Even though I can find myself singing along with enthusiasm, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” when the song comes up on my playlist or blares through store speakers, I don’t always feel that it’s the “hap-happiest season of all.”
The reality is that the holidays are both wonderful and stressful. Holidays often feel stressful because stress is simply the normal human reaction to change or new situations. Holidays introduce all kinds of change. We change our diets over the holidays as every event seems to feature large amounts of (usually calorie-laden) food. Our to-do lists change, sometimes by just growing much longer, as we have presents to buy, special events to attend, and celebrations to plan. Our expectations change as the standard shifts from our house being clean, which can be a stretch for me any time of the year, to the added stress of wanting our homes to look festive. Often, the people we spend time with also changes, as we gather with family that we may not see the rest of the year.
When faced with stressful situations, many people choose to simply avoid them. However, the holidays often require us to face these challenging situations. While the Bible was written long before Thanksgiving feasts and Black Friday sales, it has a lot to say about how to best approach the holidays, and how to thrive during this holiday season.
1. Commit Your Plans to the Lord
Perhaps no other time of the year do I feel the pressure to meet other people’s expectations than at the holidays. Whether it is assisting with school holiday programs, attending parties or providing Christmas treats for a holiday event, it is easy to become overwhelmed.
It is into the chaos of everyone else’s expectations that Scripture calls us to submit our plans to the Lord and allow him to direct our plans. “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans” (Proverbs 16:3) is a wise reminder that we should entrust or dedicate our plans to God for his guidance. But the foundational aspect of this proverb is that if we commit our plans to the Lord, we are no longer in charge of our schedules or the outcome. Choosing to submit our plans to the Lord also means we follow the guidance he gives us.
Consider spreading out before the Lord all your potential events, gift lists, and travel plans for this holiday season. Pray for his guidance to know what to agree to do or buy, and what needs to be omitted. Consider seeking wise counsel from someone who might pray with you and help you discern God’s leading.
Once you have heard from the Lord, joyfully make your plans, and with peace say “no” to everything else. Saying “no” to events or requests that are not on your schedule allows you more joy in the “yes” items. If additional requests come in, pray and allow God’s Spirit, and not others’ expectations, to guide your answer.
2. Make Time with God a Priority
Even the best schedule and plans committed to the Lord can still be stressful if they are not continually empowered by God’s Spirit (believe me, I know from experience!). Submitting plans to the Lord but then attempting to live them out in our own power will likely still result in feeling overwhelmed by the people and needs around us because rarely will everything go exactly as planned.
Jesus knows the busyness of having people making requests for his time and feeling overwhelmed by the needs around him. In the book of Mark, his disciples go looking for him and exclaim, “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:37). People wanted to be near Jesus so even when he tried to find quiet spaces, “people still came to him from everywhere” (Mark 1:45). Large crowds followed him so that he could not even eat a meal in solitude (Mark 3:20).
Jesus’ response to these pressures and demands was “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Other gospels describe Jesus’ mornings in prayer as a regular, habitual part of his life.
During the holidays, when the demands on our time are great and stressful events are commonplace, we would be wise to follow Jesus’ example and make time with God a priority. Even though it may appear to be adding something else to our schedules, spending time with God in prayer allows us to entrust the upcoming day to the Lord, to be reminded of his love for us, and to be guided toward a right perspective by his Spirit.
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3. Love Radically
Last year many families were not able to meet together due to the pandemic, so while we celebrate families being around a common table this year, it also brings unique challenges. And the usual differences of opinions may only feel more heightened due to the tension of strong differences in opinions regarding social and political issues.
When Jesus was teaching his disciples about difficult interpersonal relationships, he emphasized love. The radical nature of Jesus’ way of living can be seen in a sermon he gave to his disciples, saying “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’” (Matthew 5:43-44).
While we may not give the difficult people in our lives the title of “enemy,” Jesus calls us to love those who don’t deserve it or have treated us poorly. If we can go to holiday events or family dinners with the mission to love those we encounter, we can start from a completely different perspective. Instead of trying to get in the last word, we can be quick to listen and really try to understand their perspective. Instead of rehashing past disputes, we can choose to not keep a record of wrongs.
Scripture tells us that as much as it is possible, to live at peace with others (Romans 12:18). Implicit in that verse is the understanding that there may be circumstances outside of our control where we aren’t able to live at peace, and so we can limit or avoid those situations. As we ask for God’s help to order our schedules over the holidays, he knows all those facts and can help us set boundaries guided by his Spirit.
If the goal is love and peace, God’s Spirit can lead us to the right decisions.
When the angel appeared to the shepherds in the field with an assignment for them on the night that Jesus was born, the angel proclaimed, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Jesus’ birth is an occasion for great rejoicing, and it can be helpful to reflect on God’s desire that the plans we are making in honor of Jesus’ birth also led us to celebration and joy. If we are left feeling depleted, frustrated, or bitter then we likely need to ask for God’s grace to help us make adjustments so we can reflect the characteristics of life empowered by his Spirit, summarized by Paul as “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
This holiday season we celebrate that Jesus came to earth so that we might experience the abundant life, abundant not in the number of things or events we might stuff into our days but abundant because we are guided by God’s Spirit to a way of living that focuses on peace and joy. It’s a wonderful way to live this holiday season, and all year long.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/nicoletaionescu
Lisa M. Samra graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas and earned a Master of Biblical Studies degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. Lisa now lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband and children. She leads the Jerusalem Project at Calvary Church, a ministry focused on partnering with local churches, training people for ministry, and planting new churches. She is a regular contributor to Crosswalk.com, Our Daily Bread, and her work has also appeared in a variety of publications and online sites. Lisa enjoys good coffee, running, and reading, just not all at the same time.