Ah. Christmas. It’s billed as the ‘most wonderful time of the year’–– but the reality for a lot of families is that it doubles the to-do list, halves our time, and stirs up family and financial strain with a good pinch of sensory overload. The kids are jingle-belling, everyone is telling you to ‘be of good cheer’, but our workloads are increasing, family tensions and expectations are on the rise, and we feel the pressure to do it all, have it all—and to see it all on social media! And those of us who love Jesus do try to cling to him—but struggle. We keep - getting - distracted. And tired.
So how can we deal with all of these pressures and hang on to real peace and joy in the silly season? Here are some ideas to start with.
Think about it—was man made for Christmas, or was Christmas made for man?
Yes, I’m pushing Mark 2:27–28 a little here. Between family and presents and food, I think that Christmas is the third best holiday on the calendar (ranked after Good Friday and Easter Sunday respectively). But we didn’t always celebrate it! Ancient documents don’t record feasts celebrating Jesus’ birth until around 300 AD, and our word ‘Christmas’ (which derives from Middle English Cristemasse, ‘Christ’s Mass’) wasn’t recorded until around 1000 AD! If the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, then Christmas, a man-made holiday, is definitely less important than that. God does not expect us to serve Christmas. That way lies idolatry. So remember: ‘the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath’. We are to serve him, not the holiday. How do we do this?
Know who and what is important to you. This grounds you in the face of all the holiday turbulence.
Remember how Jesus told the story about the two builders? One built his house on sand, and the other built his house on rock. When the storms of life arose, the one who built on sand got washed away, whereas the other endured. Why? Because he built his house on the thing that really mattered; he held firm through the storm. The same goes for us.
So as far as Christmas goes, be really clear about what the foundational point of the activity is, for you. What exactly are you going to build it on? Talk to God, let him remind you that he crafted you with the special purpose of glorifying him, and he has put you in this time, this place, amidst these people, for something that you have been especially equipped to do and value (see Ephesians 2). So zero in on that.
Here are some ideas to consider for this season. Notice the words in italics? Those are the kinds of big-picture words you’re looking for.
Joy and gratitude
Delighting in creation or creativity
Rest and self-care
Talking to God and planning the year ahead.
Love or nurturing—whether that looks like making an elaborate dinner for your family or running sound for a church event for your community.
If you know, down to your bones, that God and family and integrity are most important to you over this season, then the urgent demands at work or church can fade a little from view. You know you need to deal with them because your sense of integrity suggests you do what you have committed to, but you know that spending time with your family and praying is your main purpose each day.
Or maybe it’s family and finances and stewardship and sane mama—so when confronted with the need to host Christmas dinner, you can freely choose to do a cold-meat-and-two-salads kind of spread without apology or comparison-driven guilt, because family and stewardship and a sane mama trumps food and that’s just all kinds of awesome.
Knowing that you are stepping up and doing what matters, where and when it matters, can paradoxically help you put the other stress in its place, even though it takes time or effort away from those commitments. Try it and see!
What to do when your ‘important’ clashes with someone else’s?
This is at the heart of so many conflicts and tiredness and stress this time of year. Why? Because not all the things matter to all of us—like the seven-year-old tantrumming over a book, or the boss needing that paperwork completed today that they only gave us yesterday! Have you noticed how guilt can then start creeping in because we know it’s important to them and we’re not doing it? Then we feel worried about feeling guilty, then sad about feeling worried about feeling guilty, then angry about feeling sad about feeling worried about feeling guilty … Then stress, distraction and conflict take over!
So if this sounds familiar, first of all, take a breath. Slowly in. Slowly out. Relax. Repeat. Talk to God again, tell him how you’re feeling, and talk to him about what is truly important in that moment. Maybe you’ll need to stick to your guns—or maybe you can give yourself permission to let go of the things that aren’t so important to you, in order to fulfil someone else’s priorities.
Focusing and letting go helps deal with the festive workload.
If you can focus on the handful of things that really matters to you that you know God has given you, then you can also give yourself permission to do less of the other stuff. This can enable others to step up and try something new because maybe, just maybe, God has prepared those things for them, because he’s especially equipped them that way. And maybe they just haven’t realised this yet! And if nobody else steps up? Well ... perhaps it begs the question, how much do those things truly matter?
Whatever matters–whoever matters—sum it up in a handful of words and keep it at the front of your mind. Use these words as your lens every day, and you’ll have a much better chance of making wise choices about where you put your time, energy, effort and emotion this Christmas.
For a better look at how to master the Christmas crazy and focus on the Christ of Christmas, sign up to Krystyna’s Christ-mas or Stress-mas? Advent Calendar for quick tips, ideas and exercises delivered to your inboxes every day of Advent.
Once a clinical psychologist, Krystyna Kidson had kids, fell in love with coaching and is now The Psychologist Coach and founder of the Paraclete Initiative, a stress mastery and burnout prevention ministry; coming alongside God’s people with practical, effective strategies that they can use to throw off that which hinders and be free to love and serve God and others more meaningfully, effectively, and sustainably.