The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

January 10, 2014

Things getting back to normal? We may want better than that

From the Pulpit

By Rev. Jeff Harter

- — Thr holidays are now over. The Christmas trees, Menorahs and all the decorations have been put away for another year. Life is getting back to normal. But, what is normal? A friend of mine likes to say that normal is nothing more than a setting on your clothes dryer. Let’s just say that our lives are settling back into the regular routines that we had before the holidays, way back before Halloween.

For some of us, normal is not what we would like to go back to. As we move forward into 2014, we want to keep some of the spirit of peace, joy, hope and love that the holidays offered us. There are ways that we can do that. First of all, we take care of ourselves in the following ways:

• Be kind and forgiving to yourself and others. Accept your limitations. Don’t beat yourself up for your failures or shortcomings. If you spent too much money or gained too much weight during the holidays, be positive and do something about it. Go on a healthy diet, or adjust your budget to work toward getting out of debt. And let go of resentment and bitterness by forgiving others.

• Exercise, eat right, get sufficient rest, avoid harmful drugs and use alcohol moderately and only if you are able. Nourish yourself spiritually and emotionally through prayer or meditation, worship, fun and creativity.

• Give yourself permission to grieve the losses you’ve experienced. Grief is a normal process of healing when we have been wounded by loss, misfortune or disappointment. If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, a job, your health, or anything else significant, talk with someone. If your grief is especially intense or is affecting your ability to function, consider attending a grief support group, or seeing your doctor or a counselor. Take time to remember, reminisce and cry.

If you can’t shake your down feeling and you lack the energy to do anything, you may be experiencing a form of depression. For people suffering from depression, this time of year may be especially difficult. Remember that depression is not a weakness or something to be ashamed of. It is an illness that can be treated by your physician or a mental health professional.

• Make use of opportunities to get out of the house and be with others. People often find strength, joy and meaning through interaction with others at home, church, school and community. And don’t forget that God promises to be with us also, never to leave or forsake us. God invites us to come to him any time in prayer, worship, and by reading the Bible.

• Besides taking care of ourselves, we can keep the spirit of the holidays by doing things for other people. At Christmas time we may have received joy from giving gifts and donations to loved ones and to charities. That doesn’t have to stop just because the holidays are over.

The Baptist minister and author Howard Thurman wrote, “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers, to make music in the heart.”

Showing love for others may help us keep the lights of Christmas burning brightly in our hearts. Howard Thurman also wrote, “I will light candles this Christmas; candles of joy, despite all sadness, candles of hope where despair keeps watch, candles of courage where fear is present, candles of peace for tempest-tossed days, candles of grace to ease heavy burdens, candles of love to inspire all my living, candles that will burn all year long.”

Let’s keep those Christmas candles burning in our hearts! Then the peace, joy, hope and love of Christmas may remain with us throughout the year.

The Rev. Jeff Harter is pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church, Sharon.