The other day I wrote an email to a few very close friends about how stressed I was about Christmas. The house wasn’t decorated, the presents weren’t bought and the menu wasn’t planned. And my sweet friends sent back responses suggesting that perhaps this would be a good year to let go of a few things being as we’re right in the middle of dealing with my husband’s cancer treatment. And they are right. But the thing is, this is not the first year that Christmas has stressed me out nor is it the first time I’ve complained about everything that there is to do. So it occurred to me that perhaps my stress has less to do with cancer and more to do with my expectations. I also realized that there are several aspects of the Christmas season that I really do enjoy and complaining about it only serves to steal my joy.
Perhaps you’re struggling with the same issue. Please tell me I’m not the only one who continually strives to pull off the perfect Christmas (whatever that is) only to get stressed and overwhelmed each year. What to do?
I’ve decided that it’s time to let go of the expectations. Really. Write down what your expectations are of the Christmas season. And, by the way, this blog is for those of us who are over zealous in our annual celebrations. We’re the ones who want perfectly wrapped presents, a beautifully decorated house that’s always company ready and smells like fresh baked cookies, a perfectly formed and trimmed tree, and to top it all off, the whole family gathered round on Christmas day, each reflecting the joy in the true meaning of Christmas. If that’s not what you’re looking for, or you’ve already succeeded in attaining it without stress, you can stop reading now. But if you’re more like me, and can’t quite figure out how to make that happen, read on.
Like I said, write down your expectations. I think most of our biggest disappointments in life come from unfulfilled expectations and yet usually we don’t even know what they are. So, take a few minutes and see what you come up with. Walk away for a bit, go wrap a present or drink some eggnog. Then, come back to your list and eliminate the things that aren’t SUPER important to you. For instance, do you really need to bake four batches of Christmas cookies? Maybe . . . if you have someone besides yourself to eat them and you enjoy baking. But let’s say you don’t exactly relish all that time in the kitchen and you don’t want to personally eat twelve dozen cookies. Or, like me, you’d love to eat twelve dozen cookies but you know that’s not a very good idea. If that’s the case, then cross cookie baking off your list and find a bakery or a very good friend who feels bad about your lack of baking skills.
Are perfectly wrapped presents important to you? If not, cross that off the list, buy some bags and throw in some tissue. I once heard that if you’re wrapping for a man, you could use a grocery bag, as they are more concerned with the gift. Women, on the other hand (or more women than men) consider the wrapping as part of the present so spend your time on their gifts. Anyway, you get the idea. Knock a few things off your list of “Christmas expectations.”
Now, go away again and take a nap or something. Trust me, you probably need one. Then, come back in another hour and lower your expectations just a wee bit more. You don’t have to go overboard right away unless you’re cranky. If you’re cranky that’s a sure sign your expectations are too high so start chopping!
I do love Christmas but here’s what’s most important to me. First off, I want to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ was born, so skipping church to go shopping is not an option for me. And I certainly don’t want to skip my devotion time in the morning; that’s what grounds me and makes me sane the rest of the day. So that stays.
Next, I want to spend quality time with family and friends, which means I don’t want to be tired and stressed when I’m with them. How do I make that happen? This year I decided that I don’t have to decorate the house like a crazy woman. I have a tree filled with beautiful ornaments and hundreds of lights (that have only blown fuses twice.) More than anything I love the lights so that’s where I put my energy. Today I had lunch with a friend and as I sat there I thought, “this is way more important to me than Christmas decorations.”
And lastly, it’s important to me to give presents to my family and so I willingly spend time on that. I actually pick up gifts for them all year. They key, I’m realizing, is to perhaps write down what I’ve purchased and where I’m storing it. Then again, it’s more like a treasure hunt this way.
So those are my top three important things: time with Jesus, time with friends and family, and presents for them – because that brings me joy. All the rest: the decorations, the perfectly appointed table setting, and anything else that distracts me from these three things are unimportant. Your list doesn’t need to look like mine. You decide what brings you joy and do it.
And by the way, if you really want to eliminate some stress when the family comes, stock up on paper plates and bowls. It’s just a few days. The trees of the world will be safe. You can thank me later.
What’s most important to you this Christmas season? What are you willing to give up to move from perfection to peace?
2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!