By Mike Gilland
We are in that most magical of all times of the year… Christmas. Growing up, the month of December was one that seemed to take its good ole’ time getting here. By the time Thanksgiving was over, I was ready for all that embodied this amazing time. My parents always decorated our home with festive snowflakes, colorful lights, and of course – the Christmas tree. Growing up in Indiana, it was usually cold by December 25th, and even if it wasn’t going to be a white Christmas, Mom would spray a snow-like decorating substance on our windows to make it look snowy. Every one of those days seemed to be full of wonder and growing excitement.
One thing that I learned from that time in my life turned out to be a valuable life lesson, and this one became apparent even before I was ten. The lesson? Learning that the gifts I wanted the most, those that I thought I would enjoy the most, often turned out to be something less than I expected.
Case in point, I was about nine and I had spent untold hours staring at the Sears Christmas catalog, the source for wish lists and Christmas dreams during my growing up years. And there was one toy that I thought I just couldn’t live without – a plastic bowling alley, complete with a mechanical bowler that actually held a small bowling ball, able to be pivoted side-to-side... and... with a pinball-type spring knob, his arm could be pulled back and released, throwing the ball down that realistic looking bowling lane toward real but miniature pins! In my young mind, this had to be the greatest toy ever conceived!
Well, Christmas Eve finally came around. Our family opened our gifts on the 24th, after a delicious family meal (that seemed to go on FOREVER), and sure enough, my parents had lovingly bought that bowling alley for me. Talk about pure ecstasy. I was in for months of joy and fun.
By noon Christmas Day, the pain of a lesson learned was manifest in my young mind. I realized that all that glittered was not gold, and this gift was not the toymaker’s all-in-all after all.
For starters, the tedious task of setting up ten pins over and over and over grew old really fast. I spent more time getting set up for the game than I did playing the game. And even that molded plastic bowler seemed much less interesting than I had imagined. After about three hours of playing, the sheen had worn off and I was looking for my basketball. Even then, I remember feeling embarrassed at the fuss I had made over wanting that toy, only to be grossly disappointed by it. I learned that anticipating that game had been much more fun than owning it.
I never forgot that lesson, and I try to apply the wisdom learned from it every time I find myself yearning for something I don’t have. I have found it comforting to wait when that yearning is that strong, to deny myself, remembering how quickly I moved on from that once “great desire.” As I grew older, I found the joy in anticipating those aspects of life that won’t grow old. Things like time spent with our family, investing time in reading the Bible, and learning the depths of God as I would worship Him. I discovered that the more I would learn about Him, the more I want to know Him even more intimately. And the other things too, like true-blue relationships, and even hobbies that are more satisfying and enjoyable than my Christmas gift that year proved to be.
Psalm 37 says “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (ESV). True fulfillment will come when we follow that wisdom, and not the colorful items that we see online or in a store catalog.
May we all grow closer to the Lord during this blessed season as we keep our eyes, hearts, and anticipations upon Him.
Mike Gilland is Operations Manager for The Shepherd Radio Network, a group of radio stations in Florida that features the “Christian Teach/Talk” format. Mike hosts a daily talk radio show in the 2 PM hour called “Afternoons with Mike”, talking to local pastors and newsmakers. In Orlando, The Shepherd is heard on WIWA, AM 1270. In addition to his broadcast experience, Mike spent 36 years in full-time ministry as a pastor and worship leader. As a guitarist, Mike performs at concerts, restaurants, private parties, etc. He is married to Cindy, the father of four grown children and grandfather to eight grandchildren.
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