For most of us, the holiday season is fun. As we come to the end of the year, Christmas carols, decorations and the spirit of Christmas are all around. Whether or not we care for it, the seasonal cheer is present. For children this is a particularly special time. Growing up, this was certainly the most memorable and cherished part of every year.
Yet, the Christmas Holidays can be stressful. Depending on relational dynamics it can be rather uncomfortable. There are family gatherings, company parties, church programs and social events to attend. For some it can be overwhelming. The seasonal festivities can be especially hard on those who are living with loss. Anyone who has been bereaved of a loved one, endured a separation during a holiday reawakens the sting of grief around this time of year. The merriment of the times induces pain rather than joy.
Of course, the season of gift-giving also challenges many people’s finances. There is strong social pressure to not only receive but to give. In an era when COVID-19 has disrupted our economy, some are thriving while others are trying to survive. Perhaps we can be enticed to give beyond our reasonable means.
While the origins of the Christmas season are twisted and tangled, it should rightfully remain a season of joy and happiness. Such happiness can be achieved aside from social and financial stress. As Christians, every holiday is an opportunity to thank God for something. While the birth of Jesus has no historical association with the month of December, the fact that God was incarnated gives us cause to thank Him for coming so close to us.
There are ways in which we can maximize the season without incurring aggravation for ourselves. Firstly, we can gift ourselves one on one time with God. In the rush of the season it is good to take time to contemplate God’s goodness toward us. Not only is this spiritual, it’s therapeutic. Our bodies actually benefit from the practice of gratitude. Of all the gifts we may receive this may be the most beneficial and reusable.
In case you’re wondering what you would do in your time of contemplating God, consider these four actions:
Acknowledge what God has done for you. This practice can take considerable amount of time. In the process write God’s acts down. Use a designated notebook or create a folder in your computer. Keeping a record of God’s goodness is perhaps the most effective way to grow your faith and relationship with God.
Reflect on what you have done for God. This may require a little more work. Many things we claim we do for God, such as church attendance, personal devotions and tithing, we actually do for ourselves. Consider what you have done for God or for one of His children, with no expectation of a blessing in return. This may end up being a short list. But, it’s a helpful exercise.
Imagine what next year might be like. In this practice, your minds will want to run wild. To some extent you should let it. If you’re naturally optimistic, consider what undesired surprises you may encounter next year. If you’re a naturally pessimist, envision what might go your way. In so doing, take time to see a desired future for yourself. Your life will move toward the things you see most.
Decide what matters most to you. Perhaps if COVID-19 has done anything good for us, it has challenged many of us to consider what really matters. As you sit with God, tap into His perspective on what matters most in life. Aligning our lives to what matters gives our lives purpose.
Another way to maximize the joy of the season is to bless someone in need. Blessing others is not restricted to financial transactions. We can bless others with our acts of service, our time and attention, affirmation and sentimental tokens. We bless others when we offer them what is meaningful to them. This implies that we must come close enough to them to know what matters to them. If in doubt, ask. Blessing others is a great way to experience joy.
In a few weeks we will enter a new calendar year. We can do so with joy and anticipation of great things or we can do so with the stress and fatigue of the holiday season. If we take this as an opportunity to practice gratitude and reflection we can stride into the new year with passion and joy.