In early October I was driving home and noticed one of my neighbors had their Christmas lights up and lit. My initial reaction was probably similar to many of yours; take a picture, post it on social media, and join in the barrage of comments about it being too soon for Christmas lights, how people need to celebrate the holidays in order, etc. Honestly, I was a little excited about having something to post that I knew people would respond to and comment about. It made me feel a sense of importance. However, I never made that post.
As I continued to drive by that home lit up every evening through Halloween and into November, I couldn’t help but wonder what their reasoning behind having the lights up this early might be. It brought to mind a friend from college, Paul Coakley, who celebrated Thanksgiving with his pregnant wife, Annie, and their 3 wonderful children. By the time Christmas came, 34-year-old Paul was fighting for his life and undergoing surgery after being diagnosed with cancer only days before. Less than a month later Paul passed away, leaving this world to receive his eternal reward. At Thanksgiving, had Paul and Annie had known what the future held, it wouldn’t surprise me if they would have celebrated Christmas a little early or a bit over the top. Paul was truly larger than life, living his faith and constantly pouring out Christ’s love on others. He willingly suffered greatly during his last month on earth (surprising even the doctors that he had not yet passed away) because he wanted to be around for his kids and because he could offer that suffering for his loved ones and all those who were praying for him.
- is preparing to celebrate their last Christmas with someone.
- are leaving town to visit a sick relative or friend and won’t be back in time to decorate.
- have a loved one who’s deployed and can’t decorate or celebrate Christmas as they desire but it brings them joy to know their home is decorated.
- have someone in that home who suffers from depression and their family knows that having the lights up will at least bring them a flicker of joy.
- have someone with Alzheimer’s who doesn’t remember their children’s names, but experiences joy from the lights and memories from the music of Christmas.
Maybe I was the one rushing to judgment instead of first seeking to understand their circumstances or where they were coming from.
How often do you come to a conclusion or land on a judgment before understanding the pain, struggle, or perspective of someone else? Recently I had someone who was very anti-Catholic inquire about several teachings of the Church. She was trying to wrap her head around how some of my friends were acting like Christians towards her when (she believed) the Roman Catholic Church had anathematized all non-Catholics. I could have spent all night discussing her various arguments and questions, but what truly needed to happen was to understand where she was coming from and how she came to believe what she did. As it turned out, a former friend of hers who was Catholic had learned that she and her husband used contraception and verbally berated her for doing so. That experience was so traumatic that it actually cost them their friendship and, along with other interactions with poorly formed Catholics, turned her against the Catholic Church.
I recently was given a challenge from a friend: speak in depth with someone who has a significantly different worldview and beliefs than myself, seeking to more fully understand how they came to their beliefs – without having the intention of evangelizing (though this can be done in following conversations). It was an eye-opening exercise and forced me into a perspective of greater understanding. Honestly, the young man I spoke with was so grateful that someone would take time to simply listen to him because it had been years since anyone had.
I challenge you to that same exercise.
As we enter into the holidays, which can be a prime opportunity to evangelize and share our faith with family and friends, I encourage to invite the Holy Spirit in as you to reflect upon these questions:
- Do I understand where this person is coming from?
- Have I sought to learn why they believe what they believe or am I just pushing my agenda upon them?
- Am I effectively expressing Christ’s love and mercy to others through my actions and words?
- How can I seek to listen and understand their beliefs before striving to have them understand mine?
When people understand the love of Christ, they are much more apt to understand His teachings and seek to follow His ways. Who knows, maybe some of these conversations can lead people to inquire about your faith and the beautiful Truth of Christ and His Church.