From Dread to Delight
Signs of Christmas are everywhere. From the poinsettias in the grocery stores to the bright lights decorating our downtowns, a spirit of celebration fills the air. You can’t go anywhere without seeing evidence of the upcoming holiday. Even the stewardess on my flight today had on red and white nail polish! Everyone is so excited about Christmas…or are they?
I couldn’t help but wonder if there are students in our schools today who are experiencing a sense of dread this holiday season. Do they watch the commercials advertising all the toys and wonder if they will get anything this year? Do they hear their friends talk about attending a Christmas musical or event and wish they could go too? Are they asked to donate to a school food drive and know they have nothing to offer? As we conduct various Christmas activities in our classrooms, do they pretend to be excited when they know their home will not be a happy place over the holidays? Do they really know what Christmas is all about?
I don’t mean to put a damper on the holidays for us, but coming to grips with our students’ understanding (or lack thereof) of Christmas may provide a window into their worlds and give us an opportunity to change their dread to delight. This can start by finding ways to get to know our students’ mindsets about Christmas. For example, we could give students a writing prompt like, “What the Christmas season means to me.” If you can’t use the word Christmas in your organization, the prompt could be something like, “How we celebrate the holidays.” There is no shortage of holiday activities for teachers to use with their students. When developing and choosing your activities, ask yourself, “How will this help me discover what my students understand about Christmas?
Why do I think this is so important? Having grown up in the Midwest (which many call the Bible Belt), I have always lived in communities where being a person of faith was accepted and encouraged. It wasn’t uncommon to see people praying over their meals in a restaurant. Many families could be found in churches on Sunday morning. This was the norm, and grateful doesn’t come close to expressing how I feel about it today. While I knew it wasn’t like this everywhere, I didn’t realize how much I took this for granted until just recently.
Our world is changing. Our communities are becoming more and more diverse. I personally believe this is a good thing. I happen to live in a very diverse neighborhood and truly enjoy engaging with others who are different than I am. However, as more and more enter our country and our classrooms, we can’t assume they know anything about Jesus or even God for that matter.
Last week a friend of mine called to talk about this very situation. She had met a new friend (late 20’s) from Thailand. Raised in Thailand, her friend had never heard of God or Jesus. This new friend has been in the US for seven years, owns a home, and has a successful job with a large technology company. You would think after living in the US for seven years one would have heard the name “Jesus” or been exposed to the concept of God. After all, this is the nation “under God,” right? Not the case. No one, and I mean no one, has talked to this person about Jesus. IN SEVEN YEARS! I was shocked. Of course, this has changed now, but I tell you this to caution you to not make the same mistake I have. We can no longer assume the people in our sphere of influence, especially our students, know who God or Jesus is.
This conversation has weighed heavily on my heart. I began to ponder what it would be like to be raised in a country or household that never mentioned the name Jesus. I simply cannot fathom it. This past Sunday our small group had a special time of corporate prayer. As I sat there quietly listening, one-by-one my friends expressed their praise, petitions, and trust in our Almighty God. The Holy Spirit was active and present in the room. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes as I quietly whispered, “Lord, what would I be without you?”
· Can you imagine fighting life’s battles on you your own?
· What would it be like to not know where you will spend eternity?
· How would we know what to do and how to live without the Word of God?
· How could I forgive myself or others with out the grace and mercy of God?
· How could we ever be “good enough” without Jesus?
· How could we truly celebrate Christmas?
It shouldn’t surprise us that there may be students (and colleagues) dreading this holiday season. They don’t understand what Christmas is all about. If they don’t know Jesus, they don’t realize He is the gift we celebrate. They think Christmas is about possessions, not a person. Perhaps they are aware of Jesus from nativity scenes but have no knowledge of why He came. This very well may be the case more often than we are willing to admit.
As Christian educators, we know the gift of Jesus is the best Christmas gift we could ever give our students. However, many of us are prohibited from telling them about Jesus, especially in public schools. I know this is frustrating, but instead of focusing on what we can’t do, let’s look at what we CAN do.
We may not be able to TELL our students about the Jesus of Christmas, but we can SHOW them who He is. If you are a Christ follower, Jesus lives in you and, as a result, can be shared through you. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. Against such there is no law.” It is so easy to buy in to the lie that we have to leave Jesus at the schoolhouse door. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our lives must be a reflection of who Jesus is day in and day out (2 Corinthians 5:20). Granted, we won’t always get it right, but we can make every effort to reflect Christ in our workplace. I guarantee you others will notice though we may personally never know our impact this side of eternity.
What might this look like? Let me make a couple of suggestions. First, when it comes to our everyday interactions and/or holiday activities with students, we can look for ways to emphasize serving or caring for others. We can let them know the holidays aren’t just about receiving. Spreading joy to those around us is a form of giving. When we are focused on others, it often turns our dread into delight. It feels good to make someone else happy!
Second, I would highly encourage you to seek out those students whom you know may be feeling anxiety during the holidays. Try to find out a bit more about their situation, and then ask God how you should respond. I know some of you may be thinking, “There are too many needs.” You are probably right, but just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you should do nothing. Pray that God will open a door for you to bless someone this Christmas beyond what you are doing every day in your classroom.
Christmas is such a busy season, so full of distractions. But Christmas isn’t about the celebrations, presents, lights, and music. Christmas is about a single gift – the gift of Jesus, our salvation and our hope. Although our students may not know Him YET, they can still experience the gift of Jesus through our spirit-filled lives. God can use your obedience to turn a student’s heart from dread to delight!
“She will give birth to a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus (The Lord is salvation), for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21