Ah yes, the Christmas season is upon us . . . or is it the Christmas circus? It’s not too hard to remember the days before we were officially dating when I’d do all my shopping on Christmas Eve. My company would give their employees off a half day on Christmas Eve presumably to enable employees safer, and easier, travels to their holiday destinations. For me, it was my time to start my Christmas shopping.
I’m certain there are those reading this that are aghast at the thought saying ‘how could you’? I could. And I did. Part of my motivation was to be up for the challenge of it all. I knew what I was getting myself into. I also knew exactly what presents I wanted to purchase and from which store. Part of my strategy was to keep it real and know there was no way I could purchase 20 gifts in two hours, and managed my expectations. I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t always get the best sale price. I found myself navigating through the swell of agitated crowds and cranky salespeople of the mall with sleuth-like precision seemingly in complete control of both the situation and my emotions.
I have to admit that a grin would come across my face as I listened to the piped-in Christmas music contradict the flaring tempers and surging frustration I saw as the clock ticked down toward closing. I planned for this chaos. It was quite apparent that my fellow shoppers didn’t!
Things are different now. Much different. Now there are blow-up lawn decorations, eBay, Amazon, and numerous online purchasing options to make our Christmas sooo much easier and seemingly better. In fact just the other day I had the postman, the FedEx guy, and UPS all clamoring for space on my sidewalk as they simultaneously delivered packages – and I didn’t have to deal with even a single sales clerk. Despite all these modern “conveniences”, folks are still stressed.
Even though many, many aspects of Christmas preparations have changed, there are some things that haven’t. Celebrating the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ remains the same (albeit not always the primary focus). Relationships are still important as evidenced by gatherings and celebrations with family and friends. And, if we let the season usher in all the typical stresses and frustrations, even the most memorable of Christmases will be tarnished.
With that in mind, we’d like to offer a few ways to recalibrate and focus this Christmas season from one of chaos and consternation to contentment and gratitude.
1. Manage your expectations.
If your desire is to pull off the uber-special Christmas this year with a big wow factor but you haven’t done anything yet, be realistic and take yourself off the hook. Save your expectations for a year when you can mobilize your plans at the same time the first Christmas catalog hits your mailbox.
2. Keep the main thing the main thing.
There is only one ultimate gift to the Christmas season, and that is Jesus Christ. Sent as a baby . . . for us. It’s the gift we receive when we ask the Lord Jesus into our hearts and submit to His plan for our lives. Period. Remember to focus on the enormity of that gift and what it means to live a life in His presence. And remember to be a reflection of His light to others, especially those you live with.
3. Don’t over schedule – especially the kids.
You’ve undoubtedly heard it said that you can’t put 10 pounds of sugar in a 5-pound bag. This principle is like gravity and cannot be changed. As Americans, we are somehow convinced that there is some sort of badge of honor we are awarded when we can pack 30 hours of activities and commitment into a 24 hour day. Like sugar, it’s just not going to work and the trip down that road is quite stressful. Be both intentional and realistic in your commitments, and be sure to devote your energy to that which will have value, not just during this season, but in the year ahead. And don’t be guilted into over-commitment that a well-intentioned friend lays on you. Teaching your kids that overscheduling is the normal way to live will only manifest itself as stressed-out time-starved young adults later in life.
4. Schedule downtime as a couple and as a family.
When you think of all the work that went into Creation, the Lord God Himself, the God of unlimited power, energy, and resources, paused at the end of each day to reflect- that what He made was good. Learn from His example and reflect on all the good that He brings to this season. Periodically adjust your focus to the things you’re grateful for, the things that are going right. It will make it nearly impossible for discontent to ruin your holiday. Discontent and gratitude can’t coexist.
5. Determine who is ultimately in control . . . (and by the way, it isn’t you).
When things don’t go just the way you want them to, stop, take a breath and remember who is the One who is ordering your days. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that we might plan our ways, (and our days), but it is the Lord who directs our steps.
A few Thanksgivings ago our guests arrived, appetizers were served and all we had to do was fry the turkey, finish the veggies, and mash the potatoes. Less than two hours before we were to eat we discovered the brand new fryer was defective and as the potatoes were being mashed a dish broke into millions of pieces right next to the pot rendering them inedible. All we could do was sigh. We took a deep breath and said ‘thank you Lord, please bless the food we are about to go and repurchase!’ Our plans were forced to change, and our guests were more than gracious.
As we enter into this season of celebrating the birth of the Christ-child, let us keep the main thing, the main thing. Following the Father’s example by exercising balance will help promote both a sense of calm and peace. The ultimate gift we can bring to anyone is to be a reflection of the eternal love, His love, to the world . . . especially to our own families.
We invite you to visit ICC this Christmas and draw near to the Savior, the reason for the season!
– Eddie & Florrie Martell, Marriage ministry at Island Christian Church