It happens a lot around Christma
s time in the anticipation and expectation of the giving and receiving of gifts. It is called a “White Elephant” gift exchange. While the source of that expression is in question, one suggestion is that it came from a legend arising out of the kingdom of Siam, which today is known as Thailand. The legend purports that the Siamese king would gift an actual white elephant to anyone who displeased him.
Now, that might not seem like a bad thing, but the rare elephants were incredibly expensive to take care of, so whoever received one had to take on the financial onus of keeping a six- to 12-ton mammal alive and happy.
In our day the White Elephant gift exchange is a popular Christmas tradition for office, neighborhood, and church parties, rivaling the Ugly Sweater contest for its popularity.
In the modern day version, gifts are given which no one really wants or values. They are wrapped up in beautiful ways, looking very attractive to the eye, but inside the paper, the “gift” is worth little, often useless, and sometimes even broken or messed up.
For many, this time of the year is one giant white elephant gift. The festive atmosphere, the celebrations, the food, the singing, and all that goes with it mark a very difficult time.
This holiday season, with its “Merry” celebrations and the hope and emphasis of a “Happy” future, brings with it anything BUT merry-ness and happiness and blessing.
Many people go through the motions of looking good on the outside, but inside are feeling down, depressed, worried, heartbroken, and hurting. Whether it is the memory of Christmases past or broken relationships or the loss of loved ones no longer with us, there is often a sadness about the holidays and the anticipation of the New Year ahead.
Some years ago, Dr. Daniel Mark of Duke University conducted a study in which he stated that “bad thoughts bring bad health,” Dr. Mark, a cardiologist, concluded that OPTIMISM can be a powerful predictor of who will live and who will die after the diagnosis of heart disease.
He based his findings on a follow-up study of 1,719 men and women who had undergone heart catheterization. “The mind is a tremendous tool or weapon,” said Mark, “depending on your point of view.”
The Word of God has much to say about this. The Apostle Paul tells us to “set (our) minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). In Philippians 4:8 we read, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about these things.”
What things? Well, in Ephesians 1:3, we read that God has “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
So, just what are those “spiritual blessings” upon which I should be thinking as I set my mind on things above?
One habit that I have engaged in the last few years, which has helped me to overcome those emotions during this time of the year, is to pick up pen and paper, and, in the words of the old gospel song, “Count your blessings! Name them one by one.”
If you will for a few moments indulge me, here is a list of just some of those many blessings upon which I know I need to be thinking:
1. I have been saved by His grace from the death penalty of sin. (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8,9).
2. I have “around-the-clock” access to my Heavenly Father. (Ephesians 2:18 Hebrews 4:16).
3. I am NEVER alone because He is ALWAYS with me. (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).
4. Through His Word and by His Spirit, He has provided me with EVERYTHING I need for life and godliness. (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:3-4)
5. My Heavenly Father is constantly watching over me and always thinking about me. (Psalm 121; Psalm 139).
6. My Lord, who is both loving and strong, and whose ways are always just and right, will work in every circumstance of my life to bring about that which will result in my greatest good and His greatest glory. (Psalm 25:10; Psalm 62:11,12; Romans 8:28)
7. No matter how much others may hurt me, as I lift my praises to Him, the Lord will heal my broken heart and bandage my wounds (Psalm 147:3).
8. I have the promise and prospect that someday I will be just like Him and will live forever with Him (John 14:1-3; 1 John 3:1-2)
Now, like the Energizer bunny, I could have kept going and going. There are literally thousands of promises and blessings to claim. But even concentrating on these few helps me to come out of the doldrums and not feel so depressed or discouraged in facing the future.
That news item about Dr. Mark’s study went on to say that OUTLOOK is a “crucial factor for survival.”
Dr. Warren Wiersbe once said: “Outlook determines outcome. Therefore, when your outlook is the uplook, the outcome will be all right!” So the next time you’re feeling down physically, go to your doctor, by all means. But, don’t forget to take at least two of the above “promise pills”! You may feel better in the morning! Remember, “a cheerful heart is good medicine!” (Proverbs 17:22).
That is just what the Doctor — the Great Physician — has ordered! And you will find that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31) and “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
By the way, the story about origin of the White Elephant gift may well be fictitious. One author suggests that no Siamese monarch would ever consider giving such a gift, because the white elephant was thought to be a sacred animal and ownership of one was an incredible honor.
Happy New Year! And …
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Hillsboro Times-Gazette and the Wilmington News Journal. He is also the former Pastor of Faith Community Church in Hillsboro and Port William UMC.