Cover image: Take My Hand by Greg Olsen
I have such mixed feelings about December. I love so many things about it, but no matter how hard I try to simplify and plan ahead I often feel overloaded. No wonder, since I attempt to cram more tasks and events into a schedule I couldn’t keep up with in the first place. However, even in the middle of a hectic holiday season (that too often brings greater stress and irritability), we can honor the Savior whose birth we celebrate by following His example of kindness.
The invitation to celebrate the birth and life of the Lord Jesus Christ by participating in the “Light the World” Christmas initiative needs to be applied according to our individual circumstances. We are counseled by the First Presidency: “As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ this Christmas season, our hope is that the light and testimony of the Savior’s divine mission as the Redeemer of mankind will come into our hearts and be reflected in our thoughts, our words, and our actions.” (Church News, December 3, 2017)
Even if we feel we cannot add one more thing to our Christmas “to-do” list, we can choose to speak kind words and offer small acts of kindness to those around us who are lonely, sad, poor, ill, or frustrated. Mari Vawn Tinney said, “We can pray for the ability to gently respond in stressful situations with a kind word. We can also pray for the wisdom to know when no words spoken at all may be the kindness that could begin to heal hearts or bring some measure of peace.”
Marjorie Pay Hinckley wisely suggested, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Kind and thoughtful words do not cost any money or take much time to say or write. But, oh, what an amazing difference for good and added hope they can make! Words spoken or kindly written can fit into the busiest of schedules.
Guidelines for Kindness in Our Words
Never has there been a greater need for kind words than in the divisive climate we find ourselves living in today. I found many guidelines for serving and speaking in the Savior’s way in the book In the Spirit of Jershon: Blessing Others’ Lives in Cultural and Spiritual Unity.
One example came from Ally Isom, the director of the LDS Church Public Affairs Department’s division of family and community relations (who also chairs the women’s outreach committee for LDS Public Affairs), is responsible for the Church’s communication strategies. Sister Isom believes that words matter, that people matter, and that you matter as a disciple of Christ as you are authentic in sharing the truth of the gospel and your light with others. She offers “A Disciple’s Reality Check” for us to consider:
- Do my words hurt or strengthen?
- Do my words marginalize or divide or unify?
- Does the Spirit tell me to pause and reconsider better words?
- Do I see others through God’s eyes and regard them as part of the solution?
- Do I honor others’ agency?
- What does the Spirit tell me about their hearts?
- What words and tone would Jesus Christ use?
- Do I speak truth in love?
- Am I patient with the progressive understanding and path of others?
- Do I forgive others and myself?
- Do I love and pray for all in the arena?
- Do I trust God and submit to his will and timing?
- Do I recognize my spiritual gifts and accept my stewardship?
- Am I pressing forward, steadfast in Christ, feasting upon his words about this issue?
- Do I allow the Holy Ghost to tell me what to do and how to do it? (Pages 108-109, Jershon book)
The April 15, 2015 blog on www,mormon.org suggested we communicate more like Jesus Christ by “… infusing all that you say and do with much love as you can muster.”
In In the Spirit of Jershon book, Mari Vawn Tinney introduced guidelines given by Elder Oaks that we can consider for handling tough challenges or struggling in a relationship during the Christmas season. She said, “What if you are the one who is being criticized, ignored, overlooked, or misunderstood? How do you respond in a way that you can speak up with respect and added understanding as you talk things over so that the situation does not get worse?” Then suggested as an answer to her questions:
“Elder Dallin H. Oaks concluded his 2016 BYU devotional address with these five ways for people to act under these conditions:
- concentrate on what they have in common with others;
- strive for mutual understanding and treat all with goodwill;
- exercise patience;
- speak up for religion and religious freedom; and
- trust in God and his promises.”
(Dallin H. Oaks, “Election, Hope, and Freedom“, BYU Devotional, September 13, 2016 https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/dallin-h-oaks_elections-hope-freedom/ Quoted on page 108 of Jershon book.)
Christlike Actions and Christmas Angels
The Lord knows our individual needs and the desires of our hearts, even when we have no idea how our urgent prayers will be answered. To supplement the ministering of angels from heaven the Lord provides opportunities for us to be part of orchestrating good events in the lives of others. Elder Jeffery R. Holland declared, “I testify angels are still sent to help us. In the process of praying for those angels to attend us, may we all try to be a little more angelic ourselves – with a kind word, a strong arm . . .” etc.
I was inspired by Christmas stories I read in the book The Spirit of Jershon of people as good neighbors who not only spoke kind words, but used their time and resources to light up the lives of those in need. One ward family renovated a dreary apartment that was being provided for a family fleeing war-ravaged Germany. Another family found joy in a sub for Santa program being provided for single Hispanic mothers. (PP. 131-135)
My sister Arlene was a Christmas angel to me last year. Her kindness warms my heart every time I think of it. Arlene does not enjoy shopping in the least, yet she braved holiday crowds when she learned two days before Christmas that I would not have a single present under the tree because I had asked for updating of my computer equipment for my Christmas. I was awe-struck when she appeared on my porch on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, gift-laden. Knowing the drive, too, was hard for her, the gift of her time and her caring touched me far more than the presents. I never felt her love more than I did through the sacrifice she made that Christmas just for me.
So many people are lonely during the holiday season. I have a wonderful memory of being a Christmas angel to someone when I was twelve years old, soon after we moved to the town of Ammon, Idaho. We had no living grandma of our own, so “adopted” the widow just across the street, whose only daughter lived far away. She was one of a handful of nonmembers in that little Mormon town, so she was especially lonely. We quickly dubbed her “Grandma Woodhouse” and began including her in family gatherings. When December rolled around we decided to make some presents for her, get her a little tree, and decorate it with lights, old-fashioned paper chains and strings of cranberries and popcorn. Our anticipation grew as we worked together.
On Christmas Eve we made our way toward Grandma’s house, our arms filled with small gifts. I looked at the small decorated tree Dad carried, and smiled in excitement. The air was crisp and clean, the sky star-studded. Our breath made frosty poofs as my two little brothers and I excitedly giggled our way across the frozen sparkling street. We followed in Dad’s big footprints across the deep unmarred snow: we obviously were her only visitors.
When Grandma opened the door, we were shocked. She had been sitting alone in near-darkness with nothing in the house to suggest the season. Her eyes lightened with joy, then glistened with tears as we all shouted, “Merry Christmas!” We stamped the snow off our feet, then transformed her kitchen with laughter, love, and a little tree complete with gifts. With the tree lights making sparkles all over the room, we sang “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” All was calm and bright inside my young heart. I had never before understood all those words I’d heard about “making someone else happy makes you happy too.” But now I did! Sharing the Christmas spirit of love filled me with inner light like nothing I had ever experienced.
Kindness Is at the Heart of the Savior’s Example
These experiences are small examples of serving in the Savior’s way—ministering one by one, as we offer kind words, service, and smiles. From Aesop’s fable of the lion and the mouse, we are reminded that no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
Small, simple acts of kindness are the building blocks for creating Zion in spite of our differences. On page 31 of the Jershon book author Mari Vawn Tinney shared Barbara Morgan Gardner’s thoughts: “The Brethren have repeatedly asked the mem bers of the Church to have a spirit of inclusion, to reach out to those in need, especially to the minorities, and to help all of us become one in Christ. Is this not what Zion is: be of one heart, one mind, dwell in righteousness, that there are no poor among us? As members of the Church we are trying to bring to pass Zion. We all have a responsibility to help each other in this process. We cannot be saved alone. In these last days of we have a responsibility to help one another in order for all of us to claim the blessings associated with the Abrahamic Covenant. We may have different roles to play, but we are all in this together.” (Barbara Morgan Gardner, page 31, The Spirit of Jershon) Another famous quote from Sister Hinckley is, “We are all in this together. We need each other. Oh, how we need each other.”
This Christmas season may we all pray to be kind in the Savior’s way . . . to be fountains of kind words, kind actions, and kind feelings. Following the Savior’s example of kindness is the very essence of the spirit of Christmas.