The gift that everyone needs

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Article contributed by Amy Sargent

In many countries, this time of the year is marked by the telltale signs of people scurrying around from store to store trying to find the perfect gift for friends, family, and loved ones. And while we may fuss that this holiday season has become too commercialized, most will admit that it feels really good to give, especially when we’ve chosen a gift that is well received! Seeing the delight on someone’s face as they unwrap a present they like can warm our hearts on any cold, winter day.

But there’s a gift that many of us possess, yet, often unbeknown to us, withhold it. We’ll spend our hard-earned paychecks on new toys or colorful housewares or the latest electronic gadget for those we love, and even at times for strangers, but this particular gift is a little more difficult to part with. It doesn’t come wrapped in brown paper packages tied up with bows, and you won’t find it online or at your neighborhood retail store. Yet, it is a gift that each of us wants — and needs.

I don’t like conflict.  Not many of us do.  Whether it be with family at home, or colleagues at the office, or with strangers on our daily commute, conflict with other human beings can leave us feeling used up, empty, and numb–the very opposite of what we’re ‘supposed’ to feel this time of year. The holidays are a time for peace.  But we all know how difficult relations with each other can be at times.  How much peace are you feeling at the moment with those you interact with?  And more importantly, how much peace are you giving at the moment to those in your life?

When my kids’ dad and I divorced years ago, I can’t exactly say we were feeling the love, joy and peace of the season in our household those first few winters. There was arguing. Crying. Yelling. Disenchantment. The ending of family as we knew it left raw wounds, which would at times begin to heal over, until a word or action ripped open the flesh once again with new hurt and pain. I was angry, he was angry–we were angry.  The kids got their presents: princess dresses, Batman masks, bicycles, movies, gifts laced with all the trimmings of the holidays, yet the most vital ingredient was missing:  peace.  I remember one particular night we were dropping off the kids and the interaction between us was so bitter than I was shaking with rage.  Peace?  It just wasn’t an item in Santa’s gift bag for our family that year.

Peace can only come about when we are able to get along well with those around us. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a ‘people person’, it’s almost impossible to avoid interactions with others, and it’s these interactions that greatly affect our ability to experience peace. Believe me, I understand how certain circumstances can cause our relationships to be strained, to say the least, but unless we develop healthy conflict management skills, and interpersonal skills, both key components of emotional intelligence, even when there are valid reasons for the controversy, our ability to experience peace– and give peace — will be stifled.

Is there anyone in your life who’s robbing you of your peace?  Or, more importantly, is there anyone from whom you are stealing it? Maybe it’s a coworker who drives you nuts, or pushes your buttons, or…. you name it … whatever it is they do that’s causing you distress. Maybe it’s a family member that hurt you a long time ago in an angry argument.  Maybe it’s the guy who just pulled out in front of you at the intersection. Whomever it is, how does it feel?  If your reaction is anything like mine, the sick pit in your stomach when you think of the person or interact with them is enough to dampen the brightest of holiday spirits.

Forgiveness is often thought of to be a religious term, but it is helpful in bringing about peace to all, no matter what religion, belief system, or god you serve.  A quick internet search of the word ‘forgive’ leads you to this definition: “To stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.”  But I like the second definition that comes up even more so:  “To cancel a debt.”  Cancel means to cross it out, delete it, to let it go. It is inevitable that when in relationship there will be cause for offense. But it’s our choice to let go of the punishment that we feel they deserve for their bad behavior.  It’s a gift that we all possess and have the ability to give, and it’s our choice whether to give it — or not. And while not offering it is definitely an option, we’ve all heard the famous quote by Marianne Williamson:   “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.”

My years of holding on to resentments tainted my joy, and it was no one’s fault but my own. Sure, I could blame my ex for the unrest, but in actuality it was me who was refusing to offer the olive branch of peace. It took several years, but when I was finally ready to cancel the debt I felt my he owed, it was only then that peace could begin to seep back into my life. Hurtful words became just a little less hurtful. Unrealistic expectations of each other were put to rest, and oddly, a sense of respect for each other began appear, faintly at first, like the first twinkling star at dusk. Although these moments in the beginning were few and far between, it soon became more and normal to treat each other decently. It was as if we were tentatively exchanging little trinkets of peace, like stocking stuffers, and as we rebuilt trust, the gifts became more substantial, valuable, and frequent. I’d compliment him on his parenting skills, he’d thank me for teaching the girls to sing.  He’d offer to pay for something extra, then I’d do the same next time an expense came around. It wasn’t easy, and I struggled with extending kindness when the list of his wrongs always seemed to be much longer than the rights. But I found it hard to maintain a hardened heart when he’d offer a kind word, and visa versa. Sure, we’d often backslide, but for the most part we could tell our relationship was moving to a healthier place. Long story short, just last week, we were attending one of our kids’ choir events, and stopped into local coffee shop beforehand, and all sat together and shared coffee, and actually got along.  No arguing, no hurtful digs, no unkind words. We even laughed a bit and snapped a group photo.  What a different scene than from those early days of conflict. Will he ever be my best friend again?  Most likely not. I don’t think I’d even want that. But we have been able to finally lay down the years of bitterness and begin to again experience the love (well, “like” may be more accurate!), peace, and joy that Christmas carolers croon about.

Forgiveness. It’s gift that we all possess, but one that can be hard to give, especially when we can justify the reasons someone doesn’t deserve it. Offering forgiveness is much easier said than done — but know it can be done and can lead to the peace we all desire, deep down. Who will you offer this gift to this season?

 

3 Responses to “The gift that everyone needs”

  • Kay Gilley:

    What a great reminder, Amy. I’ve heard it said that forgiveness is the gift we give ourselves. Years ago I read a story about forgiveness. (I believe it was by Rabbi Harold Kushner in one of his wonderful best sellers, but I couldn’t vouch for that.) In the story, he was counseling a woman who had been wounded by her husband in a horrible divorce, and she’d carried that resentment for years. The rabbi said what had happened to her had been terrible, but her ex-husband had been terrible to her once. Through her lack of forgiveness had wounded herself everyday since.

  • Cynthia Miller:

    Elegantly stated, warmly received…Yes, forgiveness is a gift, if only more people saw it that way. Thank you for writing/presenting such a lovey gift this time of year. Cynthia

  • Amy,

    This is so true about forgiveness. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

    Cory Erickson

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