“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.” Okay, so I’m not hoping that Saint Nicholas will soon be at my house, but my home is completely decorated for Christmas. Everything from the fireplace mantel to the Christmas tree has been covered with ornaments, poinsettias, garland, and sand dollars. Sand dollars? Yes, you read this correctly. My Christmas tree is decorated with sand dollars. I know, it sounds a little odd, but it has been a part of my family’s tradition since the year before I was born. My parents and sister were at the beach one day when my dad discovered a sandbar in the ocean. While he was on the sandbar, he felt sand dollars beneath his feet, so he decided to collect as many sand dollars as he could. I've never actually counted the number of sand dollars we hang each year on our tree, but I would guess it’s around thirty. Although they make for unusual ornaments, I love their simple beauty and the truth they remind me of each time I look at them.
Sand dollars are a unique type of seashell. Many people don’t realize that before they wind up on the beach, sand dollars are in fact considered to be an organism. Although they appear to be weak and delicate, they are actually quite strong. Very few organisms will eat it because it’s so tough. Yet despite the sand dollar’s strength, it is extremely beautiful. Many Christians believe one can see God’s hand in every detail of the sand dollar, as if He is telling a story through His creation. One writer tried to capture this belief in what has now become known as “The Legend of the Sand Dollar.”
The words “gentle” and “gentleness” are two of the most poorly translated words from Greek to English in the entire New Testament. When we hear this word, we think of weakness. I looked at several English dictionaries for this word, and every one had the same definition: “Overly submissive or compliant; spiritless.”  Yet this is NOT what Paul meant when he said to be gentle. Gentleness (sometimes called meekness) means strength/power under control. The imagery the word creates is that of a stallion or a race horse who knows when to run full speed ahead and when to restrain his strength. When Paul says, “The Lord is near,” it is a reminder to the Philippians and to us that our strength comes from God and God alone.
People living with a chronic illness understand what it means to be weak. It’s normal for us to lack the strength and energy to do even the simplest of tasks. Yet I've come to realize there are different types of strength. There’s physical strength, which truthfully, the majority of us lack. But then there’s inner strength, which can be emotional, mental, and spiritual, or all of the above. Personally, I believe that having inner strength is far more important than having physical strength. Physical strength can change depending on life’s circumstances. Car accidents, sickness, physical trauma, old age, and diseases can all steal our physical strength, but inner strength doesn’t depend on what happens to our physical bodies, especially when the inner strength comes from God. When we stay close to God, depending on Him to fill us with His strength/gentleness, we begin to look like Christ. His beauty radiates from within us. Like the sand dollar, every part of our lives points others to Jesus, even when we say nothing at all.
It’s easy to focus on our diseases and the physical weakness it leaves in its wake, and forget that we serve an awesome, powerful God who fills us with His strength if we only ask. As we enter the Christmas season filled with many get-togethers and parties, there’s a reasonably good chance we won’t be able to attend every celebration because of our illnesses. If this happens, remember that God is near. He is with us in every challenge we face, and He longs to share His strength with us.
So be encouraged! You have reason to rejoice in God. He’s stronger than any sickness, and He loves you so much He’s willing to share that strength with you. Who knows? Maybe others will see the beauty of Christ through your life because of your need to draw strength from God.
“Even though the fig trees have no fruit and no grapes grow on the vines, even though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no grain, even though the sheep all die and the cattle stalls are empty, I will still be joyful and glad, because the Lord God is my Savior. The Sovereign Lord gives me strength. He makes me sure-footed as a deer and keeps me safe on the mountains.” ~ Habakkuk 3:17-19 (Good News Translation)
© November 25, 2012