Reverend Dr. William H. Curtis

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We are a full week into 2016, and I am wondering how we’re all doing with our New Year’s resolutions and our other personal commitments to be better to ourselves and to others. None of us can deny that we do make these vows for change every year. Whether or not we actively participate in the formal making of the resolutions each year, we do mentally decide to do some things differently in the New Year. I am sure that 2016 is no different.

In recent posts, I asked us all to pay more attention to family, hospitality, and graciousness to others, in addition to shaping our own priorities in life. I know that we all have remained faithful churchgoers and stayed true to our own family traditions over the holidays. But, I am wondering if in addition to our New Year’s resolutions, we are keeping the aforementioned important directives in the front of our minds. While I do think we are capable of so much giving at the holidays, I often think that we forget to prioritize our own lives or make changes that benefit ourselves, our families, and our communities. Ultimately, changes that have long-term benefits will help us with success and happiness in the New Year.

So, while we’re all trying to fit our new workout routines into our day or cut sugar and fat out of our diet, let’s also try to focus on changes that will make real, measurable changes in the coming months. What can we do to make ourselves more fulfilled? What can we do to make sure that our problems of the past year—bills that got out of control, relationships that went wrong, endeavors that we never saw through to fruition—do not repeat in the coming weeks, months, or even years? How will we approach each day differently so that we do not slip into past funks or bad habits?

As we kick off this New Year, we will soon see change in the areas we want to see change and movement if we incorporate a new perspective regarding our priorities. If we take the time each day to check how we pay attention to even the most mundane of tasks in our lives, like paying bills or eating right, we will see results. Beyond that, if we also attempt to reach out to others in the simplest of ways, we will see change in how others react to us.  By remaining vigilant ambassadors to how God wants us to shape priorities for ourselves and others, we can set a good example in the community. When we’re at the store, we can be the customer in line who thanks the salesperson instead of complaining, or the customer who asks about another’s well-being instead of going about our business and ignoring the needs of others around us. Instead of judging, we can take the time to help that mother with her cranky kids or the elderly person with too many packages in his or her arms.

The little priorities in life truly matter. If we take time to focus on what is right in front of us, we will see satisfying change and fulfillment more quickly, and we will be able to maintain our newfound approaches of attending to others. Instead of looking ten years into the future and wondering how much money we’ll be making or if we’ll have a bigger house, we should look at tomorrow and decide what is important to us like time with family, life in service to others, and a more organized and calmer daily life. God rewards those who help themselves; this we know. By helping ourselves and reprioritizing, we can in turn help others and begin to “pay it forward” a bit by providing the example that others need.

I have posted a lot in the past few months on many subjects related to our preparations for the New Year. At one point, I even had all of us keeping track of lists that would allow us to do better in our lives, to improve our relationships with others, and to commit to healthier and happier lifestyles. I asked us all to dig deep, give back to our communities, and stay mindful of the responsibilities that we have to others. I even spoke directly about events in the news that upset or bothered us. It was all in an effort to inspire changes and initiate movement for a dynamic, improved, and hopeful New Year.

Despite turmoil in the world and concerns we may have after the long holiday season, if you all stayed with me, I feel that reading the blog and focusing on how to remain challenged in your faith and in your responsibilities to others will help you enter into 2016 with a certain confidence. I know that we’ve all been thinking about a plan for the new year that will tap into our strengths and allow us to take stock of where we need to change and where we might want to direct our efforts. We should review the past year and determine where it has lead us and where the lessons we’ve learned will take us. 

We should focus our priorities this year. In recent weeks, as we made our way through the busy Christmas season, I reminded  us all to be hospitable and let faith guide us into relationships and fellowship with others. I encouraged you all to open your hearts and sing the praises of Jesus as we celebrated His birth and all the blessings that He brings us. In this brand new year of 2016, we need to shape our lives to fit the role we think God has in store for us. We need to reach out and allow others to see what we’ve become as a result of our challenges, our triumphs, our questions, and our answers. Our path to happiness lies with God and His expectations of us. The path to success is paved by the behaviors we use to reach that happiness goal. What can we do to reach out? How can we help others? What needs to happen in our lives to make us fulfilled in our eyes and in the eyes of God?

Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.  (NIV)

Just as hospitality is important to the family dynamic as we celebrate our blessings this season, so too is the graciousness of forgiveness. During the high intensity of this season, we sometimes allow the smallest things to get to us. We are so overscheduled that we can’t see past our own commitments, worries, and other mixed holiday feelings. This can lead to arguments with others. Whether we are in a crowded grocery store or attending a family gathering, the close proximity and amped up activity level can test even the best of us.

During this time, we have to remember that family should be our focus. With increased proximity, there will come opportunities for interaction that we don’t always see during the year. When people are feeling especially nostalgic or compassionate toward others, a whirlwind of other emotions may present themselves. Maybe there are past differences that can be mended, or good memories to be shared. Regardless of the tone, the sense that family is important should always be prevalent. Just as the hospitality of allowing others into your home or sharing experiences with others is important, so too is the sense that past grievances and new annoyances need to be forgiven. In this season of hope, there is no room for hurt feelings and personal grudges. It is time to be the bigger person. In order to keep the love and hope alive this season, we must be more gracious than we have ever been.

In the spirit of healing our families, our communities, and the world, we need to maintain a sense of charity to all. We have to be open with our feelings, generous with our time, and warm in our approach to other people. Jesus came into this world to heal, to be a friend to those with no friends and a mentor to those who had lost their way.  We need to live in His image and according to His plan. Forgiveness, friendship, and family need to be a top priority this Christmas season.

Hebrews 13:2 

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (NIV)

In a time of swirling holiday activity and great interaction with friends and family, we have to remain vigilant about our sense of hospitality to others; we must gauge how we treat others. During the Christmas season, we often try to focus on goodwill toward others. While we believe our intentions for generosity are being practiced, sometimes we get too busy to fully carry out our plans. With bills mounting and activities and responsibilities increasing, sometimes we have a tendency to become so overwhelmed, busy, and pessimistic that we don’t notice the needs of others.

Even when we are out tending to our own responsibilities, we still have to remember others. While we shop, run errands, and try to keep our own heads above water, we need to remember that in this season of great rejoicing there are often a lot of lonely people who have no one to celebrate with. While it is not always easy to identify opportunities for outreach, if we simply adopt the routine of continuously reaching out to others, we will find those who need help, and we will find ourselves capable of offering that assistance when needed.

In order to be able to tend to yourself and others, we need to live strong. When we show support for others, reaching beyond our own families into our communities where people are in need of a kind word, reassurance, or support, we are shaping our own priorities in life to include a responsibility to others. In our hearts, we will know that by tending to another’s needs, we are doing the work of God. With feelings of fellowship and hospitality close, tending to others can become second nature to us, setting an example for our families, members of the church, impressionable children, and people who need to learn how to be more charitable with their time and feelings. In this season of giving and hope, we need to make sure that we share the light that Jesus brings to this world and God’s message of Christmas joy.

Transitions can be difficult; even those meant to facilitate positive movement in life or provide new opportunities can be traumatic. After all, transitioning or changing means adapting and getting used to new routines. It means accepting that old patterns are gone, and new, unfamiliar patterns will be prevalent in life. Again, even if these are good things, they are new and must be handled. Many times, we find that we are not equipped to handle even the things for which we may have prayed or asked God to send us, such as new career opportunities, larger houses, an expanded family, and new friendships. 

At the holidays, the opportunities for transitions increase. In fact, we have many changes thrust upon us during this time of year. During the holidays, we are expected to interact with extended family, give back more generously to our communities, friends and family, and begin to think about how we might improve ourselves in the coming year. On top of it all, we are supposed to give thanks and think of others before we think of ourselves. In a way, these are transitions too, such as moving our thinking from our own little circle of family, work, and daily routine to others. It is worth noting, too, that most of the time we do find that we adapt to these changes every year, and we do come out better for it—whether we do so consciously or unconsciously.

During the holidays, it might be the perfect opportunity for all of us to think about additional transitions in life and make these changes and improvements permanent. How should we focus more on family? How could we improve on ourselves in the coming year? These are all details that often show up on our radar during this season. In order to be more successful, we need to actually think about how we might gradually make these changes so that they stick. If we incorporate a workout into our daily morning routine, make sure that the hours fit with our work schedule, and confirm we have a place to shower and get ready, then we have a plan that works and may stay a part of our daily routine moving forward. If we vow to eat right, pick a day of the week to plan our menu and shop for healthy foods and ingredients, and we keep that day open for such initiatives consistently, then we are on our way to becoming healthier. We can do the same when it comes to accepting the transitions that lead us closer to God.

In life, we move so fast that it can seem overwhelming to bring anything else into our daily lives. Praying for more time with our kids and our families can result in a desire to make it happen but no actual time to see it through to fruition. Vowing to give back to the community and getting more involved with ministries at church or activities at our kids’ schools can seem fulfilling and within our reach, but when we go to schedule our meetings and get involved, we find we can’t accommodate anymore giving or meeting in our schedules. In these areas—these frustrating, nothing more will fit, I am at the end of my rope, areas—we need to find our productive transitions. Sit back and reflect. Think to yourself, Where can I scale back and where do I need to give more? Do I need to pray more? Do I need give more thanks to God? Giving attention to how we might achieve this and sitting down to come up with our transition plans will make all the difference. The holidays have a different dynamic than the rest of the year. Let’s tap into that atmosphere for change and make some positive transitions during the holiday season.