The Christmas holiday: many of us look forward to this time of year with hearts of excitement as we anticipate time spent with loved ones. But just as the excitement and joy is a reality…the stress can be as well. We have schedules that are overbooked, tummies and shopping carts that are overfilled, and sleep is down and irritability is up. As you look forward to the next few weeks filled with worship, work parties, laughter, game nights, and time with family, I would like to offer both encouragement and a few ideas to help you remain pointed in a healthy direction this Christmas season.
Spiritual Preparation: This time of year is so special for one reason: the celebration of our Lord and Savior’s birth. We know this intuitively, yet we can still get trapped in the worldliness of the season. Set your intention to remain focused on your walk with the Lord this Christmas. Here are a few ideas to enhance your spiritual preparation:
- Read the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2 to walk with Mary and Joseph.
- Get into the Word by using an Advent reading plan.
- Read Advent devotions.
- Use a family Advent calendar.
- Actively choose to quiet your heart and sit at the foot of the cross.
When your heart is anchored firmly in Christ, the rest of the Christmas planning is all downhill!
Emotional Preparation: It is not uncommon that emotional levers get pulled this time of year. Maybe it is conflict between family members, financial stress, or the time crunch of “getting it all done.” Take time before you enter an event or interaction to pay attention to your emotional meter.
What’s happening in your body? Are you calm and still? Or do you have muscle tension, a tight chest, or a burning belly? Pay attention to the cues your body is giving you and do something with them.
- Exercise: Mindful breathing. Take a few deep breaths in through your nose and back out through your mouth. Slowing the pace of your breathing can help deliver a sense of calm to those parts of your body that are “acting up.” Doing so can also slow the pace of your thoughts.
What’s happening in your mind? Thoughts racing from here to there? “What if this?” “What if that?”
- Exercise: Centering Yourself. STOP. When you realize your thoughts are taking you down an unhealthy path, picture a big red STOP sign, and then a U-turn. Allow yourself to come back to the here and now. You cannot control what anyone else will say or do, but you can actively work to stay present and in the moment. Pay attention to the sounds, smells, and sights of the moment sitting before you and focus strongly on staying present with the people you are with in the moment you are in. Remember to focus on “what is” instead of “what if.”
Conflicting conversation: We’ve all been there. An innocent conversation, like about which motor oil provides the most optimal performance or if the Keto diet really is beneficial, can quickly take you down an unhealthy path — a path that has you emotionally invested and even in some cases angry. Remember to incorporate these tips as you are meandering through holiday interactions.
- Exercise: Stay in Your Lane. Far too often we invest much of our time and emotion into convincing someone why they are wrong and why we are right. We work hard to lobby our position of why they need to see it our way. Attach yourself to the idea that your opinions are simply that — your opinions. Share them, express your feelings about why that perspective is important to you (if you need to), and then leave it. Allow someone else to go through the same process of sharing their feelings and perspective. Listen actively to learn and understand — not to debate or prove them wrong.
- Exercise: Mind the Pace. When faced with a conflicting interaction, it can be helpful to be very aware of your pace and volume. The more upset a person becomes, the louder and faster they tend to speak. When interacting in these situations, being mindful to keep your delivery slow and quiet can have a positive impact on the outcome of the interaction.
- Exercise: Grace. Sometimes there is hurt sitting between loved ones that goes well beyond trivial topics. There can be very real issues and unresolved emotional baggage that influences connection and/or interaction. The Lord encourages reconciliation and forgiveness. Since Jesus forgives our wrongdoings, perhaps we could make a better effort to offer forgiveness as well! Let your prayers be to have a heart of compassion and forgiveness with a goal to be more Christ-like. Only then can you truly experience a heart at peace. If need be, engage the help of a therapist to work through these unresolved conflicts.
Calendar Preparation: As you’re filling your nights and weekends throughout December, take a moment and check your motivation for participating. Is it obligation? If so, back up and reconsider your plans. Eliminating some of the obligation activities from the calendar will help clear the way for a sincere enjoyment for those things you choose to fill your time with. Your calendar may have fewer things on it, but those events you and your family choose to engage in will be more memorable because you are “all in.”
Heart Preparation: Whether you find yourself in a difficult parenting moment, in an elevated conversation with a family member, or just going through the constant cycle of meal prep and clean up, take a moment to stop and reflect. Remember that everyone you encounter has a story. Everyone you meet has been touched by some form of sadness, stress, loss, financial challenges, health challenges, relationship challenges, and more. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Let everyone you encounter experience your heart of compassion. The smile, hug, or listening ear you can offer might be the glimmer of light they needed in that moment.
Health Preparation: Get your sleep. Drink your water. Eat your veggies. Move your body! This time of year, we are overtaxing our system with germs, junk food, and late nights. Try to mitigate some of those challenges with the basics. When your body is healthy and rested, your emotions are more likely to stay intact as well.
As you keep in mind some of these ideas to protect your spiritual, emotional, and physical health, look forward to the Christmas season with a childlike faith and a heart of thankfulness for the gift of a Savior. It is my hope for you that by allowing that faith to be your guide through all the plans and interactions, your Christmas season will be bright and memorable.
Many Christmas blessings to you all!