The ministry of being present during the holidays

Some of us can’t wait until the holiday season gets here. Others, if we’re honest, can’t wait until it’s over. These days will be filled with food, sports, and for many of us, lots and lots of friends and family. The different types of people—and various dysfunctions—can be overwhelming. Gathering together can cause a mix of emotions to arise, and all of this often converges at our holiday gatherings around a dinner table.

In these moments, it’s easy to become distracted, detached or even fake in the way that we interact with the people around us. We chalk up these reactions to “just getting through the day” or even justify them as “keeping the peace.” But underneath all of this is usually a false belief about those around us. It’s easy to forget that our identity is in Christ and, as a result, we resort to treating others as commodities during the holiday season.

In Matthew 22:37-40, Christ speaks of the first and second greatest commandments. He tells the Pharisees, Sadducees and all those who would hear,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

All of scripture can be summed up in these two commandments, and they are to drive everything we do as Christ’s followers. But what does it mean for God’s people to love him with all that they are and to love others as ourselves during the holidays? Instead of getting lost in a game on TV, isolating ourselves with the same group of people year after year, or even putting up a facade of niceness in order to get through the day, we should allow the scriptures to reorient our minds and hearts as we prepare for our holiday gatherings.

I have four suggestions, flowing from these commandments, as we think through our time with family and friends this week:

1. Remember that everyone around you is created in the image of God.

When we gather with a group of people, we’ll often gravitate toward those like us. We might avoid some people based on their lifestyles, political views or even religious views. This natural tendency of all humans is rooted in a prideful arrogance that, without realizing it, denies the fact that all people are created in the image of God, thus having dignity and worth.

It’s easy for us to categorize people based on politics, religion, sexuality, parenting styles or a number of other factors. This categorizing of people is not something that Christians should embrace. Rather, we should seek to remember the fact that we have more in common with everyone around us than we realize.

If believe Christ’s words, then we’ll love our neighbors—regardless of how difficult it is—and seek to be present with them during the time the Lord has ordained for us to be together. As Christians, we need to work to be present with those around us, loving those who many might see as our enemies, rather than broken people created in God’s image, who are worthy of our respect and attention.

2. Remember that some are suffering around you.

How many times this season will you ask or be asked, “How are you doing?” These simple, rote greetings are not harmful in themselves, but they often serve as a way to avoid being present with people and engaging them in conversation. It’s wise to remember that many people that you’ll greet this week aren’t doing well. Many are suffering through various trials. Some are secretly struggling with sin. Others are suffering with illness or infertility. Many are going through marital or familial trials. And some are dealing with extreme loneliness.

Your presence can be a means of God’s grace in their lives. It can be one of the many ways that God reaffirms his love for them during this season. Loving your neighbor this week might be as simple as asking good questions, engaging them in conversation, being careful with your words and affirming your love for them in a tough season.

3. Remember that some are rejoicing around you.

Holiday seasons bring out many joys in our friends and family. Many people around you this week will be rejoicing at God’s provision and grace in their lives. Many will be rejoicing about without even being aware of the grace of God. They might be excited about something you don’t know anything about. Loving your neighbor means taking the time to find out what’s going and rejoicing alongside of them.

Simply asking questions about what excites them and seeking to learn more about their lives can be a simple way of loving your neighbor and being present with them. You might even get an opportunity to speak of where true joy and everlasting peace comes from as you interact.

4. Remember that you are called to be present with those around you.

The ministry of presence is not an easy task, but it’s a worthy task for the people of God. This holiday season, we’re each given a gift of being around those who are made in the image of God. We should take advantage of every moment we have together. We need to remember that our presence will look different with all people because each person we’ll encounter is a person made in God’s image, and many will have a mix of emotions and circumstances. By being there, you can point them to the One who gives hope, comfort for the weary and lasting joy. This might be the first—or one–hundredth—step to developing a deeper relationship with whoever God has put in your life.

Regardless of where you find yourself today and throughout this season, remember the first and second greatest commandments from our Lord. You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And you are to love your neighbors as yourself by being present with them, despite the desire to avoid conflict, difficulty or sheer discomfort. This task is great, but the Lord has give you his Spirit and will provide the means for you to be his ambassador as you love those around you.

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