The holidays have an invisible power. It's a power that controls thought. And it's strong. The power can deftly and deceptively move thoughts from the joyful to the melancholy. It can welcome confusion and depression just as quickly as it lends invitation to happiness. It also urges moments dedicated to silent appreciation.
Many of us very seldom if ever whole-heartedly appreciate what we have. You can carry the thought of gratitude, and then something happens that pushes the barriers of reason and doubt. Debilitating illness, death, financial crisis. And then appreciation and gratitude disappear. Praying becomes more of a struggle. Belief in it vanishes altogether.
It happens. Believe me.
But now and then something happens to those who have encountered the internal conflict. It settles the mist that obscures the thoughts of what we really want to believe. And then faith is restored.
So many times I have seen people do things around the holidays that just seem far too obligatory to mean anything. The most humbling and touching things I have seen actually came from people whose behavior is unaffected by the holiday spell, because it is in their daily practice to act in the same considerate manner 365 days a year. Yes, there are still some people like that.
As far as appreciation goes, I cannot say that I used to spend my holidays thinking about the poor and unfortunate. In fact, I may not have even given them a passing thought. If I did, it was because I felt it was the right thing to do. But it wasn't sincere. Not really. I always considered myself to be a thoughtful person, but just not to that extent.
But then something happened to me. Nearly 10 years ago. It changed the way I think about things. I also made a promise to God that I have kept to this very day. I promised that I would kneel at my bedside every night and talk to Him. No formal prayers that become just words in recital that someone else wrote. Just talk. My words. His ears.
I know. Some of you may now refer me to the nearest psychotherapist. But I never said the promise I made 10 years ago was to you anyway. Am I now a saint? Hell no! (See what I mean?) But I believe that I have an appreciation and gratitude that makes me feel good. Nothing anyone else needs to acknowledge or recognize. Nothing from which I expect to get a grade or a salary raise. It's only something - let's call it a thought - that is just powerful enough to show me direction, and allow me to pause and look at things much differently. It is a discipline that pictures for me the worst that could happen and how to make the most of what I have while I have it.
• John DiMambro is publisher of the Appeal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org