‘Tis the season to be jolly. And anxious. And jealous, depressed, sad, lonely and (fill the blank). There’s something about the Christmas season that brings together two of the most common building blocks of shame, money and religion, as we’ve noted in other blogs. Money, because the constant barrage of ads, telling us to buy more and more, can easily provoke a feeling that we are not “keeping up with the Jones’” despite our best efforts to max out our credit cards.
I find that it helps to have a really clear budget when going into the Holiday season. Through the years, my wife and I have included not only presents, but the overall budget. This includes a tree, special foods, and decorating materials. We have some flexibility, but are actually pretty good at setting a limit and sticking to it. And it’s the whole experience, not just the gift giving, that we are focusing on.
All year long, we work hard at making sure members of our family do not measure their worth by “externals” like a grade on a report card, a number on a paycheck, the number of presents under a tree. People are intrinsically valuable. Period. Of all the permutations and combinations of genes and chromosomes available to us in the history of the universe, there has never been a “YOU!” And there will NEVER be another “YOU” ever again! We are made in the image of an abundant God whom we serve. Appreciating the abundance around us and celebrating the incredible diversity of nature and people all around us helps us see that we are a part of a much larger whole, a bigger story if you will, than what can be measured by money, things, grades, physical abilities or any other of the countless ways our society tends to assign worth to people. That’s one reason why I love baseball so much. It’s the only sport where the person scores, not the ball or object, indicating the intrinsic value of people over-against things.
Religion is the other piece of the double-pronged shame-builder in our society. Some of our theologies describe people as “totally depraved,” “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” “a pile of dog dung covered over by the deity.” Although part of the draw of Christmas, I suspect, is that it focuses on a little baby – hardly the fearsome deity often pictured the rest of the year. The baby is far more approachable than an angry deity looking to punish us at every turn. Again, we work hard all year to help our family focus on the love, forgiveness, mercy, and other affirming attributes of God; themes of hope, new life, abundance and joy are also incorporated into our daily prayers, meditations and conversations. Vulnerability can be a door to building stronger relationships. The goal is to marinate in Little League affirmation, as I call it. Hearing “atta boy,” “atta girl,” “you got this,” in all kinds of ways helps people face life unafraid, confidently, fearlessly. This marinating contributes to the building up of resilience, flexibility, curiosity and more that enable us to greet the world around us as an exciting adventure, not something to be frightened of or eager to leave.
Another reason to let baseball help us in daily life: Little League affirmation. It’s so easy to do. Doesn’t cost anything. Can be done by anyone. Requires no special skill or training. All that is required is to focus on the positive. Stay tuned to uplifting words and actions. Call out the best in others. No one wants to fail. Let’s help everyone succeed in the game of life as we continue to value them, just as they are. We can ask for engagement, expect cooperation, hold people accountable for inappropriate behavior and the like. There can be standards of excellence that require all people to give their best for the sake of the whole (like everyone showing up, digging in, sucking less as they swing for the fences). Just don’t lose sight of the affirmation.