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 () 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.
Kim Stiver photo
By Todd McMichen
The Christmas season is filled with a special joy that only comes one time a year. It’s not just one day—but an entire season of fun events with family.
Your mantle may be stacked with Christmas cards from longtime friends. Your belly could be filled to the brim with Christmas cookies. The airwaves will get your heart warmed with seasonal music by early November. On top of all this, the Hallmark Channel is pumping the fake snow and syrupy story lines every day, week after week.
Then there is the gift giving.
Kids can’t get enough of the gift receiving. Parents can feel the pressure to out do their expectations. The long list of other gifts to buy grows—which produces pressure on both the emotions and the bank account. Nevertheless, we race through the season dreading the January credit card bills.
If you happen to feel any level of gift-buying pressure this Christmas season, let me help you with a few tips:
Step back for just a moment
Any time we feel stress we need to ask why. Stress is a signal that something isn’t in the right place or order. It’s a message from God to us that we’re missing an important piece of helpful information.
God is a Gift Giver, and we’re created in His image. My favorite passage on the unending generosity of God towards us is Romans 8:32. It says, “He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything?”
He gave the biggest gift in His Son—which means every other gift is no problem to Him. This same generosity trait is within us. When we’re not feeling pressure or stress, we actually enjoy picking out just the right gift and blessing a special person with kindness.
God wired us this way for a reason. It’s how we get to know Him better and reflect Him to others.
So the actual gift-giving part may not be the real stressor. While the holiday season is decorated with joy on the surface, it can also provide the opportunity for feelings that are not so enjoyable.
Step back, take a moment, and separate your feelings. Surrender the stressful parts and ask God to release His joy of gift giving.
Create a spending plan
If stress is a signal that things may be a little or a lot out of order, let’s gain some order. Create a list of every expense you believe you’ll incur during the Christmas season. This could include travel, decorations, food, and gifts.
Then create a list of every person you believe might be expecting a gift from you. Now that you have a list, start putting some dollar figures next to each item or person. I know this probably just increased your stress. However, keep moving forward. It’ll get helpful in just a moment.
Step back, make a plan, share yourself, and enjoy what’s best about this time that only comes once a year.
If the total amount of your newly-formed Christmas spending plan is not to your liking, you have a couple of options: Increase the number because you have some financial margin you can enjoy. Or, reduce your financial commitment by adjusting how much you’ll spend on each item or the actual list of items itself.
You might feel guilty as you reduce a person’s gift budget or maybe even eliminating them from the list altogether. Or you could be feel anger because you wish your financial position was different than it is.
Take these feelings to the Lord and trust Him with them. The odds are no one is thinking these things outside of you. Financial pressure is largely self-induced. So shake it off and commit to a spending plan that won’t add pressure to your season, but relieve it.
For the people who are getting smaller, less, or no physical gifts at all, give them something better than a temporary possession. Kids won’t always appreciate these as much as adults, so you may want to prioritize kids gifts over adults.
Give of your relationship. Write a personal note, spend more time with them than you usually would. Invest yourself in something they are passionate about. Make that phone call and make it a little longer than usual.
Feel free to share your budget is tight this year, but you didn’t want your love and appreciation to not be experienced.
Share costs and effort
Over the years my wife and I have made various choices to reduce financial stress during the Christmas season. Our first plan was to only use our Christmas bonus money as our budget. We were blessed to receive such a gift from our employers, but it still forced us to create a spending plan that was smaller than others.
Then, we reached out to different family members and friends letting them know we’d enjoy the season just as much with less gift pressure. So we divided up family members with everyone receiving a gift, but no one had the obligation to buy for all.
You may consider going in with a group of friends or family members on a gift or selling some unused items online to increase your budget. The bottom line is once we separate the difference between the feeling of stress and start getting practical we can move forward with a plan that releases our joy.
The worst is spending all this money on gifts and feeling stressed about it. We lose on both sides when that happens.
If you don’t begin in January with a gift giving plan, you’ll always feel pressure or stress. All year long you’re going to desire to be a good gift giver to those who mean a lot to you.
My wife and I make a list of the major holidays along with those who we want to bless with a gift. Everyone gets a budget for their gift whether it is their birthday, Father’s or Mother’s Day, or any other gift-giving occasion. We set that money aside every month so we have it ready when we need it.
Then, we are on the lookout all year long for that special gift because we have a plan and the resources. No robbing Peter to pay Paul or going into credit card debt.
I hope you aren’t experiencing gift-giving stress this Christmas, but if you are, there are no secrets or hidden tricks. Step back, make a plan, share yourself, and enjoy what’s best about this time that only comes once a year.
Todd McMichen (@ToddMcMichen) is LifeWay’s director of Generosity and Digital Giving and author of Leading a Generous Church.