"Everything belongs to you, the whole world and life and death; the present and the future." How are those for words of encouragement? No matter what stress or sadness might be nagging at us this holiday season, focusing on the true significance of December 25th gives us hope, and that might be the most important gift of all.

Everything belongs to you . . . the whole world and life and death; the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God. 1 Corinthians 3: 21-23 NLT

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him. Romans 15:13 NIV

The older I get, the more painful and joyless winter in Wisconsin can seem at times. When I was younger, winter was a season to embrace. Like the other three, it had its own endearing nuances and unique gifts. As a grade-schooler, the bitter cold simply meant that more time would be spent indoors reading books, watching TV, or whistling away the hours engaging in any other favorite activity, and even in college, I didn’t mind the opportunity to huddle in a library or in a bar to get cozy as a thick blanket of frost covered the outside world for a few months.

But somehow as I got older—as my days become more hectic and more filled with anxieties related to work and commutes and bills and errands—my views on winter began to change. The cold air was now bitter instead of playful; it was now a scourge that killed car batteries and turned grocery shopping into a crucible. And the snow was no longer a gift from the heavens meant to facilitate recreation such as fort building and sledding; it was now a plague that slowed down driving and necessitated so many wasted hours of shoveling.

It’s been said that pain changes people, and so much can change as we get older, because we all experience pain. The days and seasons that used to bring us effortless joy can start to seem long and dreary sometimes, and even the Christmas season can start to seem like a bane as we battle crowded stores and lament the receding horizons of our checking accounts; as we get older, although we don’t often like to admit it, we might also start to lament the receding horizons of our days here on this earth. Maybe things like Christmas and birthdays and New Year’s were cool when we were younger, but now they just mean more stress, and they also mean that we are one year closer to death.

Those thoughts are cynical, I know, but have you ever felt cynical like that? I have, but none of us has to entertain such a weary outlook for long, because of what Christmas truly represents—and I’m not talking about presents or an ornately decorated tree or even time away from work. I’m talking about hope.

In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, wrongfully imprisoned Andy Dufresne refuses to give up hope in the face of a life sentence filled with violence, isolation, and even rape. He never gives up his hope of a brighter day filled with renewal and redemption, and eventually he experiences his paradise in the form of escaping to the sandy beaches of Zihuantanejo, Mexico, where he fixes up a boat and meets up with his best friend from Shawshank, Red.

“Hope is a good thing,” says Red (Morgan Freeman) toward the end of the movie. “Maybe the best of things.”

I agree. Hope is the best of things. It is, ultimately, the most important thing.

When we are faced with a long stretch of stressful, boring, or even demeaning work days, what gets us through? Ultimately, it’s the hope of a nice evening or weekend or vacation, and the hope that one day we will find a professional calling that empowers and fulfills us. It’s the hope that we will have made a difference in someone’s life.

When we are fighting with a spouse—when our marriage is lost in a forest of picking each other apart and pointing out foibles instead of praising endearing qualities—what gets us through? It’s the hope that a calm will come to the storm. The hope that our eyes will return to their rightful, rose-colored views of each other. The hope of renewed commitment and love.

When we are sick, what do we want from the doctor? A quick cure would be nice, but ultimately, we are looking for a little hope. Just tell me that there’s something I can try. Just tell me things will get a little better.

And when we go to see lawyers and bankers and psychiatrists, aren’t we seeking more of the same? Just tell me there’s a way out of the mess. I can accept a period of pain, but just tell me there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Most of us can be stronger and more patient that we think—most of us are willing and able to wade through five hundred yards of feces just like Andy Dufresne did—but we need to know that there is a Zihuantanejo waiting for us at some point. We need hope.

Christmas is all about hope. It is about God giving us the one thing we so desperately need.

Christmas isn’t about God immediately taking away all of our pain, but it is about Him providing us with a clearer view of a painfully beautiful future, one that isn’t filled with dark doctor’s visits, fanged credit card statements, or stupid, angry outbursts. We will eventually have our Zihuantanejo, and in the meantime, we don’t have to spend every moment lost in hopeless anxiety. We don’t have to spend the long winters of our lives huddled beneath the covers because we feel guilty or inadequate or just plain scared. Through the birth of Jesus, God gave us a tangible, loving piece of Himself, a salvation that erases our misdeeds and lets us see existence as something to be enjoyed again.

Jesus calls us His friend. Everything will be okay. We are once again free to see the snowfall as a means for play instead of as a signal that backbreaking hours of shoveling await. Cynicism can be broken, and wonder and innocence can return to our eyes, minds, and hearts. Everything is different now. The hope is here and can never be taken away.

The other day in Wisconsin, stuff got real. Winter got real. The first major snowstorm of the season hit, and driving became slow and even perilous. Now cars must be scraped and warmed up just to run errands we don’t like in the first place, and now surprise bouts of shoveling will take up countless hours of our precious time. Batteries will die, tires will go flat (as some of mine already have), and many of the short days will be sunless and unwelcoming. But there is always hope.

Just as I was beginning to slip into some sort of seasonal lament the other day—as I was walking up my icy driveway and getting pummeled by frosty air and negative thoughts—I noticed a crisp, golden leaf blowing across the frozen landscape of my yard. In the midst of the polar insanity, this bright little leaf skipped across the white crust of snow without a care in the world. It was a reminder that spring and summer would flourish once again and then usher in a beautiful autumn. It was a reminder of hope.

Every situation is doable as long as we don’t give up hope. Even a trip through this often confusing-and-gray world can be beautiful if we cling to our hope. This Christmas season, no matter what troubles are trying to crush your innocence and optimism—whether you are experiencing financial problems, health problems, work problems, emotional problems, relationship problems, or some combination of all of those problems—remember that hope is now your constant companion because of what December 25th represents.

You are forgiven and accepted, you are made a friend of God, and you are told that you don’t have to worry about what the future holds for you. Even the grim journey of death now has another side to it, one that is brighter than the sun-kissed beaches of Zihuantanejo.

Hope is the best of things, and because of Christmas, you have an immensely beautiful hope to cling to each day until your glorious eternity arrives. Everything is okay now. Remember that.

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Thanks so much for checking out this week's message of spiritual inspiration for workdays. I hope that you'll sign up for The Lovely Grind so that you'll receive every message every week of the year. Take care of yourself and your loved ones, and I hope to see you again soon.


Michael S. Priebe, Lovely Grind author & web creator

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