There is an old Jewish term, tzaddik im peltz, meaning, “a righteous man in a fur coat.” There are two ways of keeping warm on a cold night. You can wear a fur coat or light a fire. Wear a fur coat and you warm only yourself. Light a fire and you warm others.
The year 2020 has been one of the most unusual years of my life (and I could be so bold and suggest the same is true of you). The year has been polarizing. We have all experienced loss and gain, peace and fear, loneliness and community as well as many other experiences and feelings. God gave me two words for 2020. The two words were humility (He gives me that word ever year) and ponder (like when Mary pondered these things in her heart). I believe these two words prepared my heart to navigate the year.
The Christmas season has always had the wonderful characteristic of tying a bow on the year. I am curious how will I do that this year? I don’t want Christmas to morph into ChristMISS, missing what God has for me. I desire to finish well.
Will I wear a fur coat, or will I start a fire?
A long obedience
One of my favorite sayings, popularized by the late Eugene Peterson, is a statement around faithfulness and steadfastness.
The saying, “a long obedience in the same direction” speaks of maintaining course despite the peaks, valleys and currents of life. There are things that can throw us off course. One such item can be the unfamiliarity of life and its unexpected situations, which can sometimes throw us off course. I have found that when I am unfamiliar with something, I tend to be a bit more cautious. The newfound caution pushes me to a place of understood selfishness, which can put me into a mode of self-preservation (think turtle). Does my selfishness then produce some unhealthy behaviors which push me off course? I have often said that if this were a test, I don’t want to simply take the test and I certainly don’t want to fail the test, but I actually want to ace the test. However, I have a dilemma; I don’t have what it takes to “ace the test” and therefore finish well. The question I ask then is, “how then do I finish well?”
The question, “how then do I finish well (and frankly keep going)” has much to do with obedience. Though God has created me with some innate desires for self-preservation (we all hoarded stuff this year) and survival, these desires must be surrendered to a grander desire, a desire to simply honor and obey God. I don’t typically have an issue obeying God, as long as I am in agreement with whatever He is asking of me. Therein lies the problem, its filtered by my desires not His. Do you see a theme here?
The antidote for selfishness
I start by asking myself, “how much of me is in my thinking” and “how do I dilute that?” One particularly effective way, modeled by Jesus himself, is to pursue others and flee isolation. Several years ago, I reflected on the “invisible” people around me. I was challenged by that word, “invisible” and realized just how many people I pass each and every day who may be feeling invisible. I may have the opportunity to notice and perhaps make them a bit more visible. I asked myself the question, “what if every day I simply looked for the opportunity to shed light on one invisible person?” Think about it, the person who serves you at a restaurant, the co-worker in the meeting next to you, the individual who delivers your FedEx, the person on the other side of the counter, telephone, e-mail, text, sometimes even people we live with can all be invisible. I cherish the fact that Christ modeled this time and time again. The disciples were invisible people, each person healed was invisible, each person in the Bible that was part of the “crowd” was invisible. However, Jesus had this incredible desire to not keep them invisible. Jesus has asked you and I to be His representatives on this earth and therefore perhaps part of my way of doing that is to simply make the invisible visible. Imagine what a smile does, a kind word, a look in the eye, a word of encouragement, a thank you, a gift, a phone call or just a simple act that says, right now, you are important and visible me.
Make the invisible visible
Christmas this year will be different though not disappointing.
I mean, what other time of year do you get to put a tree inside your house, sing carols (this year with masks), and eat too much sugar? However, we will also say goodbye to big festivities, parades, pageants and parties. We will shop more from our living rooms than our malls, and perhaps shop a little less. However, the invisible around us will remain. The invisible are usually those who are isolated and in pain, and this time of year tends to make them sense it more. I can’t help but notice that this time of year seems to pressure people that are suffering to suffer quietly, hide behind their mask (easier to do these days) and stay quiet and out of the way. The pain is real and shows up as the loss of a loved one, the need for a job, the inability to pay bills, one’s poor health, a divorce, an addiction or a struggling loved one. The overall impression may be that we feel that no one really wants to hear about our pain, the voice in our head says, “we know you have pain, but no one wants to hear about it”. So, we suffer quietly and too often, alone. We become invisible and so does everyone else.
Therefore, as we enter this Christmas season, without our parties, less gifts, fewer and smaller gatherings, virtual church services, and a little less Zoom, God is asking each of us to see what He sees, the invisible ones. He desires to use us to make the invisible visible. Perhaps it starts with you. God sees you and deeply loves you… isn’t that what Christmas is all about, God visited earth as a baby to simply say, I see you, I love you and I am here to heal you. I don’t want to simply be the man wearing a fur coat, but I want to be the one that lights a fire.
Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit southflorida.ncfgiving.com to learn more. Read more articles by Stephan Tchividnian at goodnewsfl.org/author/stephan-tchividjian/page/3/