As beautiful Christmas is, there may be times when we feel overwhelmed and tempted to become bitter by the TV programs, commercials, displays, and shopping frenzy of the season. The holiday season is filled with expectations—many of which are unrealistic, stressful, and even unhealthy. For those who have experienced loss or life changes in the past year, the month of December can be hard to endure. The ever-present temptation to compare ourselves (and our circumstances) to other people can produce feelings of either self-pride or self-loathing. In the stormy sea of emotions and stresses, the temptation to adopt the Scrooge-like “Bah humbug!” attitude is very real and can be devastating both spiritually and mentally.
In my own ministry, this month has included a large outreach concert as well as rehearsals, musical events, regular services, and even a radio commercial for Christmas. Couple this with the stress of change—moving to a new state 1,600 miles away from family and friends—and the temptation to emotionally “check out” or minimize the season becomes real.
It’s important—even to our physical health—that we yield to God’s Holy Spirit above our own emotions and the cacophony of outside stimuli, pressures, and voices. The Apostle Paul wrestled with this in his life:
“I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” Romans 7: 21-25, The Message
Paul’s message of hope can be yours as well: Jesus Christ is always available to guide and strengthen you through the stresses of every season of life. All you have to do is ask.
There are a few ideas that God has revealed to me that have helped safeguard my heart and attitude during the holidays. I’m sharing them in the hope they will help you to persevere and even grow during this season:
1) Take time every day to be quiet before God—alone and away from the TV, cell phone, computer, and even family members. Allow the still, small voice of God to whisper to your soul. Each day read a Psalm, Isaiah chapter 9, Luke chapter 2, or other Scriptures and devotionals about Christmas. Don’t just gloss over what you read, but dig deeper and ask God to reveal Himself to you through His Word. When you are done reading the passage, pray out loud, “Speak Lord, I’m listening” and then wait for God’s Holy Spirit to speak to your heart, mind, and soul.
2) Go back to the basics. Last week my wife and I watched the movie “The Nativity Story” that presented the first Christmas —with all the profound difficulties for Mary and Joseph— in a way that was more authentic than most Hollywood depictions I have seen. It was a quiet and beautiful way to bring us back to the real reason for the season in a time that was as stressful as today. Take time to reflect on and remember the incomparable gift that Jesus was and is to all people.
3) Focus on helping and serving others. Give to a charity that helps homeless people, starving children, or lonely seniors. Hold a door for someone, let someone else take the parking space you wanted, or reach out to a friend in need. Churches always need volunteers for Christmas Eve services, so consider serving this year.
4) Put a limit on what you watch and listen to during the season. Even as some media can be good, too much or negative sources can affect our attitude and outlook. Ask God to help you select and take in only the songs, shows, and sites that are good for you.
5) Yield your emotions and expectations to God. He loves you and wants you to know Him deeply. He is the only One who can truly fill your needs this Christmas and every day. Entrust yourself to Him and see how good He is!
I pray that the God of peace will fill your heart and soul this Christmas season.
God bless you!