By Dennis Garcia
A friend texted me this week to ask how our Thanksgiving vacation went. I answered, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I meant it as a joke, but in reality, there was some truth to the statement.
As much as I love the holidays—and I mean, I LOVE the holidays—there’s a part of me that also dreads them. Although the holidays are usually full of joy and celebration, they can also bring a lot of stress.
We stress about schedules, buying gifts, ministry plans, special events, and so much more. So how do we cope with the stress and recapture the joy of the holidays? Allow me to submit four ways to manage stress and enjoy the holidays:
1. Remember the Reason
First, at the risk of sounding cliché, remember the reason for the season. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and take our eyes off of Jesus.
Grab yourself an advent devotional like Come, Let us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp. If you have children, pick up the Shepherd on the Search Advent Activity Kit. These are great resources to help refocus your holidays on Jesus.
2. Kill Perfectionism
There’s something about the holiday season that unleashes the inner perfectionist within each of us. One of my favorite family activities during the holidays is decorating the Christmas tree.
I enjoy it for about 20 minutes.
Once the tree is getting close to being full, I have to check out. The stress of perfectionism kicks in, and it becomes impossible for me to enjoy the process. Whether it’s the staging the perfect Christmas card picture or the perfect Christmas message, perfectionism destroys holiday joy. It’s time to put perfectionism in its place by learning to slay our unrealistic expectations.
3. Set Boundaries
Permit yourself to set boundaries. Between church, work, school programs, and parties with friends and family, one can easily go insane trying to attend everything.
At one church I served, I was invited to every single small group Christmas party. Not only does this create chaos on our schedules, but every party has some sort of gift exchange. Time-consuming and way too expensive!
I learned early on that I’m not omnipresent and can’t be at every event. Nevertheless, I still felt guilty when I declined until I permitted myself to say no.
As a family, we decided we’d attend church-wide events, the children’s ministry party, our small group party, and school programs. Beyond that, we politely declined. Setting these boundaries helped create margin in our schedule and sanity in our home.
4. Practice Solitude
Fourth, practice solitude. This is difficult during the holidays with the scheduling challenges I mentioned above, but it’s nonetheless important.
Make time to take a break from the chaos. If you still have vacation time available, use it.
Last year, I used up my available vacation time by taking a three-day weekend every week between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’d not been able to do this before, but in the proceeding years, I sought other ways to decompress.
Wait until the children are in bed, turn on the lights on the tree, light a fire, put on some Christmas jazz, and sip a cup of good coffee. On your days off, instead of heading to the mall, go for a hike or drive through the country. You may need to get creative but don’t neglect the importance of solitude during this busy time of year.
The story of Christmas is one of peace, simplicity, and beauty. In our modern celebration, we’ve exchanged it for chaos, stress, and frustration. It’s a terrible exchange.
There’ve been many years I’ve wanted to follow the lead of Luther Krank and skip Christmas altogether. But that’s a bit extreme.
Instead, I’ve opted to reclaim the holidays and leverage time for family, friends, and spiritual renewal. And so, in the words of that famous crooner Bing Crosby, “May all your days be merry and bright” this holiday season.
Dennis Garcia (@dennislgarcia) is the husband of Toni, father of Miranda and Kephas, and church planting catalyst serving in Southern New Mexico for the North American Mission Board.