For many of us, the holiday season arrives with joyous reunions with family and friends. It fills our calendars with luncheons, dinners, parties, and more. It is a time of great thanks, great happiness, and much obligation. Advent advises us to slow down, an act very much in contradiction with the fast-paced nature of our culture at Christmastime.
Let us take a moment to reflect on the word obligation. It is feeling scheduled, morally committed, or otherwise tied to something that feels less like a choice and more like a duty. The word obligation rarely invokes in our hearts a stirring of joy, gratitude, or freedom. Yet, as you read this, you likely have a list of things (maybe two!) to accomplish before the end of the month. A sense of obligation can often usurp the beauty and love behind an action or deed.
I have had children ask me “If it’s so important to love God, then why doesn’t He just make us do it?” Yes, that does sound like an easier answer, but when have we ever loved something we were forced into? It often surprises people when I tell them that I hated reading books for class when I was in school. How could you possibly hate reading and become an English teacher?! The answer to that is straightforward: I didn’t hate reading; I lost the joy of reading when someone forced me to read what they wanted me to read.
What a divine gift God bestowed upon us with free will, giving us the freedom to choose Him. We cannot fully love something we are, in any small way, forced to love. We might attend the office party out of a sense obligation and still have a good time. We may visit a family member because it’s “our turn to travel this year” and not leave miserable. Perhaps we will awkwardly hug that Great Aunt or Uncle because this might be their last Christmas, but are those acts of love freely given?
One of my favorite things about God is that He makes sure we know we do not “owe” Him anything. The only thing He wants from us is our love and attention, freely given and not forced. There is nothing we must do to receive His love and acceptance. He accepts and loves us as we are: the way we arrive, because we chose to arrive.
As we move forward this Holiday season, I encourage us all to examine the balance between our obligations and our choices. Obligations are important and cannot be dismissed as meaningless, nor can we do that which we freely choose all the time. If that were true, some of us might never leave our pajamas or our houses!
Finding the balance helps us to follow the greatest commandment we have been given.
Christ loves us. Christ chooses us. We are directed to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and we must also love our neighbors as ourselves. Without ignoring commitments you have this holiday season, I encourage you to notice the places in which you have been given the freedom to love in your own style, as well as notice when you can offer that same freedom to others. Let us be so empowered by the choices we freely make this season that we are living examples of Christ’s unconditional acceptance and the exalting joy that comes in choosing Him.