Guest Post by Rachel Jankovic, author of Loving the Little Years and Fit to Burst.
With Christmas fast approaching, I’m sure many of us 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 for us, here are a few simple things to think about that may help control some of the stress.
Traditions Are Tools
First of all, traditions are tools. They are tools that we use to make culture, to make memories, to make childhoods. Traditions are not a base that we have to tag or we can’t count the run. It isn’t as though failure to make the gingerbread house makes your Christmas a sham. If we were craftsmen, we would not mark our success by how many of our tools we touched. We look at the product. The point of gingerbread houses, and cookies, and homemade stockings, and Christmas pajamas, and hot chocolate, and presents, and shopping, and caroling, and lights, and every joyful tradition you can think of is JOY. If you are failing to get that result, using a lot 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, or new gifts, or tasty treats. The joy can only come from our salvation. After that, it 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.
Tighten Up Normal Things
Second, 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 work load, 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.
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. Don’t be like that.
Fancy traditions, or fun shopping expeditions, or huge parties, or insanely perfect gift buying are all beautiful, but not if you no longer fit in them. There comes a time to either size up or sit it out. Be reasonable about what you can accomplish, and do what you can joyfully do.
Prepare Your Children For Disappointment
Third, and this may sound terrible, but I promise it isn’t, prepare your children for disappointment. Anticipating opening presents is such a fun thing for kids that it is easy to forget that Christmas is full of temptations too. It is a good idea to talk to your kids about what to expect. We talk about envy, and thankfulness. We talk about people less fortunate, and people more fortunate. We try to have our children aware that Christmas morning is hugely joyful, and that we all need to discipline our hearts and stay in fellowship.
We have used the illustration of running with our kids -look in front of you – the way you are running – and be thankful. Whenever you start looking 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, at your own work. The fact that people out there are just talking about Santa, and 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 touched by people who do not know God and are trying to mimic it. Psalm 37 sums this up nicely when it says “Fret not thyself because of evil doers, neither be thou envious.”
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.
Get Your Head In The Game
Fourth, 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 children and husband. 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, try to be there.
Remember What We Are Doing In The First Place
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 dwelt 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, 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 “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given .” (Isaiah 9:6)
That child wasn’t just born to be a neat story from a long time ago.That child was born so that the world might be born anew in Him.
This is not just the birthday of our Savior, this is 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 – it 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.
Get even more encouragement to help you keep things in perspective by attending Teach Them Diligently 2016. Learn more about our events, which are Christ-centered at their core and are designed to help parents sure up the foundation of why God called them to do what He has called them to do. We all need encouragement and the great fellowship available when thousands of like-minded families are around in this day and age! We would love to see you there! Click here for more details.