Serving with Christmas Joy During Difficult Times
By Ryan Jones, Gwinnett Leadership Forum Board Member
Monday, December 14, marked nine months since our first “pandemic” distribution at the Pantry @ HMUMC, where I serve as director. I posted a picture of the beautiful sunrise that morning and commented that it served as a great reminder that despite the fear and anxiety surrounding us, God was with us.
Little did we know last March, that nine months later, with Christmas approaching, we’d still be living under a cloud of uncertainty. The number of families visiting our pantry each week has steadily climbed from 220 the first week, to 300, 400, 500 and now we are serving more than 600 families every week. Families you might know, like your local dry cleaner or restaurant owner. These families share both uplifting and gut-wrenching prayer requests with us each week, spanning from mental health issues, job losses, health issues, struggling marriages, to loved ones dealing with addiction.
We have struggled to meet the growing demand as many other food pantries and non-profits have. We’ve been forced to discover creative ways to organize volunteers to safely prepare and serve on distribution day. We’ve had days where it took families almost two hours to get from intake to receiving their food. We’ve updated, re-updated and re-updated our COVID-19 policies. There were so many families in need this past Thanksgiving, we had to enlist three police officers to manage the overflow traffic from our parking lot at 5:30am.
And here we are today, preparing for our final distribution of the year and expecting over 1,000 families and the question is, “How on earth do we find Christmas joy amidst all of the struggle?” For us, joy is a choice. It’s a decision we get to make every day based on our perspective. We get to choose the way we want to look at the world. It would be easy to get hung up and become pessimistic with all of the struggle and challenge we’ve experienced this year. But, we choose joy because even when things are difficult and might not be going how we’ve planned, we know that God is still with us and God is in control.
If there is one thing the Christmas story tells us is that true joy isn’t found in the absence of problems, it is found in the presence of God. From before Jesus’ birth, to throughout his ministry and even after his death, there is a consistent theme of joy following encounters with him, despite anything else that may be going on in someone’s life. Whether people were scared, or tired or weak or anything else – joy always followed.
At our pantry and in our community, we make the choice to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. If families leave our pantry with a little more hope than when they came, then we’ve accomplished our mission.
So, no matter what is trying to steal your joy this Christmas, don’t let it. Because God is still with us and God is still in control. Choose joy - for true joy isn’t found in the absence of problems, joy is found in the presence of God.