If you're looking for solid advice on how to make your life a bit saner, or if you're feeling tenderhearted and open-minded because it's Christmastime, or even if you're just looking for a last-minute stocking-stuffer, get a copy of Regina Brett's God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life's Little Detours.
I'd never heard of Brett until a couple of weeks ago, when I happened across God Never Blinks on a display table at a bookstore.
I usually incline toward tomes of historical non-fiction that can double as doorstops rather than modest volumes made up of short essays on practical living, even though I've written two such collections myself. But for some reason I picked up Brett's book and stood in the store's aisle skimming it.
Its format was simple: Brett would state a life lesson she's learned, then follow it with a short essay telling how she arrived at that conclusion.
My jaw dropped. Not only was the one brief essay I read while standing there beautifully written, but the lesson — Number 29: "What other people think of you is none of your business" — and her experiences were uncannily like situations I've experienced and the corresponding lesson I'd learned.
(The way I word it is: "You can't live your life in somebody else's head.")
In fact, when I glanced through the table of contents, I found that many of Brett's lessons were virtually identical to observations I've tried to pass along in my sermons, books and newspaper columns.
So I bought God Never Blinks — because I enjoy discovering those few writers whose views agree with mine.
Anyway, it turns out Brett is a Roman Catholic, a cancer survivor, a columnist for The Plain Dealer, a newspaper in Cleveland, and a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
I decided my Christmas gift to you would be to share some of her advice. Her points don't need much elaboration, but — you know me — I can't help adding my two cents' worth. The words in quotation marks are Brett's. The others are mine.
Lesson 4: "Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does."
We'd probably be amazed at how little energy the rest of the world expends worrying about our mistakes. Or our victories.
Lesson 8: "It's okay to get angry with God. He can take it."
God's a lot bigger than I am, smarter than I am, older than I am and stronger than I am. He's seen and heard it all. How could he possibly become offended because the likes of me was mad at him?
Lesson 13: "Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about."
Simply because another person appears prettier than you, or better educated, or richer, doesn't mean he or she is any happier. Besides, your only productive option is to take the circumstances fate has dealt you and, with God's help, improve them.
Lesson 17: "You can get through anything life hands you if you stay put in the day you are in and don't jump ahead."
Or as my mom always said, don't borrow trouble.
Lesson 26: "Frame every so-called disaster with these words: 'In five years, will this matter?' "
Hey, most things we get wrought up about won't matter in five hours, let alone five years. And in the grand scope of eternity, hardly anything matters.
Lesson 28: "Forgive everybody everything."
Remember, you've sinned, too. You don't know why that other person did whatever he or she did. Let it go. Move on. Life is way too short.
Lesson 31: "No matter how good or how bad a situation is, it will change."
The good times don't last. But thank the Lord, neither do the bad times.
Lesson 34: "God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do."
This is the most important principle in Christianity. If you think God accepts you because of your good works and moral purity, you're not a Christian — you're an idolater. And a narcissist. You're worshiping yourself, not God.
Lesson 38: "Read the Psalms. No matter what your faith, they cover every human emotion."
The psalmist praises God one minute and the next minute rails at him and the next minute mopes in self-pity and the next minute praises God again. Just like me.
Lesson 38: "If we all threw our problems in a pile and got a look at everyone else's, we'd fight to get back our own."
At the lowest point in my life, I was invited to speak to an organization that provides support for people with chronic kidney diseases.
After listening to their stories — about their decades of transplants, dialysis, financial struggle — I walked away shamed. I realized that, compared to those good folks, I wasn't a victim of some cosmic injustice. I was just a crybaby.
Lesson 43: "All that truly matters in the end is that you loved."
If you have a spouse, child, grandchild or friend you'd take a bullet for, and if there's somebody who feels that way about you, then you couldn't be any luckier.
Preach it, my sister.
On those liberating notes, I'll wish you all a merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.
Paul Prather is the pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.