December, a time for choral concerts, band performances, orchestra recitals, cocktail parties, holiday markets, family gatherings and final exams. Almost everyone is overbooked and overworked, exhausted and running on empty. Busy schedules lead to being away from home one night after the other, to the detriment of family dinners, early bedtimes and balanced meals.
The temptations of food and drink are too enticing to ignore. Rich food, sweet succulent desserts and holiday cocktails tantalize our taste buds and lead us into temptation and indulgence - and then to nights of unsound sleep. In my case, I often awaken the next morning filled with regret - wishing I had passed over the delectable treats, stayed at home and indulged in a bubble bath instead.
While we make time for others this Advent season, we should also make time for ourselves. We all need a few minutes to pause and relax, indulge in inactivity and create a lull rather than labor in liveliness. This indulgent pause that should refresh should be a moment to stand back and take stock of the miracles of Christmas that happen every minute of every day.
The small miracles can include being the recipient of a stranger's kindness or a pet's attention, getting a hug from a loved one or finding the perfect present for a friend. This reflection on finding a spark of the divine can be expanded to the people we encounter along the way, in the paths of our lives.
The spark of love, potential and possibility reside in everyone we know, everyone we love and even everyone we hate. Sometimes the spark flickers under damage caused by the trauma and tribulations of the lives we have led. The spark might be buried under ashes so deep that it cannot be seen until the ashes are blown away.
But the spark is always there, even if it is hard to find.
The challenge in front of us during this holiday time is to pause to recognize the spark of life and light, and therefore the spark of God, in others.
Before this can happen, we must pause first to recognize and embrace the same brightness and lightness within ourselves.
If we believe that there is a spark of divinity in every one of us, then we know that we too hold a spark of the divine. All too often we look for the flaws within ourselves (in my case, they're not hard to find). Such soul-searching often leads to the recognition of spheres that need to be improved or fixed. But a single-minded focus on continual improvement can keep us from recognizing that we all contain shining, sunny spots, too.
These spots are often easiest to find in those we love and care for, my children, my husband, all three who bring joy and laughter into my life on a daily basis. They are also often the ones to remind me that there is some good buried under my ashes after all. Those sunny spots are located within all of us - even if they are buried under damage caused by trauma, invisible until the ashes are blown away to reveal the bright embers that are still there.
It's the challenging people that require a new angle of thinking, moving away from our own preformed framework, into a more wide-eyed view of what might possibly just be. Taking a pause and allowing a slower pace, enabling a release of one framework and opening into other thoughts and perspectives provides space for us to view even those who challenge us, as a gift from above. What better way to get us to focus on our patience, humility and humanity than to put us in difficult situations? After all, Jesus was not born in a Ritz Carlton on silk sheets, but rather in a manger, surrounded by hay.
The value of a pause is that it allows us to blow away the ashes that may be covering up the embers. It lets us look for the best, in ourselves and then in others, to understand that everyone - even ourselves - contains a spark of holiness, the image of God.
During this busy season, use the power of a pause to see God in others, and in yourself.
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.