For the SECOND time, I prepared to talk at a ladies' Christmas banquet and the pesky pandemic got in the way. Sigh. I'm really sad to miss out on a chance to talk face-to-face with some wonderful ladies, but I still have the joy of sharing my message with YOU this Christmas season!
This message was supposed to be a speech, so the style is more conversational (and a little more personal!) than my typical blog posts. If this message speaks to you at all, please let me know in the comments.
Oh, and while this speech is geared toward women, if you're one of my male readers, I hope you can find some encouragement in it as well.
What You Give a Woman
I want to start with a saying. Whatever you give a woman, she multiplies. That’s actually inspired by a quote by Erick S. Gray.
Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she'll give you a baby. If you give her a house, she'll give you a home. If you give her groceries, she'll give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she'll give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her. So, if you give her any garbage, be ready to receive a truckload of it!*
(*Okay, so I might have modified the quote slightly to fit the audience, but you get the idea!)
I find Christmas has a similar multiplying effect. If you have a cozy feeling, it multiplies into favorite movies, and hot chocolate, and snuggles. Feelings of joy multiply into laughter with friends and games and memories. Candlelight services multiply the feelings of holiness in your heart. And if you add carols, your chest feels like it’s going to burst with the wonder of it all.
Of course, If you’ve got heartache or family drama, that grows too. This also reminds me of the saying that what you focus on, grows. If I stare at a flaw in the mirror too long, it swells up like Aunt Marg in the Harry Potter books, entirely out of proportion to what size it actually is. If I focus on a sweet gesture or a blessing in my life, soon my day is full of sunshine.
The Multiplying Effect of Focus
This way of filtering our reality based on our focus is scientifically proven. There is a part of our brain about the size of our little finger. It's a bundle of neurons called the Reticular Activating System, or RAS, and it functions like a search engine following a set of parameters that we have chosen. It filters out the content we aren't looking for and brings what we are looking for to our attention.
It's the same way that when you buy a new car, you see that model of car everywhere. Or if you name your baby something unique, suddenly you hear that name at every playground or school.
To test this theory, how many blue things are around you right now? You probably didn't notice many of them. But if you think of the color blue right now, hold it in your mind and look around, suddenly, everything blue pops out at you, doesn't it?
The RAS influences whether we think of the cup as half empty, or half full. It is the part of my brain that reads one negative book review and it overshadows the twenty positive ones—the negative words are blown entirely out of proportion.
But, If we follow the verse in Philippians 4 that says:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Then our focus shifts from the negative—negative thoughts about ourselves, other people, the world—to what is positive. And that I think is so powerful. A single kind word—given to you, or spoken to yourself—can multiply exponentially. When you let it.
The Multiplying Effect of Words
The mom of one of my childhood friends, who saw me grow up from a know-it-all child to a mother who felt like she knew nothing, paused one day, in the middle of her daughter's wedding reception, to tell me that I was a good mom. I smiled and said thank you, not knowing then how treasured I would hold those words. I remember her face and the way she said it like she meant it. I hold onto that memory when I'm feeling self-doubt about my mothering abilities. And those kind words continue to grow in my heart, even more so since she passed away.
Use your words to build up the people in your life, you have no idea what light those few words will spark in their soul when they need them most.
And these aren't just my thoughts. Proverbs 16:24 says:
“Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”
Proverbs 18:4 says:
“A person's words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook.”
In these difficult times, when so many opinions are flying around, Christians need to be known as the ones who speak with kindness. When we speak truth (as we see it), we acknowledge that our listeners may be carrying burdens we cannot see, or have a history we do not know. Unlike Jesus, we cannot see people's hearts, so we cannot rip people's flawed perspectives to shreds with our righteous condemnation. And so we need to be careful. We need to be gentle. We need to be kind.
I often have wondered how Mary, the mother of Jesus, felt when Elizabeth spoke words of praise over her in Luke 1:45?
“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Blessed is she who believed. Surely Mary had self-doubt as she traveled to see her older cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth was now pregnant, though everyone had thought the priest's wife was far past the age of bearing children. Mary had to be wondering if she could truly be the woman God was calling her to be. Did Mary ever wonder if the angel came to the wrong house?
But then Mary arrives to see her cousin, and Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit and begins to speak. Blessed she who believed. And what higher praise can Elizabeth give at that moment? Without belief, Mary would be back in her home with an empty womb, probably trying to convince herself that her angelic visit was all a weird dream.
But that's not what happened. Mary believed! Mary responds to Elizabeth's words with a prophecy of her own. In her words, we hear echoes of the prophecies of Hannah, who you might remember as the mother of the prophet Samuel, who dedicated her son to serve the Lord.
These echoes show me that Mary was focused on scripture, on women of faith who had come before her, and on the marvelous things that God can do. These outpourings of her soul show us that scripture had been allowed to grow to form an integral part of who she was. A woman who believed.
The Multiplying Effect of Belief
We are told repeatedly in the New Testament that salvation is given to those who believe. John 3:16 is one example of that. To believe is our life’s highest achievement because the actual act of salvation does not come from us, but from God, so as Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Belief can be our greatest comfort in hard times. We believe that that little baby Mary swaddled so tenderly grew to be a man who would take away our sins because of his great love for us.
All we need to do is believe, and our whole future yawns wide. Like Bilbo leaving the shire, or Lucy stepping through the wardrobe, our belief is not a conclusion of a journey to faith, but the first step on an adventure that goes beyond this earthly plane. Those that see that truth most clearly, like Jesus saw it, are the most alive and the most truly human people we ever meet.
I want to be like that. But I keep focusing on the wrong thing, till it grows so big that it's all I see, and my worries and my shortcomings crowd out the best parts of life.
The Multiplying Effect of Seeing
My husband is the host in our family. He loves to have people over. He’s really good at asking me first, especially if it’s a last-minute thing. Yet every single time he asks to have someone over and I know the house is a mess, I have to swallow my pride and remember that people care more about a welcoming heart than a clean house.
But even knowing that in my head, I inwardly cringe when my house isn’t ready for company. The bathroom is dirty, the garbage can overflowing, and the mess is proclaiming to the world that I am an embarrassment. We had a couple over the other day for the first time and had a lovely visit, but the next day I was rage cleaning, humiliation hot in my heart, burning at my eyes, frustration building as I wiped off a sticky handle that other hands had touched but not paused to wipe down.
Didn’t they SEE? Why must I be the one to see? I was tired of it and wishing I could turn off the part of me that cared, that focused on the mess. A real pity party, right?
God didn’t let me sit there though. As I was wiping down the kitchen, I found myself wondering if Jesus ever had the same thoughts. Not about peanut butter smeared on door handles, but about people not seeing.
He would walk down the road and see the beggars and the hurting and the sick, and where others saw vagrants or problems he saw souls longing to be loved. As the Pharisees bustled by with their theologies and their scriptures, so consumed by their dedication to following the law that they forgot the greatest commandment in the law, I can watch Jesus shaking his head at them. Why don’t they SEE? Why don’t they see what needs mending and healing and hope? It’s right in front of their noses! After those convicting thoughts, I felt "faith shame" on top of my "mom shame". Not nice I tell you. But I stopped rage cleaning and finished my chores—for the day—because they’re never truly done—and had a cup of tea. Sugar cookie tea, as it’s close to Christmas after all.
The Multiplying Effect of Biblical Women
I doubt I’m the only one who has struggled with feeling like a total embarrassment in one field or another.
I think it’s a universal problem for women, and I honestly believe it’s been there since the beginning. The ancient Mediterranean cultures tended to speak of men’s honor and women’s shame. Men could bring honor and glory, while our job was to keep ourselves and our family from shame.
Not that it was the way God wanted it to be, let’s be clear here, but it was their patriarchal culture, a culture Jesus and the early Church challenged from the moment of Jesus’ miraculous conception. He was born of a woman, and not just a woman, a virgin. A girl with no legal standing, no societal honor, subject to the will of her father or her betrothed. Basically, a nobody. God saw Mary and the goodness in her soul and chose her to mother the son of God. Luke takes note of how God sees women. Luke carefully included so many women in his two-part book, Luke-Acts, showing how God includes them in his wonderful story of salvation.
Anna the prophetess and Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist share in the glorious proclamation of the coming savior. Luke records more women in chapter eight, even describing them as providing for Jesus out of their means, which probably meant they were bankrolling his travels. These women were instrumental in Jesus’ ministry, one of whom is dear to my heart, Joanna. My current novel series is all about this woman of faith.
Luke tells us that women stay with Jesus till his death, they’re the first to see him alive, the first sent to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. They couldn't have been there if they weren't focused on him.
In the early church, we see Tabitha changing lives with her generosity, and Lydia opening her home as a church, altering the lives of all her household with her faith.
The early church is not one of shame for women. It’s not even one of personal honor. It’s about believing in Jesus and in HIS honor at being exalted to the right hand of God, and us joining in the adventure, with eyes that truly see and ears that truly hear.
These women were focused on the right thing, and their faith and their good works multiplied and grew.
We Need to Multiply the RIGHT things this Christmas
It’s Christmas time. A time where we long for friends and family, good food, and where traditions remind us of our past. We use this time to remember Jesus’ birth, even though most of us know that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. He was most likely not born in winter at all.
You know, in all my research for my biblical fiction, I’ve never seen any indication the early church celebrated Jesus’ birth with any special ceremony—not the way they commemorated his death, anyway.
The traditions associated with this holiday are drawn from other cultures, which some Christians find pagan and threatening, but I think is beautiful how traditions can be grafted into a celebration of Jesus, who came to save ALL the nations.
Remembering that these traditions are man-made can be freeing, especially if you’re feeling a little grinchy. Because as much as we love Christmas trees, or hallmark movies, or pageants, or shopping, or even family reunions, they are not commandments. They are choices. If they aren’t serving us, if they’re not bringing joy, or if we want them but can’t have them, we can let them go.
Other people, or commercials, or movies, or books, or even ourselves are always trying to tell us what this season is. How we should feel. What it’s about.
We don’t need to let those voices expand in our mind, focusing our expectations for the season until those expectations are all that we see, and the failure to live up to them leaves us feeling ashamed and not good enough—forgetting that Jesus died to take away shame while we were definitely not good enough!
In those embarrassing moments of sticky door handles, we need to remember who we are. We belong to God! We are heirs of the kingdom and we are mighty warriors that fight by falling to our knees and stretching out hands of charity, speaking life and hope, and building communities of love based on the teachings of Jesus. My prayer for all of us, myself included, is that what I focus on this season, grows. What is given to me, multiplies.
And with that prayer, I also ask God to open our eyes to see what we should focus on. That we fill our hearts and minds with the words of God, that our mouths speak wisdom and kindness, and that we love on everyone this Christmas season with the love that God so freely gave us. Let your gift-giving this season be to plant seeds of love for God to grow. Speak life into those around you. You have no idea how one genuine word of praise, one word of compassion or hope, can become someone’s greatest treasure, worth more than any pretty package under the Christmas tree.
We are women. What we are given, what we focus on, we multiply. So let's multiply the right thing this Christmas season.
If you'd like to read more Christmas posts here on the blog, please click the "Christmas" tag below to see an assortment of Christmas themed printables, short stories, and blog posts!