The scent of pine and cinnamon filled the air. Presents were piled high around the Christmas tree as it twinkled a rainbow of colors.
Peace and joy should have filled the heart of each person gathered to open the gifts but although their faces revealed smiles, for the most part a different emotion ruled in their hearts.
Grandma was remembering Christmases when Grandpa was the one who passed out the gifts to open and a deep sadness filled her heart to the point that a tear or two slid down her wrinkled cheek.
Barbara, although smiling was thinking of the mess everyone was making and how tired she already was, and why on earth did Gary give her that stupid looking scarf?
She hated wearing things around her neck.
She thought he knew that.
What she really wanted was that brand new cologne that had just come out.
He was a terrible gift giver.
Barbara’s sister, Joan was visiting for Christmas because her husband had served her with divorce papers last month. She was hoping that his Christmas was as miserable as hers was.
Gary couldn’t help but worry about how much all these presents had cost him and what the credit card statement was going to look like when it came in this month.
He preferred to keep Christmas shopping simple and useful.
He had no use for the gifts he got this year.
He hated wearing bulky sweaters, (his gift from Barbara), and that cologne Joan bought him smelled like shoe leather to him, and not new shoe leather either.
Why did they even have to give gifts anyway?
Besides he was angry and frustrated with Tanner, his 4 year old son who had a fit when the last gift was opened and he did not get a remote controlled car.
Who gave a 4 year old a remote controlled car anyway?
Those things were expensive.
This is a fictional story that rings all too true in many Christmas circles.
Instead of focusing on the joy of the moment, the gifts given and the love of family around them each person was focusing on what they did not have.
Grandma did not have Grandpa to be by her side, Barbara did not get the gift she wanted, and her husband was not the man she wanted him to be.
Joan did not have her husband by her side, she was going to have to give up her beautiful home and part with many possessions she had come to enjoy.
Her children would be shared like on this holiday and she would end up a fifth wheel at other people’s celebrations.
Gary did not like his gifts either and was thinking of all the money he did not have.
Little Tanner, although he did get the Lego set he requested and lots of other great presents, fifteen all together, was angry because he did not get the one thing he wanted most.
I think we can identify with this family’s feelings.
We have probably felt the same many times.
In fact this scenario is the way most people live their everyday lives.
Every one of us have two sides to our life: the full side and the empty side.
1. The full side contains the things we possess.
This includes our possessions, health, relationships and qualities within those relationships.
2. The empty side of our life contains the things we do not have, the things we have not been granted.
This includes the things we cannot afford, and probably will never be able to afford.
It also includes the lack of health which could be the fact that you do not have 20/20 vision or that you do not have a pancreas that works well requiring you to take insulin.
And of course it includes the people who do not have the qualities we wish they had and those people who are no longer part of our lives due to conflicts or death .
Most people focus the majority of their lives on the empty half, while ignoring the bounty of life granted to them.
Instead of enjoying their spouse or child they complain about all the qualities that they do not possess that they wish they did.
Instead of being truly thankful for the home in which they live, they complain because of some feature they wish was different. Instead of enjoying the health granted to them they complain because of their area of suffering.
In the garden of Eden God had granted to Adam and Eve every tree bearing fruit …except one.
Imagine the bounty of their existence.
Perfect in season fruit any time they wanted it.
They had perfect health because they had unlimited access to the tree of life. When the serpent came to Eve, he asked her, ”Did God really say that you could not eat of any of the trees in the garden?”
“No,” Eve replied. “He did not say that. He said we could eat of every tree, but we cannot eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because if we eat from that tree we will die.”
“He told you that?” The serpent scoffed. “You will not die. God knows that this is the best tree of all. If you eat from this tree you will be like God, knowing good from evil. God is keeping something from you.”
Suddenly Eve’s focus turned from all her bounty and fixated on the one thing that was not given to her. She became convinced that she would never be happy again unless she could have the one thing denied to her.
We mirror this attitude in the way most of us live our lives.
Paul the Apostle said in Philippians 4:12 that he had learned the “secret” of being content in any and every circumstance, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or living in want.
What was that secret?
Paul does not exactly tell us.
He does tell us that he had learned to be content.
He did tell us that he knew he could do all things through Christ who gave him the strength but what was the secret of actually being able to live this out?
I believe that Paul learned to live his life completely in the full side.
It did not matter if he had been granted only bread and water or a feast. He would be grateful for what he had.
We always have bounty all around us at all times.
When we think we do not it is because our focus has shifted to the empty side of life. If we want to completely and thoroughly enjoy our lives we must learn how to live our lives in the bountiful half.
I am not pointing the finger at you because if I did I know you could as easily point one back at me.
I have not learned yet to be content in any and every situation but I am traveling the journey.
I know many of you may have a good excuse to feel sad this Christmas but why give in to those feelings when instead we can cultivate a spirit of joy?
This is a learned response and takes time and a diligent refocusing of your thoughts and emotions.
Your life is filled with bounty. Your challenge is to turn around and enjoy it.
Wanda Hackett has been leading children’s ministries for over 40 years in churches throughout the States and Canada. She has a strong passion to see children experience Jesus Christ on their level – in a very living and relevant way. She has written numerous Children’s church curricula, some of which has been translated into Croatian! She has 3 children – who are all in full-time ministry – and 9 grandchildren.