How often have you opened your mail during the Christmas season to find a Christmas card with a smiling photo of people you know, accompanied by an annual letter that goes something like this:

“Merry Christmas, everyone! This past year was a time of incredible blessings for our family. John won an award at his company for the great job he does there, which led to another promotion, along with a raise. Susan continues to work hard leading the Bible study at church (where she’s a stellar role model for many women who want to grow in holiness) and volunteering at our local hospital (we’re grateful that none of us has been sick this year) – yet despite all that, she still somehow finds the time to help Susie and Johnnie with their many activities. Both kids continue to earn the highest grades in school, Susie won our regional piano competition, Johnnie led his soccer team to win the championship game, and the two of them are still having fun teaching our Golden Retriever many tricks…” 

Everyone enjoys hearing from friends and extended family members who care enough to send holiday greetings. But the kind of Christmas letters that many people send – so sugarcoated that they may as well be cookies – aren’t the best way to communicate with people who are hoping for inspiration at Christmas. Too many Christmas letters read like resumes of accomplishments designed to impress people, with glowing descriptions that make families appear to be perfect. Families send out such letters every year in well-meaning attempts to encourage people with Christmas cheer. But recipients of those letters are often discouraged, because they feel as if their own imperfect lives could never measure up to the unrealistic descriptions they read.

If you dare to authentically describe both the good and bad moments of the past year – and how you’ve trusted God despite the challenges – your Christmas letters have great potential to encourage readers to seek God and rely on Him in their own lives. Here’s how you can write a more authentic Christmas letter this year:

Focus on your readers instead of on yourself and your family. As you prepare to write your Christmas letter, imagine the various people who will receive it. Consider what they would enjoy reading about when they open up the letter. What would interest them the most, and why? What would inspire them, encourage them, help them, or make them laugh? What would enrich their relationship with you and your family? Shifting your focus outward will help you avoid the tendency to brag that comes from focusing only on your own life. Keep in mind that the point of your Christmas letter isn’t to convince people how God has blessed you, but to motivate them to seek God, who wants to bless them as well.

Mention the bad as well as the good. Jesus said that everyone will experience trouble in this fallen world, so there’s no need to be ashamed of bad circumstances that you’ve encountered during the past year. Don’t hesitate to mention the difficult situations that have challenged you and your family lately – from illnesses and deaths, to job losses and relationship breakups. You can leave out details you don’t want to share widely, but it’s important to acknowledge that you all have suffered as well as celebrated over the past year. The Bible urges believers in Romans 12:15 to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” It’s important to strike a realistic balance between good and bad when describing your family’s life together, so your letter recipients can both rejoice and mourn along with you.

Describe how you’ve turned to God during the past year. Let people know that, in the midst of everything you’ve gone through lately, God’s constant presence with you has a made a real and significant impact on your life. When describing your blessings, do so in a way that expresses your gratitude to God. Acknowledge that even your personal accomplishments are ultimately because of God’s grace and generosity to you; it was God who gave you the opportunities you’ve gotten to succeed. When describing your burdens, make it clear that you’ve relied on God to help you deal with them. Mention valuable lessons God has taught you from your crises and mistakes. Ask the people who receive your Christmas letters to pray for you about specific challenging situations. Describe some of the ways you’ve noticed God at work in the midst of your troubles, as well as how faith has given you and your family hope that your problems will be resolved in the right ways, at the right times, with God’s help. When your letter recipients read about how you all are trusting God, they’ll be inspired to trust God more in their own lives.