With Christmas fast approaching, I’m sure a lot of people (me included) can feel that pull of stress and exhaustion.
It is like sitting at the top of a stress slide, scooting forward inch by inch. We know what is coming, and we might already be worried about how we will land in the bark chips at the bottom. While Christmas may always be busy, here are a few simple things to think about that have helped me control some of the stress.
1. Traditions are tools
Traditions are tools that we use to make culture, to make memories, and to make childhoods. Traditions are not a base that we have to tag or we can’t count the run. Failure to make the gingerbread house does not make your Christmas a sham, for example.
If we were craftsmen, we would not mark our success by how many of our tools we touched. Instead, we’d look at the product. The point of gingerbread houses, cookies, homemade stockings, Christmas pajamas, hot chocolate, presents, shopping, caroling, lights, and every joyful tradition you can think of is joy. If you are failing to get that result, that’s a heart issue that using more tools will not help.
Joy is not something that you can manufacture through traditions—it is something you can shape with traditions.
But the joy itself cannot come from festive moments, new gifts, or tasty treats. The joy can only come from our salvation and our hearts resting in that. After that, joy is expressed in our physical world through our traditions, through what means we have at hand.
If your Christmas is not joyful, get things right with God. The joy of our salvation is the substance of celebrating. Traditions are simply a human response to great joy. Love your traditions because of why we have them, but never love them apart from our deepest joy in Jesus.
2. Know when to not let go
You can reduce stress tremendously by tightening up on the normal things rather than loosening up.
Tighten up your standards on yourself first, and then your children. Do not use the holidays to have a self-indulgent spiritual slump. When you feel rushed, it is easy to give yourself leeway that you shouldn’t.
Baking a lot of cookies is not an excuse to snap at your children. “Needing” to run errands is not an excuse to ignore your small child’s temper tantrum and just buckle them up napless and mad to go peeling off to the mall. Do not get into a cycle of bribing with treats instead of blessing with them. This is a time to follow through. Be clear, be calm, and be consistent. This will not decrease your workload, but it will sweeten it considerably! It is also a great gift to your children, helping them to celebrate such a precious time from a place of security and peace.
3. Size it up or sit it out
If you are finding it impossible to do the things that you think you need to do while maintaining joy in your home, you need to lower the standard. Years ago, we went to a wedding where one of the bridesmaids no longer fit into her dress and wore it down the aisle unzipped in the back. That’s not what you want to be.
Fancy traditions, fun shopping expeditions, huge parties, or insanely perfect gift-buying are all beautiful things to do, but not if you no longer are able to fit them into your family’s life. There comes a time to either size it up or sit it out. Be reasonable about what you can accomplish, and do what you can joyfully.
4. Prepare your children for disappointment
Anticipating opening presents is such a fun thing for kids, that it’s easy to forget that Christmas is full of temptations too. It is a good idea to talk to your kids about what to expect. With our kids, my husband and I talk about envy and thankfulness. We talk about people less fortunate and people more fortunate. We try to have our children be aware that Christmas morning is hugely joyful, and that we all need to discipline our hearts and stay in grateful fellowship.
We have used the illustration of running with our kids: Look in front of you, look at the way you are running, and be thankful. Whenever you start to look at what other people are getting, or what other people are doing, you are likely to run into something, and it will probably be a big envy tree.
This certainly applies to grown-ups too. Do not spend a lot of time or energy examining the motives of celebrations of others. Christmas celebrations are a response to our salvation. Look at your own feet and at your own work. The fact that people out there are just talking about Santa, holidays, and Xmas, and being all greedy and ugly and commercial about it really doesn’t matter. The power of a joyful, thankful, God-honoring celebration is not changed because some people do not know God and are trying to mimic it. Psalm 37:1 sums this up nicely: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!”
Do not spend your time getting wound up over the sins of others. Do not tie yourself into knots over unbelieving family members or friends who are doing things wrong. Take responsibility for yourself, and leave their hearts to God.
5. Get your head in the game
With so much happening all the time, it is easy to slip into a pattern of virtual life. When we view our phones and computers as relaxation, we can start turning to them when we feel stressed. Live in your home with your family. Don’t spend all your time looking at other people’s ideas—have some of your own!
Try leaving your phone on the counter all day and skip Facebook. Spend your downtime actually down and not hopping all over the virtual world. You are needed in the real world, so be there.
6. It’s all about Jesus
And lastly, the best way of all to keep from getting grumpy and wound up and stressed out about Christmas is to remember what we are doing in the first place.
We are celebrating that God dwelled among us, that he sent his Son to redeem us. This is not a big burden; this is about the absence of a burden. We are not obligated to party. The excitement, the joy, the laughter, the lights, the food, and the presents: this is all part of the glory of having been forgiven. We are free to do this, and we are free to do this with light hearts. Because, “To us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isa. 9:6).
That child wasn’t just born to be a neat story from a long time ago—he was born so that the world might be born anew in him.
This is not just the birthday of our Savior, but one big collective birthday celebration for all who have been born in him. Don’t let a little anxiety or a big to-do list separate you from the joy of that salvation.
It isn’t that we shouldn’t be stressed because Christmas doesn’t really matter anyways; our stress is simply pointless. Christmas is so much bigger than our little efforts to mark it. It is so far beyond us, that we should take comfort in knowing that our celebrations—our paper plates of cookies, our singing of glorious carols, our joyful gifting to others—can only scratch the surface of a joy that is so big, so vibrant, and so deep that it changed the world.
The love of the Father for his perfect Son is so great that we have been caught up in it. Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas, indeed.
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