"A Continual Christmas"
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7
A good conscience is a continual Christmas. –Benjamin Franklin
I never found peace until I found God through the power of prayer. During Advent we learn Jesus is the shining star, a gift of joy and hope. During Lent we are reminded of God’s gift of grace and forgiveness through the sacrifice of his only son.
Many of us take these 40 days of reflection as a challenge to expunge the excesses of living. We will give up chocolate in a vain effort to lose weight. We will give up Starbucks to save a buck or two. We will give up smoking (or drinking) to appease the nagging spouse. We will give up Facebook so that we look like we actually have a life. We will give up television to convince ourselves we actually do. In the end, do we come out feeling spiritually cleansed, closer to God, filled with hope, joy, and peace, and directed towards a sense of purpose in our lives? Do we come away from our chocolate abstentions with a greater sense of who God calls us to be?
We all know, deep down, the things we are called to do and the people we are called to be. We feel that heat in our heart and the burning in our gut. We will know no peace until we abide by the will of God for our lives.
Last Lent, instead of giving up something, I answered the spiritual call, heard in a sermon, to do something positive instead. My 40-day challenge was to be grateful. I kept a nightly gratitude journal. That journal became the basis for my nightly prayer. I then began to purge my conscience of things that weighed me down and held me back from truly moving forward in life, and I asked God’s forgiveness. Bigger than that, I began to believe in his gift of grace and let those feelings go. I committed myself to prayer and meditation each morning. I didn’t really know how to pray. I prayed the Santa Prayer. It went something like this:
But God found ways to place the right devotional in front of my face. I will never forget reading Matthew 6: 9-13, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our father, which art in heaven …’” The more time I committed to communion with God, the more clearly the path, and next steps to greater peace, appeared.
I find that God speaks to me now in many ways because I am more open and receptive to hearing his message. The other day I heard his word in the ironically titled movie, After Earth:
Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present, and may not ever, exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me; danger is very real but fear is a choice
Peace, for me, is the absence of fear which has riddled and consumed my life since the age of three. The more I worked on my relationship with God, the more I trusted him. The more I trusted him, the greater my sense of peace. The greater my peace, the more fearless I became to move forward and make the changes in my life that God requests of me. Now when faced with my anxieties, I say out loud, “GOD HAS GOT THIS.” Sometimes I have to put the mantra on replay, but the prayer system is firmly now in place, and I’ve witnessed its power. When I truly turn my life over to God’s will and purpose, I am filled with the most life-affirming peace. My choices are divinely given, I live with far less regret and God is bestowing upon me gifts that I never would have imagined. Life truly feels like a continual Christmas.