Guard thy heart with all diligence for out of it comes the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23

Several years ago I was asked to go to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to meet with wounded soldiers returning from war in the Middle East. These were officers who had seen at least two tours of duty, and it was highly unlikely they would see combat again due to injuries. I was asked to meet with them individually to talk to them, pray with them if they wanted, and give them copies of my book on loss, which could help them cope with some of the losses they were facing due to fellow military dying and/or personal injuries that changed their mobility and often their identity. Of the many places I have been asked to visit and speak, visiting soldiers at Walter Reed made an indelible impression on me.

During one of my conversations with a wounded officer, he explained to me his reason for voluntarily enlisting: September 11th. He was deeply impacted by the attack on the World Trade Centers and while watching some of the footage he felt compelled to enlist and do all he could. He was a young, humble, and intelligent man who had fought courageously and willingly in the Middle East. His concern, however, was that he was not still over there. He very sincerely said, I have to get back to my buddies; they need me.

This man was seriously maimed. Without God performing a miracle, he would not engage in combat again, and his civilian life would be significantly altered due to his injuries. As I looked into his eyes, his intention to return to battle was earnest; the abundance of his heart was speaking what he wanted to do—make a difference for others. He seemed to be waiting for me to encourage his hope. Knowing that in all likelihood that was not possible, I said to him, What if you had never gone? What if you never gave of yourself at all? With that, his eyes opened up and it was as though a light went on inside of him. Something registered; an insight perhaps that he had made an investment and what he had to give was offered. He had the physical and emotional wounds to prove it. Now maybe he also possessed the internal satisfaction that comes with having no regrets. The tears in his eyes and his soft words Thank you for saying that gave to me know that God had just imparted to this man a measure of healing and relief.

Time is a precious commodity. Couple time with good health and you have the makings for living well. And generously. Not in the giving of things as much as in the giving of self. Tangible items are sometimes the result of giving, but extending the gift of yourself penetrates others in a way that nothing material can. We may not ever know how our gift of self changes a life, changes a decision to a positive one, changes the course of someone’s direction toward good and away from evil. But unless and until we opt to offer what we have, we inhibit the potential changes that God wants to make from our offerings of self.

Often people think themselves unworthy, unskillful, ungraceful or unprepared to offer anything of merit to others. As human beings we all fall short of perfection. As Christians we are a work in progress, but never without the guiding and equipping presence of the Holy Spirit to work through us, for us, and for outcomes that are mutually beneficial and part of the craftsmanship of God’s perfect plan. With the Spirit’s leading, we give what we have and leave the results to the Lord. We may not go across the world as a soldier to give of ourselves. It is the distance we travel in the heart that tells.

Much is exchanged at Christmas. At Christmas and always, God is looking at our hearts. What we give of ourselves to others we are really giving to God. In His loving way, He makes our offerings to others return to us in fullness of heart and peace that nothing material can match. Christmas may be different for some of us this year as we miss people who are no longer part of our lives. Some of the deepest healing from loss can come when we give of ourselves to someone else. The Holy Spirit can use small or large portions of self to make us more like Christ, which is the finest return from giving of ourselves.

Cards. Gifts. Visits. Phone calls. Emails. Text Messages. Dinners. Lunches. A simple cup of coffee. Common activities but they all hold opportunities to give of yourself. What if you had not given of yourself? Your heart will tell you, one way or the other.

Lord, Christmas places our focus on You and on matters of the heart. Love is why You came to us, died for us, and now live for us. Lord, may the fullness of Your birth, life, death and resurrection make us mindful of your heart that shows us how our hearts can be when yielded to You. Help us, Holy Spirit, to find creative and useful ways of expressing hope and encouragement to others as we pour ourselves out as a drink offering, and in the process be filled with the love of You. This we ask in Your Name, Lord Jesus, Amen.