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Finding the Peace of Christmas in a Not-So-Peaceful World


(ARA) - When Jesus was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, he was lauded as the long-expected Prince of Peace. Yet there was no peace; tumultuous events were occurring at the time and soon his parents were forced to flee the region under death threats from King Herod.

For many in this country -- a country so accustomed to peace -- Christmas and the familiar "Peace on Earth" greeting are taking on a different perspective in light of the tumultuous events of Sept. 11. Military mobilization, economic uncertainty, job layoffs in the airline industry, the new war on terrorism, and the devastating loss of more than 6,000 loved ones will certainly impact Christmas this year. Yet Dr. Harvey Martin, professor of Christian education at Northwestern College in Saint Paul, Minn., believes this may be the Christmas when American families shift their focus away from materialism and toward the true spirit of Christmas -- the gift of love.

"We have seen a sudden paradigm shift since Sept. 11," Martin says. "Before that day, we felt secure here in America. We had a mindset of pop culture and consumerism. But now we've been jolted into reassessing our priorities. There's a new recognition of patriotism. There's unity and willingness to reach out and help one another."

Danette Wilfahrt, a counselor at Northwestern College, agrees. "We are at an incredible time when events and circumstances are forcing us to seek comfort in a higher power, which has not been a part of our culture in quite some time. Americans are very independent, but the terrorist attacks have caused us to become interdependent -- we realize we need each other. Suddenly life is more than possessions."

Many families around the country have been touched by the attacks, and as a result, Americans are looking at family in a different way. "Kissing a loved one goodbye in the morning is no longer routine because we realize how easily we can lose someone," Martin says. "There's renewed affection for family and friends."

Martin observes that the terrorist attacks and the weeks following have taught this country to give with love. "We realize it's more important to meet others' needs, such as food, clothing and comfort. This year, many children will celebrate Christmas without one or both parents, so toys will not comfort them. But building relationships and giving time will help fill the void."

Martin and Wilfahrt encourage families to focus on one another this holiday season instead of the material and often-extravagant trappings of Christmas. "Build relationships among your family, neighbors, co-workers and friends," Martin suggests. "Make it your gift to do something nice for each person every week -- a gift that lasts all year, not just a couple weeks until it wears out, breaks, or becomes boring."

Instead of the usual supportive detachment such as doing things for children, parents need to do things with them, Martin says. "This country is realizing that the best gift is yourself and your time." He suggests parents and other family members should make it a point to attend their children's holiday programs at schools, churches and community centers.

Perhaps the best thing you can ask people this Christmas is not "What do you want for Christmas?" but "You know what I like about you?" This tells them that you pay attention to them, observe them, and that they have made a positive impact on you, Martin explains. Such personal input encourages people, and encouragement is much needed at Christmas when depression and suicide rates increase; and this year depression may be even more profound.

"Focus on the less fortunate; they are all around us -- those who lost loved ones, those encountering tough economic times," Wilfahrt adds. Giving to local or national relief agencies is taking on added significance and impact this year.

Martin suggests giving children money that they can in turn give to relief agencies of their choosing. "Children learn the very special gift of giving with love. In return, it makes children feel they make a difference, which instills self-confidence as well as teaches life's priorities," he says.

Wilfahrt believes that this Christmas more people will realize what "wealth" they actually have -- family, friends, homes, faith -- and will be grateful, she says. "We actually have received some gifts from the tragedies of Sept. 11 -- a return to God, unity as a nation and among political parties, the preciousness of life and patriotism."


Courtesy of ARA Content,  e-mail: 

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