Christmas may be the hap-happiest time of the year, but it can also be the saddest. Tune in for this brief look at 12 things you can do this holiday season to help you stay grounded, focus on what matters, and enjoy Christmas even in the midst of pain.
On the 1st Day of Christmas – Let Go of Expectations
We all have an idea in our mind about “how” Christmas ought to look. We’ve all seen the magazines and Hallmark movies. We know there ought to be decorations galore, fresh baked cookies piled high, and perfectly wrapped gifts spilling out from under the tree. But the simple truth is, that’s just not realistic. And if that is someone’s reality, they are definitely the exception to the rule.
Most of us just don’t have the time, money, or energy to have that kind of idyllic vision of Christmas, but somehow we still manage to be disappointed when we don’t deliver the kind of holiday glow we envision.
This year, let it go. Especially if you’re in a new season due to the death of a loved one, a recent divorce, a newly empty nest, or any of the other hundred things that might have you feeling anything but merry and bright. It just doesn’t have to look the way you think it “should.” Do what you can – and want – and know that it will be enough.
On the 2nd Day of Christmas – Meditate on Scripture
Read John 1:1-9 and reflect on what it means that Jesus came as a light into this world. What about the world was dark? Why did we need light? What kind of light did He provide? What is the quality of His light? And finally, how does His light influence your grief or pain?
On the 3rd Day of Christmas – Set Boundaries
“No” isn’t a word any of us like to hear, and quite honestly it’s a word most of us have a hard time saying. But it’s time to work out your “no” muscles.
Only you can determine what is actually reasonable for you to do this holiday season. Maybe hosting everyone you’ve ever known feels overwhelming this year. Maybe baking cookies with your favorite 5-year old exhausts you before you even get out the first mixing bowl.
Figure out what will drain and deplete you and then say no to it.
I promise everyone will survive, as much of a shock to the system it may be to hear you say it. Who knows? It might even encourage someone else to step into a role that they’re quite gifted and enthusiastic about. Or not…and that’s okay, too.
On the 4th Day of Christmas – Write Down Your To-Do List
But don’t stop there.
Write down everything you want to accomplish this holiday season. Put up lights, trim the tree, bake all the cookies, make snow angels, feed the homeless, start a diet, wrap the presents…
You know the list. It’s a mile long and just seems to grow.
Once everything is written down, I want you to evaluate it and cross off 3 things.
There. You’re done. You don’t have to do those 3 things. Give yourself permission to let them go. Ask someone else to fill in for you if it’s something that MUST be accomplished, otherwise…your list is now a little bit lighter and Christmas will still be just fine.
On the 5th Day of Christmas – Turn Off Social Media
Pinterest. Instagram. Facebook. Twitter. TURN THEM OFF.
For one day this holiday season, just do it. Stop comparing your experience with everyone else. I promise they are also having anxiety, stress, sadness, and feelings of isolation and inadequacy. They might be hiding it behind a filter, but it’s there.
Today, don’t get caught up in the madness. Turn it off and just enjoy where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re doing without turning it into a social event for the world to see.
Likewise, when you do look at social media this holiday, remember that the people you’re viewing are only giving you what they want you to see. It’s only a piece of the bigger picture.
On the 6th Day of Christmas – Find Ways to Serve Others
One of the best, and quickest, ways to get out of an emotional funk is by serving other people.
It seems counterintuitive, but it’s a fact. When we take our eyes off our own troubles, as real and as big as they may be, and we serve people around us, we recognize that we truly aren’t alone in our suffering. It turns out, everyone has pain. By working to encourage another person, whether it’s through charitable work or by simply opening a door for someone, we see humanity all around us and realize that we’re all in this together.
This won’t solve all your problems. It might not even dull the ache for very long, but it will take you outside of yourself for just a moment and maybe in that moment you’ll see there is room for hope.
On the 7th Day of Christmas – Light A Candle
Find yourself a quiet little corner of the world and light a candle. Then, reflect back on the passage in John 1:1-9. You’ve had a few days now…how have your answers changed? Are you beginning to feel The Light stir inside your heart?
On the 8th Day of Christmas – Allow Yourself to Be and Feel
Sometimes, when we’re in the midst of grief, it seems impossible to let out emotions out. Laughing feels disrespectful to the enormity of our pain and crying feels so useless and unproductive.
But the truth is, God has given us our emotions. They are a good thing. Today, just let yourself feel.
If there’s something that tickles your funny bone, go ahead and laugh! Laughter really is great medicine for the soul. But maybe you just can’t take another Christmas carol and the sight of others with their joy and glee is sapping you of any energy you have left. That’s okay.
Just be there with your emotions. You’re not going to let them control you or take over your life. You’re going to honor them today by feeling them and acknowledging them and letting them co-exist with you.
On the 9th Day of Christmas – Journal Your Gratitude
Even in our darkest days, there are still things to be thankful for. They may be hard to find, but I want you to dig deep and find 3 things you are thankful for. Write them down and write down why you’re thankful.
It seems like it’s good enough to just do this in your head, after all, it’s not like anyone’s going to be checking your work, but you will benefit more by actually taking the time to write them down.
And hey, if you get done with that and want to keep writing whatever is on your heart, go for it!
On the 10th Day of Christmas – Take a Walk in Nature
Now, for you city folk, this might be a bit harder. But…find somewhere you can go today that is as far away from the noise and the hustle and bustle.
Then close your eyes, breathe deeply, and just listen.
What do you hear?
What is God saying to you right now?
Take some time to get quiet and see the trees and birds and leaves. Really look at nature. Examine the details. What do they tell you about God?
On the 11th Day of Christmas – Create a New Tradition
A new season in life often means we’re leaving behind something that we valued and grew accustomed to. Things are different now. But that doesn’t mean they have to be bad.
This year, find something new to incorporate into your celebration. Maybe it’s as simple as driving around and looking at Christmas lights, or maybe it’s serving in a shelter for abused women. You could do something fun and silly like eat only desserts for an entire day or have a crafting day.
Whatever it is, find something that makes you happy and start doing it this year!
On the 12th Day of Christmas – Take A Nap!
Whatever emotional roller coaster you’ve been on the past few days, weeks, months, or years, emotions are exhausting! Even laughter leaves us all tuckered out.
So today, find a cozy corner with your favorite blanket and let your eyes and soul rest.
You’ve done a really big thing: you’ve made it through what’s arguably the hardest holiday season. You’ve faced your emotions and felt them, you’ve worked on managing your expectations, you’ve tuned out toxic (albeit addictive) social media…You’ve done a lot.
You deserve a rest.
May God bless you this holiday. Merry Christmas, friends!
“I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways.
I shall delight in Your statutes;
I shall not forget Your word.”
– Psalm 119:15-16
It’s safe to say we live in difficult times. No matter what side of the political fence you land on, no matter your socio-economic background, race, religion, gender or favorite ice cream flavor, it is clear that we are a nation in upheaval.
Because of all the turmoil that not only surrounds us but punches us in the face on a fairly consistent basis (anybody else suffering from a mild case of Facebook PTSD?), it’s the perfect time for us, as Christ followers, to keep a few things in perspective.
I admit that I’ve definitely voiced my own opinions on social media. Opinions that sometimes counter people I love deeply and admire greatly. I’ve felt my heart harden a little and heard a voice of judgement and condemnation, if not actually being spoken, certainly in my head. When I step back for a moment and take the time to self reflect, it’s pretty plain to see that I could easily become a part of the problem, and maybe already have.
So how do we counter this? How do we keep overwhelm and anxiety from taking over our minds, preventing us from being effective and joy-filled disciples of God?
I think the answer is pretty simple. Meditate on God’s word. Always.
Hey, I said the answer was simple. I didn’t say it was easy.
If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, and maybe even if you haven’t, what’s the first Bible verse or passage that comes to mind when you think of someone dying? I’d wager it’s Psalm 23, yeah? ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.’
Why is that the scripture we all think of? Because it’s the one we’ve heard time and again in that set of circumstances. Whether you’re standing bedside, keeping vigil over a loved one as they breathe their last breath or you’re standing graveside saying your final goodbye to their earthly presence, these are often the verses that are recited. They resonate with us. They remind us that our days are held in the hands of God.
Similarly, how quickly can most of us recite John 3:16? ‘For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son. That whosever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.’
Again, it’s written on our hearts because we’ve heard it so many times.
As we read and re-read scripture, as we hear it taught and as we apply it to our own lives, it grows in depth. It begins to penetrate in places that are secret, so that when our hearts begin to tremble because we hear of wars and rumors of wars we are reminded to ‘Be strong and courageous’ because the Lord will not forsake us (Deut. 31:6) and that ‘The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent’ (Ex. 14:14). Or, as we find ourselves struggling with the things of this world that strive to collapse us, we are reminded of Paul’s exhortation to the church in Galatia, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9).
It’s important – vital – that God’s word be so etched into our hearts that if owning a copy of scripture should ever become a crime, we will not be shaken because His teaching is inextricably woven into the very core of who we are. Even if that possibility never comes to pass on American soil, and I pray it won’t, how much better off are we when we can call upon the word of God at a moments notice without having to flip to the concordance or hope the Wi-Fi connection is strong enough to access an app?
I want to know what God has to say. I want to know His heart. I want to be so in tune with His word that I always have a scripture at the tip of my lips.
I’m not there yet. But I’m closer today than I was a year ago. Walking with God is a journey of a thousand little steps. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There is sweet reward in deepening this relationship with the One who made me and knows me best. In the words of David, the man after God’s own heart, let us “taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed [are we] who take refuge in Him!” (Ps. 34:8).