Whenever my friend’s children are asked what their favorite Christmas memories are, they all immediately think of the same thing—but then, surprisingly, they skirt around the subject only giving half answers. They won’t say much or go into a lot of detail but their eyes sparkle as they remember. What’s their favorite memory? Their family’s tradition of doing service projects every Christmas and they all love it!
Needless to say, I wanted to know more about these service projects which none of them would discuss. After some wheedling and many promises not to tell, I was permitted to hear their secrets. This family has a special signature way of doing their Christmas acts of service. It’s the same every year and many people have received their help. But because of this special signature they leave with their service, they can’t talk too much about it or all the people they have helped will know who was responsible for their Christmas surprise. It’s amazing to me how these special acts of service have become a big centerpiece for this family’s Christmas celebrations.
My son, currently at the MTC in Provo, told me about a fireside talk they heard one Sunday evening. Elder Bednar spoke about the character of Christ and of how we as faithful believers should be striving to be Christ-like. He mentioned how Christ went much farther than just keeping the commandments; He taught, “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt 1625) and “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Galatians 5:14) This implies more is involved in being Christ-like than simply obeying.
When Christ was at His lowest point, He didn’t just think about Himself. As He hung on the cross, He thought about His mother and how she could be taken care of when He was gone. He thought about all those who were crucifying Him and asked His father to forgive them. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was thinking of others as He healed the servant’s ear.
This is the opposite of our normal reaction to adversity. When bad things happen, we tend to close up and “turn inward,” as Elder Bednar called it, becoming oblivious of other’s needs:
Thus, [Christ’s] character is demonstrated by looking and reaching outward when the natural and instinctive response is to be self-absorbed and turn inward.
– Elder Bednar
If we want to be Christ-like, we must look outward and care for those around us and teach this to our children as well. Since example is the best way to learn, family service projects teach this better than anything else. When we see someone in need, we can help them. It doesn’t take much really. Sometimes it’s just a plate of cookies or even a welcoming smile. It’s not necessary to wait for someone else to organize it or see if the church or the government will step in, we need to be there for others now.
Most of all, our families need to be a part of it. They need to feel that spirit that comes through service and from giving of themselves. They need to experience turning outward and caring for others even when it’s tough. Imagine the change in our communities if we all began to emulate the character of Christ. My friend’s family is an example of how it can work. If their children have wonderful memories of Christmas as a time for service, then other families can have that too—mine included!
By Jennifer Jensen