4 Ways to Have a Meaningful Holiday Season

Jeremy Courtney is cofounder and executive director of the Preemptive Love Coalition (PLC), an international development organization based in Iraq that provides lifesaving heart surgeries to Iraqi children and trains local doctors and nurses. Jeremy resides in Iraq with his wife, two children, and an indispensable team of dear friends.

Preemptive Love book surgery

Fatima and her mother await surgery

Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time

Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time

by Jeremy Courtney

View Details

  • Get Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time
  • Get Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time
  • Get Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time
  • Get Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time

Of course our holidays are madness. And as we are increasingly sucked into the parties, gift exchanges, pageants, and family gatherings, it seems we can’t help but feel like all the meaning of these “holy days” was accidentally stuffed inside the holiday dinner turkey or buried beneath the Christmas tree.

Since my wife and I moved to Iraq with our (now) two kids in the middle of the Iraq War (detailed in my new book, Preemptive Love), a combination of outside pressures and internal controls have helped our family reclaim some of the essence of the holidays, not only in December, but every day of the year.

From Fallujah, Iraq to Fresno, Calif. here are four ways we can live beyond ourselves during the holidays.

1. Enjoy grace.
Hidden in the too-familiar lines of our favorite Christmas carols and holiday traditions is an extraordinary claim:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!

I have to admit, I sometimes wonder if it’s true; maybe a relic of a bygone era. But every year our kids thrill over those lyrics, and the fact that they actually receive that news as joy challenges my Christmas cynicism and agnostic doubt.

And though the story for us typically culminates on Dec. 25, effectively marking the end of the holiday season, the story and its claims are the essential starting point for experiencing the season for all its worth.

PreemptiveLove_Dr.novick_500

The Preemptive Love Coalition’s Dr. Novick follows up with a patient in Najaf. The organization staffers live and work in Iraq providing lifesaving heart surgeries to Iraqi children and training to local doctors and nurses.

The carol continues:
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found

The word “grace” is still the best word to capture all this meaning, and I think it’s the fuel for living beyond ourselves. In fact, the idea that the thorniness and cursedness of a place like Iraq, crippled by decades of war and despotism, can be rolled back, undone, and remade into something beautiful is what keeps us pushing forward in our work with Preemptive Love Coalition to provide lifesaving heart surgeries to Iraqi children each day.

If the whole season hinges on the story of a baby who came to overcome sin and sorrows and make his blessings flow, then we can rightly prioritize all the other holiday noise (our activity, even our hospitality and generosity, is not the point) and deeply enjoy the grace to which every smile and every gift is pointing.

2. Dish out thanks.
We’ve all experienced the uptick in gratitude that comes around this time of year. And I’ve never heard anyone complain about it! Scientists are even coming around to understand the power of thankfulness, linking it to to “better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life, and kinder behavior toward others.”

Giving thanks is an inherently subversive attack on holiday narcissism, and it is at the core of living beyond ourselves. When we give thanks, we admit that we have desires that cannot be met through more of ourselves. There are certain things that can only come to us from the outside, and that’s good news!

PreemptiveLove_vetern_400

Veteran ICHF nurse Martina Pavanic prepares a young baby for surgery in Najaf, Iraq

3. Savor your helping of thanks.
For many of us, this is more difficult than actually cultivating our own attitude of gratitude. But if you want to fully live beyond yourself this holiday season, and if you are actively extending hospitality and service to others, you’ve gotta learn to accept the gratitude of others without diminishing or downplaying it.

You know who you are, you who say things like, “Oh, it was nothing!” and “I just threw this together!” and “Don’t mention it!”

This is not accepting gratitude, this is a well-intentioned, but selfish, deflection that actually short-circuits the practice of giving thanks that your friends, family, and strangers are seeking to exercise with you. This deflection threatens others’ ability to really confess that they have desires and needs that could not be met inwardly. As such, demurring at others’ praise and thanks is not living beyond ourselves, but rather living for ourselves as we protect against the awkward exchange.

So, this season, as the praise and thanks are heaped on to your plate for all you’ve done, don’t decline, demure or deflect—don’t rob your loved ones the chance to fully experience their own gratitude. Instead, look your guests and, yes, even the stranger on the street, square in the eye and eat your thanks.

“Thank you for noticing!”
“That means a lot to me!”
“I really appreciate you saying so!”

You’ll both be better for it.

Preemptive Love book by Jeremy Courtney

Post-surgery success!

4. Forgive.
Do you dread seeing a particular family member, or take circuitous routes across the office to avoid certain coworkers at the holiday mixer? If you are dealing with real hurt, and not merely a rub of personalities, it may be time to forgive.

But where would we get the strength for such vulnerability?

Our years in Iraq have given us many an occasion to extend forgiveness: to the council of hardline clerics who issued a fatwa calling for our death; to the employees who have spied on us and broken into our homes; and to those who have threatened our families and betrayed us.

In every case, our ability to forgive comes back to the baby in the manager, because even though the story marks the end of the holidays, it has always been told as the fulcrum of a much larger story, in which the baby king-of-the-earth grows up and makes good on the promise to roll back the curse and make all things new. The grand finale is a loving intervention in which we are offered a chance to go free, in spite of our offenses, and the king is sentenced to death in our place.

To forgive others, when doing so seems like a betrayal of justice and common sense, it helps to remember that the serenity of the nativity is but a stop along the way in a grander narrative where every injustice is rightly dealt with and, remarkably, none of us get what we deserve.

In the end, and all along the way, “living beyond ourselves” produces untold benefits, happiness, and purpose. There’s really nothing better you could do for yourself this holiday season.

Preemptive Love author Jeremy Courtney

Author Jeremy Courtney

Photos courtesy of Preemptive Love Coalition

More Stories >

Debugging information below
(This will not show up in Production)

Total Queries ran on page 50
Time Query
Time Query
0.00091195106506348 SELECT ID, post_name, post_parent, post_type FROM wp_posts WHERE post_name IN ('holidays-2','4-ways-to-have-a-meaningful-holiday-season') AND post_type IN ('page','attachment')
0.00069189071655273 SELECT wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts WHERE 1=1 AND wp_posts.post_name = '4-ways-to-have-a-meaningful-holiday-season' AND wp_posts.post_type = 'post' ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC
0.00051689147949219 SELECT post_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_postmeta WHERE post_id IN (6727) ORDER BY meta_id ASC
0.00090408325195312 SELECT t.*, tt.* FROM wp_terms AS t INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON t.term_id = tt.term_id WHERE tt.taxonomy IN ('category') AND t.slug = 'holidays-2' ORDER BY t.name ASC
0.00021219253540039 SELECT term_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_termmeta WHERE term_id IN (5913) ORDER BY meta_id ASC
0.00058579444885254 SELECT tr.term_taxonomy_id FROM wp_term_relationships AS tr INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id WHERE tr.object_id IN (6727) AND tt.taxonomy IN ('category') ORDER BY tr.term_taxonomy_id ASC
0.00032901763916016 SELECT * FROM wp_posts WHERE ID = 6727 LIMIT 1
0.0013589859008789 SELECT t.*, tt.* FROM wp_terms AS t INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON tt.term_id = t.term_id INNER JOIN wp_term_relationships AS tr ON tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id WHERE tt.taxonomy IN ('category') AND tr.object_id IN (6727) ORDER BY t.name ASC
0.00023198127746582 SELECT * FROM wp_users WHERE ID = '127'
0.00042295455932617 SELECT user_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_usermeta WHERE user_id IN (127) ORDER BY umeta_id ASC
0.0016539096832275 SELECT t.*, tt.* FROM wp_terms AS t INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON tt.term_id = t.term_id INNER JOIN wp_term_relationships AS tr ON tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id WHERE tt.taxonomy IN ('post_tag') AND tr.object_id IN (6727) ORDER BY t.name ASC
0.00058388710021973 SELECT term_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_termmeta WHERE term_id IN (6049,6160,251,2011,6170,849,2010,3536,6189,6187,6162,295,6161,6158,6188,6159,4981) ORDER BY meta_id ASC
0.00042819976806641 SELECT * FROM wp_posts WHERE ID = 6882 LIMIT 1
0.00044488906860352 SELECT post_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_postmeta WHERE post_id IN (6882) ORDER BY meta_id ASC
0.0011019706726074 SELECT t.*, tt.* FROM wp_terms AS t INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON tt.term_id = t.term_id INNER JOIN wp_term_relationships AS tr ON tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id WHERE tt.taxonomy IN ('post_format') AND tr.object_id IN (6727) ORDER BY t.name ASC
9.1075897216797E-5 SELECT tr.object_id FROM wp_term_relationships AS tr INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id WHERE tt.taxonomy IN ('nav_menu') AND tt.term_id IN ('10280') ORDER BY tr.object_id ASC
0.00012087821960449 SELECT wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts WHERE 1=1 AND wp_posts.ID IN (15201,17412,17413,17414,17415,17416,17417,17418,17419,17420,17421,17422,17423,17424,17425) AND wp_posts.post_type = 'nav_menu_item' AND ((wp_posts.post_status = 'publish')) ORDER BY wp_posts.menu_order ASC
0.00011301040649414 SELECT wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts WHERE 1=1 AND wp_posts.ID IN (2) AND wp_posts.post_type = 'page' AND ((wp_posts.post_status = 'publish')) ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC
0.00075697898864746 SELECT t.term_id FROM wp_terms AS t INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON tt.term_id = t.term_id INNER JOIN wp_term_relationships AS tr ON tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id WHERE tt.taxonomy IN ('category') AND tr.object_id IN (6727) ORDER BY t.name ASC
8.8930130004883E-5 SELECT tr.object_id FROM wp_term_relationships AS tr INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id WHERE tt.taxonomy IN ('nav_menu') AND tt.term_id IN ('10282') ORDER BY tr.object_id ASC
0.00010299682617188 SELECT wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts WHERE 1=1 AND wp_posts.ID IN (15204,15205,15206,15207,15208) AND wp_posts.post_type = 'nav_menu_item' AND ((wp_posts.post_status = 'publish')) ORDER BY wp_posts.menu_order ASC
8.4877014160156E-5 SELECT t.term_id FROM wp_terms AS t INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON tt.term_id = t.term_id INNER JOIN wp_term_relationships AS tr ON tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id WHERE tt.taxonomy IN ('category') AND tr.object_id IN (6727) ORDER BY t.name ASC
9.9897384643555E-5 SELECT tr.object_id FROM wp_term_relationships AS tr INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id WHERE tt.taxonomy IN ('nav_menu') AND tt.term_id IN ('10282') ORDER BY tr.object_id ASC
9.7036361694336E-5 SELECT wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts WHERE 1=1 AND wp_posts.ID IN (15204,15205,15206,15207,15208) AND wp_posts.post_type = 'nav_menu_item' AND ((wp_posts.post_status = 'publish')) ORDER BY wp_posts.menu_order ASC
7.8916549682617E-5 SELECT t.term_id FROM wp_terms AS t INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON tt.term_id = t.term_id INNER JOIN wp_term_relationships AS tr ON tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id WHERE tt.taxonomy IN ('category') AND tr.object_id IN (6727) ORDER BY t.name ASC
0.00066590309143066 SELECT p.ID FROM wp_posts AS p WHERE p.post_date > '2013-12-04 15:05:43' AND p.post_type = 'post' AND p.post_status = 'publish' ORDER BY p.post_date ASC LIMIT 1
0.00026798248291016 SELECT * FROM wp_posts WHERE ID = 16635 LIMIT 1
0.0010061264038086 SELECT t.*, tt.* FROM wp_terms AS t INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON tt.term_id = t.term_id INNER JOIN wp_term_relationships AS tr ON tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id WHERE tt.taxonomy IN ('category') AND tr.object_id IN (16635) ORDER BY t.name ASC
7.5817108154297E-5 SELECT term_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_termmeta WHERE term_id IN (10679) ORDER BY meta_id ASC
0.0071959495544434 SELECT `post_id` FROM `wp_postmeta` WHERE `meta_key` = 'bk_isbn' AND `meta_value` = '9781476733463';
0.00028800964355469 SELECT * FROM wp_posts WHERE ID = 6859 LIMIT 1
0.00055193901062012 SELECT post_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_postmeta WHERE post_id IN (6860,6861,6862,6863,6864) ORDER BY meta_id ASC
0.0075130462646484 SELECT SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS wp_posts.ID FROM wp_posts INNER JOIN wp_postmeta ON ( wp_posts.ID = wp_postmeta.post_id ) WHERE 1=1 AND ( ( wp_postmeta.meta_key = 'bk_isbn' AND CAST(wp_postmeta.meta_value AS CHAR) = '9781476733463' ) ) AND wp_posts.post_type = 'book' AND (wp_posts.post_status = 'publish') GROUP BY wp_posts.ID ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC LIMIT 0, 1
9.7990036010742E-5 SELECT FOUND_ROWS()
0.00055098533630371 SELECT post_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_postmeta WHERE post_id IN (6859) ORDER BY meta_id ASC
0.0067391395568848 SELECT SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS wp_posts.ID FROM wp_posts WHERE 1=1 AND ( wp_posts.post_date >= '2012-01-01 00:00:00' ) AND wp_posts.post_type = 'post' AND (wp_posts.post_status = 'publish') ORDER BY RAND() LIMIT 0, 4
0.00011301040649414 SELECT FOUND_ROWS()
0.00043106079101562 SELECT wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts WHERE ID IN (9466,16686,16894,7271)
0.0039408206939697 SELECT t.*, tt.*, tr.object_id FROM wp_terms AS t INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy AS tt ON tt.term_id = t.term_id INNER JOIN wp_term_relationships AS tr ON tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id WHERE tt.taxonomy IN ('category', 'post_tag', 'post_format') AND tr.object_id IN (7271, 9466, 16686, 16894) ORDER BY t.name ASC
0.00094199180603027 SELECT post_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_postmeta WHERE post_id IN (7271,9466,16686,16894) ORDER BY meta_id ASC
0.00027990341186523 SELECT * FROM wp_posts WHERE ID = 9470 LIMIT 1
0.00059199333190918 SELECT post_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_postmeta WHERE post_id IN (9470) ORDER BY meta_id ASC
0.00028586387634277 SELECT * FROM wp_posts WHERE ID = 8206 LIMIT 1
0.00042200088500977 SELECT post_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_postmeta WHERE post_id IN (8206) ORDER BY meta_id ASC
7.8916549682617E-5 SELECT `post_id` FROM `wp_postmeta` WHERE `meta_key` = 'bk_isbn' AND `meta_value` = '9781476729954';
0.00033116340637207 SELECT * FROM wp_posts WHERE ID = 17472 LIMIT 1
0.00041484832763672 SELECT post_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_postmeta WHERE post_id IN (17472) ORDER BY meta_id ASC
0.0003359317779541 SELECT * FROM wp_posts WHERE ID = 7277 LIMIT 1
0.00040197372436523 SELECT post_id, meta_key, meta_value FROM wp_postmeta WHERE post_id IN (7277) ORDER BY meta_id ASC
9.3936920166016E-5 SELECT `post_id` FROM `wp_postmeta` WHERE `meta_key` = 'bk_isbn' AND `meta_value` = '9781451672855';
WP_Post Object
(
    [ID] => 6727
    [post_author] => 127
    [post_date] => 2013-12-04 15:05:43
    [post_date_gmt] => 2013-12-04 20:05:43
    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_6860" align="alignleft" width="400"]Preemptive Love book surgery Fatima and her mother await surgery[/caption]

Of course our holidays are madness. And as we are increasingly sucked into the parties, gift exchanges, pageants, and family gatherings, it seems we can't help but feel like all the meaning of these “holy days” was accidentally stuffed inside the holiday dinner turkey or buried beneath the Christmas tree.

Since my wife and I moved to Iraq with our (now) two kids in the middle of the Iraq War (detailed in my new book, Preemptive Love), a combination of outside pressures and internal controls have helped our family reclaim some of the essence of the holidays, not only in December, but every day of the year.

From Fallujah, Iraq to Fresno, Calif. here are four ways we can live beyond ourselves during the holidays.

1. Enjoy grace.
Hidden in the too-familiar lines of our favorite Christmas carols and holiday traditions is an extraordinary claim:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!

I have to admit, I sometimes wonder if it's true; maybe a relic of a bygone era. But every year our kids thrill over those lyrics, and the fact that they actually receive that news as joy challenges my Christmas cynicism and agnostic doubt.

And though the story for us typically culminates on Dec. 25, effectively marking the end of the holiday season, the story and its claims are the essential starting point for experiencing the season for all its worth.

[caption id="attachment_6861" align="aligncenter" width="500"]PreemptiveLove_Dr.novick_500 The Preemptive Love Coalition's Dr. Novick follows up with a patient in Najaf. The organization staffers live and work in Iraq providing lifesaving heart surgeries to Iraqi children and training to local doctors and nurses.[/caption]

The carol continues:
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found

The word "grace" is still the best word to capture all this meaning, and I think it's the fuel for living beyond ourselves. In fact, the idea that the thorniness and cursedness of a place like Iraq, crippled by decades of war and despotism, can be rolled back, undone, and remade into something beautiful is what keeps us pushing forward in our work with Preemptive Love Coalition to provide lifesaving heart surgeries to Iraqi children each day.

If the whole season hinges on the story of a baby who came to overcome sin and sorrows and make his blessings flow, then we can rightly prioritize all the other holiday noise (our activity, even our hospitality and generosity, is not the point) and deeply enjoy the grace to which every smile and every gift is pointing.

2. Dish out thanks.
We've all experienced the uptick in gratitude that comes around this time of year. And I've never heard anyone complain about it! Scientists are even coming around to understand the power of thankfulness, linking it to to “better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life, and kinder behavior toward others.”

Giving thanks is an inherently subversive attack on holiday narcissism, and it is at the core of living beyond ourselves. When we give thanks, we admit that we have desires that cannot be met through more of ourselves. There are certain things that can only come to us from the outside, and that's good news!

[caption id="attachment_6862" align="aligncenter" width="320"]PreemptiveLove_vetern_400 Veteran ICHF nurse Martina Pavanic prepares a young baby for surgery in Najaf, Iraq[/caption]

3. Savor your helping of thanks.
For many of us, this is more difficult than actually cultivating our own attitude of gratitude. But if you want to fully live beyond yourself this holiday season, and if you are actively extending hospitality and service to others, you've gotta learn to accept the gratitude of others without diminishing or downplaying it.

You know who you are, you who say things like, “Oh, it was nothing!” and “I just threw this together!” and “Don't mention it!”

This is not accepting gratitude, this is a well-intentioned, but selfish, deflection that actually short-circuits the practice of giving thanks that your friends, family, and strangers are seeking to exercise with you. This deflection threatens others' ability to really confess that they have desires and needs that could not be met inwardly. As such, demurring at others' praise and thanks is not living beyond ourselves, but rather living for ourselves as we protect against the awkward exchange.

So, this season, as the praise and thanks are heaped on to your plate for all you've done, don't decline, demure or deflect—don't rob your loved ones the chance to fully experience their own gratitude. Instead, look your guests and, yes, even the stranger on the street, square in the eye and eat your thanks.

“Thank you for noticing!”
“That means a lot to me!”
“I really appreciate you saying so!”

You'll both be better for it.

[caption id="attachment_6863" align="aligncenter" width="266"]Preemptive Love book by Jeremy Courtney Post-surgery success![/caption]

4. Forgive.
Do you dread seeing a particular family member, or take circuitous routes across the office to avoid certain coworkers at the holiday mixer? If you are dealing with real hurt, and not merely a rub of personalities, it may be time to forgive.

But where would we get the strength for such vulnerability?

Our years in Iraq have given us many an occasion to extend forgiveness: to the council of hardline clerics who issued a fatwa calling for our death; to the employees who have spied on us and broken into our homes; and to those who have threatened our families and betrayed us.

In every case, our ability to forgive comes back to the baby in the manager, because even though the story marks the end of the holidays, it has always been told as the fulcrum of a much larger story, in which the baby king-of-the-earth grows up and makes good on the promise to roll back the curse and make all things new. The grand finale is a loving intervention in which we are offered a chance to go free, in spite of our offenses, and the king is sentenced to death in our place.

To forgive others, when doing so seems like a betrayal of justice and common sense, it helps to remember that the serenity of the nativity is but a stop along the way in a grander narrative where every injustice is rightly dealt with and, remarkably, none of us get what we deserve.

In the end, and all along the way, “living beyond ourselves” produces untold benefits, happiness, and purpose. There's really nothing better you could do for yourself this holiday season.

[caption id="attachment_6864" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Preemptive Love author Jeremy Courtney Author Jeremy Courtney[/caption]

Photos courtesy of Preemptive Love Coalition
    [post_title] => 4 Ways to Have a Meaningful Holiday Season
    [post_excerpt] => Since my wife and I moved to Iraq with our (now) two kids in the middle of the Iraq War (detailed in my new book, Preemptive Love), a combination of outside pressures and internal controls have helped our family reclaim some of the essence of the holidays, not only in December, but every day of the year.
    [post_status] => publish
    [comment_status] => open
    [ping_status] => open
    [post_password] => 
    [post_name] => 4-ways-to-have-a-meaningful-holiday-season
    [to_ping] => 
    [pinged] => 
    [post_modified] => 2013-12-05 15:39:27
    [post_modified_gmt] => 2013-12-05 20:39:27
    [post_content_filtered] => 
    [post_parent] => 0
    [guid] => http://www.tipsonlifeandlove.com/?p=6727
    [menu_order] => 0
    [post_type] => post
    [post_mime_type] => 
    [comment_count] => 0
    [filter] => raw
)