Key lime pie. We’ll move the coffee table to set up a card table for unexpected guests. There will be several conversations going on at once, heads popping into the kitchen to ask if I need help. Beer and wine will flow freely and increase the volume of cheerful voices in the crowded living room.
Undoubtedly, we will attend Mass or church services at least once, perhaps twice on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. And with our obligation behind us, zoom back into the holiday flow with friends and family in tow.
As we sit in the Christmas Eve candlelight service our hearts reflect the glow of God’s love. Yes, yes, in this moment, in this sacred space, we experience an indescribable joy that deep in our spirit we sense is only a glimpse of what God’s love must feel like. If only we could experience it more often. But how?
Over the past month, I have become dedicated to reading my morning and evening prayers from Magnifcat, my daily devotional. But this week, I was craving something more, and went to a quiet space where I wouldn’t have distractions from television or smart phones or books or conversation. And I began to talk to God. “What am I missing?” I asked.
When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandments, he replied, there were two: First, that we love God. Second, that we love one another as we love ourselves.
I believe the second commandment is the easier of the two. At this time of year, we give freely to appeals for money, especially to causes we care about, and motivated perhaps a little by the tax write-off that comes with it. In my mountain community, we are generous in giving our time to serve others. Being the hands and feet of Jesus is rewarding and heartwarming.
But what does it mean when we are commanded to love God? I prayerfully answer: “Jesus, you know I love you with all my heart. What more do you want?” When I brought this up with Mom, she asked, “What does a father want from his daughter?”
Every parent loves to hear a child express their love. “I love you” never gets old. And when this love is expressed in kind deeds, especially when our parents are elderly, our help is greatly appreciated. But what do our parents value more than anything we could give or say?
Our undivided attention. It’s when we put down our phones, turn off the TV, tell our spouse to take the kids to the park and give our focus to listening to our parents, engaging with them in conversation without judgement or preconditions. In this moment we are deepening a relationship. This space we create is where we discover the healing balm of attention, the gift of God’s grace.
And this is what I sense I have been craving in my relationship with God. My daily moments of devotion, morning and evening, are beautiful and necessary. I am grateful for them. But I believe God is calling me into a deeper communion.
God is asking me to open a space of attention in my busy mind and crowded heart. He wants me to hold this sacred space open for God’s presence, to sit with God and for five or 10 minutes each day, praise his holy name, thank him for my blessings, but most of all be fully present and listen for his voice.
On Christmas morning we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior. But Christmas is not just a birth-day of a historical Jesus. It is a celebration of our living Christ, who asks us to meet him daily in vibrant relationship. A relationship we are asked to cultivate more deeply. Let us turn our hearts and minds toward God and listen. This Christmas let our best present be one we give ourselves, the gift of God’s love accepted fully.
Suzanne Anderson is the author of “Love in a Time of War” and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths.
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