Holiday Season: Taking a Personal Inventory

The holiday season is a time for families to enjoy traditions – old and new – with a spirit of hope for health and happiness in the coming New Year.

But when a bad economy, chaotic households, and domestic squabbles turn “Joy!” into “Oh, Boy!” it’s time to stop, drop, and take a quiet stroll to get a good handle on the meaning of the season.

It’s time to take a good look at your spiritual inventory.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, something else or nothing particular, the holiday season is a season for a reason.  From a commercial standpoint, it is a time when experts measure the health of our economy, taking its temperature constantly to determine how much money we are putting into the system. This year, its no surprise, many of us will be unable to (or should refrain from) spending too much of our hard earned cash – if we have any earnings at all, that is.

For some of us, even when we do take all the advice handed out by the experts and others, we find that we still fall short at the check-out corner. How do we get through the holiday season without feeling resentful, without wishing for more, without ruining the spirit of hope and happiness?

Now more than ever, it’s time to take a close look at what I call your Spiritual Inventory.

The word spiritual has different meaning for different folks, but for me it denotes that part of each individual from which our personal happiness comes. Because so many people find deep personal happiness in the teaching and practice of their religion, the word spiritual is often synonymous with something religious. It can be, but it is not limited to, the religious spectrum.

To do a spiritual inventory, a person needs to fully evaluate what it is, in his or her make up, that constitutes genuine happiness. There is no better time than the holiday season to revel in the peace and joy that happiness brings.

Whatever the origin of gift giving (and there are many theories), the giving of gifts makes most of us happy. It is such a wonderful feeling to watch friends and family open a gift you purchased or made, seeing the look of surprise or delight on their faces – especially on the faces of sparkling-eyed children.

But the moment can be fleeting, especially with the over abundance of gifts that our American children receive, on average, each holiday season. Overwhelmed by so many presents, the joy can quickly get lost in the piles of crumpled wrapping paper as parents search for batteries, try to put together complicated toys, or, inevitably, try to explain to their child why Santa would deliver a gift that simply doesn’t work.

My family traditionally opens one gift at a time, prolonging the precious moments and allowing everyone to share in the joy felt when he or she opens a gift. But often, families sort gifts into piles of packages at the feet of each person, and then at the blast of an unseen starting gun, everyone rips and tears and unearths – in 10 minutes flat — what amounts to several thousand dollars worth of merchandise. The next thirty minutes is spent in a quasi show-and-tell, with Aunt Lucy asking, to no one in particular, “Who gave me this?” and Grandma calling out, “Did Linus get the new blanket I made for him?” or Charlie crying, “Is this mine?” Good grief!

While I wouldn’t want to undo a single moment of holiday’s past — memories from which I still enjoy much happiness — I know that this year the pile of presents will be small – very, very small – and I’ll need to help my children (as well as myself) extract the joy of the season in the vast number of free ways that are available to us. Perhaps Thanksgiving so perfectly falls just a month before the gift-giving season as a gentle nudge for us to put it all into perspective.

With so many who have been hard-hit by the economy, it isn’t always easy to find much in one’s spiritual inventory on first glance. But a deeper, more concentrated look will yield an abundance of things if we only do the work.

For example, my complaints each month when it is time to pay the mortgage highlight that I have taken for granted the very fact that I have a home. Having nice walls and a nice roof with comfortable furnishings, in spite of the fact that I’ve never been able to afford window coverings, is a genuine blessing, one that is too easily taken for granted until it is gone. So, I include on my spiritual inventory my home, noting it boldly and dutifully hitting the “save” key. This holiday season, as I decorate that home, I will not do so with complaints of tangled lights or resent that there is too little help from my kids, but will do so happily — simply because I can.

This year, instead of resenting that I’m still unemployed or that I can’t buy a preferred brand of food, I am thankful that neither my children nor I are hungry, that we can’t even imagine “starvation,” and that there is always something in the cupboard from which to choose.

It is easy to see that my children are a big part of my spiritual inventory, and I can easily hear the part in our Thanksgiving prayer where we proclaim that we are “thankful for our family and friends who bring us so much happiness.” This year, however, I don’t want to take for granted the very fact that my children and my friends make me happy. This year, I want to celebrate it.

I will actively seek out all of the precious opportunities they each offer to me during the season, opportunities to smile and to laugh and to feel the joy that loving someone unconditionally provides. I vow not to get so carried away with baking cookies and decorating them perfectly that I’m too tired to enjoy a story my son tells me, or too preoccupied to hear the laughter of my daughter from another room. Soaking in the small but numerous moments of happiness will easily make up for the lack of gifts under the tree.

And, last but certainly not least, I will take the time to truly realize the value of my freedom — a freedom I did not personally earn, but one which I inherited from all those soldiers who so bravely fought — and fight — so that I can enjoy the comforts of a democracy.

One short year ago, I recall that my situation was not much different than it is now.  And I’m sure that is true for many of you.  But as my inventory of material goods has decreased due to auctions and Craigslist sales, my spiritual inventory continues to grow.

In one short year, I’ve new friends to cherish.  I’ve new memories that invoke warm feelings.  And, as always, I am hopeful that the year just in front of me will propel me even further toward unforeseen adventures that will continue to add to my spiritual inventory.

As the New Year turns and we put away the seasonal decorations, it is my hope that our individual spiritual inventories grow, that as winter fades to spring and spring to summer, and as the economy continues to recover, we are ever mindful of balancing our hardships with our blessings, that we hear the laughter and see the smiles that might otherwise be lost to busy days and chaotic nights, and that we are blessed with good health, for ourselves and for our children.

~ Lynda C. Watts

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