I was chatting with some friends, primarily mothers of young children. They were already feeling anxious about the holiday events now being scheduled. In addition, they were worried about different family members coming to visit.
Finally one commented, "I just want to get through it. I want it to be over!"
We can all identify with this in some way. It is indeed a sad commentary on our culture and on our lifestyles. What is meant to be a season of celebration has today become a season of stress.
What can we do to alleviate some of the stress and recapture a sense of the true spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas before they arrive?
Three things will help:
1. Lower your expectations.
The media often creates a vision of the holidays as a time of warm family relationships, relatives sitting by the fire roasting chestnuts, children happily giving and receiving, and, of course snow falling everywhere. Families sick with the flu, kids fighting over toys, a dad who isn't there, estranged relatives, a schedule way too full, an unexpected emergency, and the lack of funds are rarely pictured. It is so easy for us to become swept up in what we think it should look like as opposed to the reality. And we tend to think we're the only ones—Surely no one else's life is like mine!
We need to define realistic expectations for this coming season. Brainstorm with your husband or close girlfriend. Ask yourself what you can do to obey the great commandments (love God, and love your neighbor) during this season. How can you lower your expectations on relationships and grant grace instead of succumbing to disappointment? How can you prepare your children to understand the real meaning of this season?
2. Simplify your lifestyle.
I have found one of the leading causes of stress is that we try to cram too much into these days. We live in a culture that screams, "The more the better!" And yet often less is definitely better. Instead of watching your calendar fill up, go ahead now and block out personal time, couple time, and family time. Then when that really nice invitation comes along, have the courage to say, "I'm so sorry we have a conflict." It is far easier to set boundaries before the commitments start to pile up.
We can also simplify our own traditions. Do you really need to decorate your mailbox because all the other neighbors do? Do you have to give gifts to every family member? Because my husband, John, and I have large families, we've always drawn names for siblings and their spouses. So we each give one gift to one sibling or spouse. Our own five children and their spouses draw names between each other as well. It simplifies gift giving and saves money, too.
3. Determine what you can delete or postpone.
You may have a tradition of a cookie bake with girlfriends. But do you really need to do it at this time? Why not postpone it until the end of January when life is not so packed? You'll relieve stress and enjoy it more. Or those couples you do a Christmas event with every year ... why not postpone this gathering until a date in the winter? Look at what you have done in the past and determine what to eliminate this year. Be courageous and eliminate one or two things you usually do and instead declare a family night at home alone. It helps to remember that every time you say "yes" to something, you should say "no" to something else.
This coming season is a time to "Be still and know that [He is] God" (Psalm 46:10). We have to be ruthless with our schedules and grant extra grace in our relationships if we want to soak in the miracles of this season.
Copyright © 2009 by Susan Yates. All rights reserved. Used with permission. This article originally appeared on MomLife Today.