There are many things that drive us crazy during the holidays and threaten to steal not only joy but our sanity too. Yet, I dare to assume that “family” might be at the top of many people’s list.
So to kick off my my ‘Managing Holiday Stress’ blog series this month, I thought it appropriate to start with the topic of surviving annual family gatherings and keeping our sanity at the same time. The subject of family is the first of many topics I will be sharing over the next few weeks to help us all not only survive the holidays, but keep our hearts and homes joy-full and peace-filled along the way.
My Proverbs 31 Devotion running today, The Most Important Holiday Choice, talks about making the choice to put Jesus be at the top of our priority lists this time of year and choose to purposely worship Him like the angels do. But sometimes the challenge of family gatherings can make that difficult, especially when we neglect to set realistic expectations for ourselves, our families and our celebrations.
Every day in the media we see visuals of the well-dressed family, sitting around an ornately decorated Christmas tree with piles of beautifully wrapped gifts underneath it. Grandma and grandpa are holding hands on the couch, surrounded by smiling siblings and cousins, with moms and dads giving each other loving glances. Or we see friends and family merrily skipping through the shopping malls, laughing while holding all their happy gift bags and drinking fancy coffees together.
But the reality for most people may be much different.
Granted, there are families who might live out that fantasy expectation of an idealized holiday, but the truth is most families have challenges or extenuating circumstances which make that picture of perfection seem like an unreachable goal.
When we hold our holidays up to what we see in the media, or expect this year to be different from all the years past, we set ourselves up for disappointment, discouragement, sadness, loneliness and even at times, depression. And let’s not forget the obvious – holiday stress. So the first tip in this series, is SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.
NEWSFLASH! Hallmark holiday movies are fun to watch & holiday commercials get us in a festive mood, but they depict an existence that is far from reality. If family members don’t typically get along, if grudges prevent communication, if an ex doesn’t take responsibility all year, or if sibling rivalry occurs every waking moment – then as much as we’d like circumstances to be different, it is not reasonable to think that people will behave differently just because it’s the holidays.
Accepting reality and making the important choice to deliberately invite God into our hearts and homes during the holidays not only sets us up to be prepared when things go awry, it helps us be emotionally ready to face challenges when they occur by tapping into Christ’s strength, and not our own.
When we accept our holiday reality, and embrace them, we can change our mindset and prevent the enemy from weaseling his way into our hearts and homes. No holiday will be perfect, and every family may have a few sandpaper people bump into their level of joy, but it is possible to avoid letting that happen, and when are our hearts are filled with happiness and love, our holidays can be too.
In the first chapter of my book, Stressed Less Living, I talk about acknowledging what we can and cannot change with regards to our lives and make reference to three versions of the serenity prayer, which is a popular prayer dating back as early as 1936.
Version 1: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Version 2: For every ailment under the sun; There is a remedy, or there is none; If there be one, try to find it; If there be none, never mind it
Version 3: God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the only person I can, and the wisdom to know that person is me.
If you’re like me, Version 3 may have jumped off the screen and right into your heart! It serves as the perfect reminder that we have no control over others, but we have complete control over ourselves. And when we adjust our expectations to reality, and adjust our hearts and minds to be ready for whatever comes our way, we will be better equipped to avoid disappointment, arguments, and frustrations and stress – especially during the holidays.
If we tackle problems the same way we have always done, then we will get the same result we have always received. When it comes to dealing with challenging family gatherings, this is a great point to keep in mind. Choosing to fill our hearts with Christ this Christmas will equip us to handle challenges with a new joy and zest than ever before – people will take notice, conflicts will be avoided, and a new tradition of happiness and love might just get started.
If family gatherings are something you dread or struggle with, might this be the year to seek God’s intervention in the familiar challenges you will face this holiday season, so that the outcome can be different than in year’s past? What is God speaking to your heart today?
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