Christmastime is such a wonderful time of year – but it can also be challenging. It’s fun to spend time with our loved ones and to choose gifts that will make them feel special. But it can also be a time when we have to face people we don’t necessarily love so much. We might draw these people in a secret Santa exchange, bump into them at a holiday party, or sit next to them at a large family dinner; loving difficult people (even during the holidays) is never an easy task. But showing these people love and grace might be the best gift we can give OURSELVES this holiday season. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.

Easier said than done, right? I know – this task is particularly difficult for me.

My mom has always told me that I have a strong sense of justice – that’s her motherly and loving way of telling me that I don’t always give people as much grace as I could when I feel like I’ve been wronged; I focus much more on what is “fair.”

Many of my friends frequently come to me for “vent sessions” because I’ll be the first person to say “UGH – you did NOT deserve that!” or “Well, if they were so rude or inconsiderate, how can they expect you to be polite or nice in response? That makes NO sense!” I’m not proud to admit that I sometimes respond in these scenarios with knee-jerk reactions rather than swallowing my pride and practicing forgiveness. Although I write about my faith, I am definitely no saint. God still has a lot of work to do on me and I know He won’t be finished transforming my heart until my life here on Earth is over.

But I want to be better. I want to be more like Jesus – and I don’t just mean turning the other cheek. I want to be like Him in the sense that I will be able to go out of my way to show love and grace to people who might not “deserve” it from my point of view. If I were to attempt this goal on my own, I know I’d fail, so I have to keep a key piece of wisdom at the forefront of my memory to achieve it: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – ” (Romans 5:7-8).

Sometimes I think about all of the times I’ve ignored and disobeyed Jesus, and acted as though I couldn’t care less what He thought. And then it hits me that He continues to love me and bless me anyway – and I’m filled with a sense of disbelief.

How could that be true? How could someone really love me through all of that? But it IS true. And when I remember this and truly grasp how profound and full His love is, it makes me feel like I’m the Grinch in the closing scene when his heart grows three sizes bigger (cheesy, I know, but seriously!) – I still have a lot to learn, but I have learned this much: I’m able to love better when I fully embrace God’s overflowing love for me. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

One of my favorite Christian authors, Heather Lindsey, sums up this idea perfectly: “Some people say, ‘don’t cross oceans for people who wouldn’t cross a puddle for you,’ but I’d say to them, No, do it. Do cross oceans for people. Love people, all people. No conditions attached, no wondering whether they’re worthy. Cross oceans, climb mountains. Life and love isn’t about what you gain, it’s about what you give.”

It can be a tough pill to swallow, but it becomes easier to accept this concept if we remember the love, forgiveness, and grace Jesus offers each and every one of us. Embrace His love. When you do, you will love better. And when you love better, you live better. To me, that is the best Christmas gift we can give ourselves.