As much as I’d like to wrap the month of December in a magic bubble that would prevent all the bad stuff from seeping in, the sad truth is that the holiday season is not immune to heartache and sickness and despair, or even to death and tragedy. Sin does not take a winter vacation. In fact, it was a year ago this week we saw unspeakable horror when a madman opened fire on a school of elementary students. In my own family, we are still reeling from the recent death of my sister-in-law and trying to face the reality of our first Christmas without her.
So how do we find joy and peace amid all the hustle and bustle, amid the setbacks and struggle and pain?
It starts with Hope.
This is the season of Advent. Isaiah foretold the coming of Christ, and that he spoke of a world of peace, one where the lion would lie down with the lamb, and a little child would lead them. Advent means we are in waiting. We are waiting for Christ, not just Christmas, and He must remain the focus of our hearts and minds, despite all else.
We have Hope amid all the suffering because we know that this is not all there is. This world is not the end.
But on a practical level, that knowledge, that Hope, is so easy to forget, or at least to shuffle into the background. Life gets in the way, and hard as we try, we can’t help but get bogged down. I get it. It happens to me too. But I am fighting hard, and in all that fighting I’ve found a few practical strategies to help keep hope in the forefront and find joy during this holiday season, even when circumstances feel grim.
Pray for joy and for peace, and for the love of God to shine through you. Pray for your children, your friends, your extended family, your church, your town, your world. Pray for the people you are struggling with the most right now; it is difficult to hate someone you are praying for. Whatever is on your heart, your biggest fears and frustrations, your biggest triumphs, the things you are most bitter about or those things you are most thankful for, just bring it to God. Don’t stop praying.
Make a point to do for others. There are so many opportunities to help people, especially this time of year. I always hesitate to share the things we are doing as a family because sometimes it seems like talking about them means I am trying to pat myself on the back, and that seems to defeat the purpose of trying to serve.
The things you do don’t have to be big. It could be as simple as baking a batch of cookies and delivering them to a lonely neighbor, or taking an hour to visit shut-ins at the local nursing home. The Salvation Army is always looking for volunteers (and alternates) to ring the bell–you can ask any bell ringer you see for a contact person. You could find a local Angel tree & buy some gifts for needy families, or contact the local food pantry to see what specific needs they might have this time of year.
Protect Your Family Time
Don’t let these precious days slip by with so much running around that you forget to spend time together as a family. It’s not too late to look at your calendar and block out a few days–or even a few hours–just for family time. Guard those time slots with your life and if something else comes up, just say no. Make memories that you will cherish for years to come, whether it be watching the Polar Express with a cup of hot chocolate, decorating a gingerbread house, or playing your favorite board games.
Give Yourself Grace
No one can do it all. Don’t compare yourself to others; simply do the best you can. It is okay to adjust your expectations, to cancel a plan or abandon a project. Give yourself permission to fail or skip a few things this year.
Do Something You Love Every Day
Even if it is just for 5 minutes, don’t be so busy that you can’t take the time to spend at least a little time each day doing something you really love, whether it be watching a favorite show, snuggling under the covers a little longer, reading a book, savoring a Peppermint Mocha from Starbucks, sewing, knitting, catching up on your favorite blogs, chatting with a friend, playing hide & go seek with your kids, baking cookies, scrapbooking, or going for a walk. Whatever it is, don’t do it out of obligation, but because it is something you truly enjoy.
Sometimes I think it is easy to look at someone else’s life–or to read a blog–and assume that person must have it all together. The truth is that everyone has struggles, everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes, and everyone experiences pain. The true JOY of Christmas is that we have HOPE despite all the things that can and do go wrong.
Wishing you a Season of Joy!
Ruth Soukup, Living Well Spending Less