I don’t have to tell you what time of year it is. Take a look around. You can see it, you can hear it, and if you’re like me you can feel it. See, the Christmas season just does something to me. It makes me a little happier, a little lighter, and a lot more whole.
There’s just something about this time of year. It’s marked by hope, joy, renewal, and life. The music, the family, and the...gifts.
Yeah, the gifts.
This probably where you expect me to transition to talking about why we should stop caring so much about getting presents this season. Not quite. That particular article has been written thousands of times. Instead I’d like to take a slightly different approach. I’m here to tell you that you should actually be more focused on gifts this season. That’s right, more.
“What?” you might ask. “That’s counterintuitive.” A little. But not when viewed in the proper context. Let me explain.
I struggle with anxiety, OCD, and depression.
What a great combo, right? I’m not alone though. Statistics suggest more and more people are struggling with mental health issues, especially in light of the pandemic. If you’re like me in any of those ways, you have looked for relief. You’ve searched high and low for ways to find rest. You’re weary. And while there is no magic bullet to making it all go away and stop (it’s a combination of things, which includes physical and spiritual relief) I have found one thing in particular to be helpful: gifts.
No, not getting them. But giving them. Lots of them. That’s what I’m here to tell you: You need to be focused on giving this season way more than you think you do. Way more.
See, there’s something that happens inside of us when we give. It changes our perspective, it shifts our focus. When we start considering others more than ourselves, not surprisingly we stop being so consumed with our struggles and our problems. And many times, those problems start to look a little smaller.
Listen, it’s not wrong to struggle. But the truth is our struggles have a tendency to consume us. And the more they consume us the more power they have over us. But when we decide to be selfless, when we decide to give, the focus moves off of ourselves and onto others. Giving, then, can help us break free from the battles within that bog us down.
You want to know something really fascinating about all this? Giving gifts, doing things for others, participating in service projects, they all have actual physical benefits. In fact, giving makes you a healthier person. No, really. In fact, it can lower your blood pressure. Get a load of this from The Cleveland Clinic:
Research says that people who give social support to others have lower blood pressure than people who don’t. Supportive interaction with others also helps people recover from coronary-related events.
Researchers also say that people who give their time to help others through community and organizational involvement have greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels than those who don’t.
During the Christmas season, we celebrate the ultimate gift, Christ. Humanity was given something greater than we can even sometimes comprehend. And I find it quite beautiful that when we model that by engaging in giving, it not only lifts our spirits but actually helps heal us physically. God’s gift to man offers spiritual healing. Our gifts to others can bring physical healing. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
That said, I want to be clear about something: The main motivation for helping others shouldn’t be because you get something out of it. That would be selfish, wouldn’t it? Rather, we should give of ourselves because it’s what Christ has called us to do, and because it’s good and right. Once again, though, it strikes me as beautiful that in the process of doing that, God has made it so that it actually benefits us in unique and interesting ways. By giving we get. By sacrificing, we are sustained. Isn’t that incredible?
This month, then, I challenge you to find ways to give. Give actual gifts, yes, but give of yourself. Volunteer. Love others in new ways. Sacrifice your time. Find some way to take the focus off of yourself and love in a way that reflects the way God loved us.
When you do that — when you put others first and yourself second — you’re going to find it to be not only beneficial, but fulfilling and special.
Jonathon M. Seidl
Jonathon M. (Jon) Seidl is a writer, speaker, and digital media strategist. He’s the author of a forthcoming book on anxiety, OCD, and mental health that will be published in fall 2021.