Q: I always hear "peace on earth" this time of year, but I'm beginning to wonder if that's even possible -- there's so much conflict in our world. I want to teach my children (and learn myself) to be kind and sensitive to others. At the same time, I find myself cynically wondering if it even matters. What are your thoughts?
Jim: Your question makes me think of a popular quote that has been attributed to a variety of people, but actually traces to Reverend John Watson, a Scottish author and theologian who lived the majority of his life during the second half of the nineteenth century.
In 1897, Reverend Watson was invited by the popular religious newspaper The British Weekly to submit a Christmas message. Using his pen name "Ian MacLaren," he responded with a single sentence:
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
At the time, the paper editorialized and said, "No message is more needed in our days of stress and storm, of selfish striving and merciless competition." Remember -- this was in 1897!
It's easy to romanticize the past, especially the times in which we've never lived, and to think things were pretty close to ideal back then, especially when compared to the modern challenges of today. But the reality is often otherwise.
Every era has its own challenges, of course. I think this is what led the writer of Ecclesiastes to state rather poetically, "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun" (1:9).
I believe it's good to remind ourselves that things are not always as they seem on the surface. A co-worker who comes to work each morning with a smile on their face may very well be struggling in their marriage or might be dealing with a wayward child. The neighbor you happily wave to each day may have just lost a parent or received unfavorable medical test results. That person in line ahead of you at the store or airport could be dealing with a lifetime of hidden pain.
A city of a million people has a million stories, because "... everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
The Christmas season, in all its assumed merriment, can be a challenging time of year for hurts of the heart. So I'd like to encourage you to always make the effort to reach out in kindness -- even if it doesn't seem like it will matter.
Meanwhile, don't forget the context of those words "peace on earth, goodwill to men." They're pivotal in the true story of Christmas. And the world-changing message is this: In a specific place, at a specific time, our Creator stepped into the middle of our human mess with the answer to all our conflicts and troubles. In our limited smallness, we can't fix those things ourselves. But He can. Our role is to point others to Him, and that starts with kindness.
Christmas actually provides us with an opportunity to extend an extra measure of kindness. It doesn't have to be fancy or significant. It's the thought that counts. As the world seems to grow more cold and more coarse with each passing day, a kind response can provide the antidote and balm to help soothe the burns of the world.
So, remember this quote: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
Finally, maybe that someone is YOU. We have a staff of caring people (including licensed counselors) available to listen and help; see FocusOnTheFamily.com or call 800-A-FAMILY (800-232-6459).
May God bless you and your loved ones this Christmas.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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