Joy… It’s easier to say that happiness isn’t necessary for joy, that it’s a shabby substitute, than it is to live that Truth. Happiness feels so good in the moment! It’s easier to define than joy. But joy can go with us through the worst times. It doesn’t depend on our circumstances, but joy isn’t always what we’d call joyous.
To do more than just survive the holidays, we need to embrace our joy as we make efforts to increase our enjoyment.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or so the song says. It doesn’t always feel that way, does it? When you struggle with depression, it can feel like no time of the year could ever be wonderful, and the holidays are more a burden to be endured than a blessing to celebrate. Part of the burden is trying to live up to the expectation that the holidays should feel wonderful.
The holidays are full of expectations. They’re not all reasonable. If you’re struggling with others’ expectations, or your own, this holiday season, two ways to deal with them are to change things up and know you have a choice.
Change Things Up
If you’re overwhelmed thinking about all the things you feel obligated to do over the holidays, consider doing things differently. Does your family expect you to host a big dinner, or bake dozens of dozens of cookies? Maybe there’s someone else in the family who would like to take over “your” job while you do something that feels more manageable. The person who takes over may not just enjoy what you don’t, they may be better at it, or at least just as good. The thought that someone may be better than us at something we’re used to doing is uncomfortable, but we all have different gifts and talents, as well as interests. Maybe you need a role that better suits yours, and someone else needs a chance to work in or find their niche. Or maybe your family needs to just plain downsize this year.
Gifts are another common area of contention. Most of us can cut back here. Too many people, especially our kids, receive more gifts than is healthy, and many adults don’t need one more thing we beat ourselves up trying to find because they already have everything they need or want already. Gift cards and cash are tough when money is tight, too. No one needs a gift from everyone.
Does Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, or a New Year’s Eve get-together, always leave everyone at each other’s throat or regretful? Consider donating that time to a worthy cause. Go help feed people who are hungry or spend time with people who are alone.
If empty traditions, obligations, and busyness overshadow more important things, like worship and true fellowship, we need to change our perspective and approach.
We need to learn to say the dreaded word: No.
Know You Have a Choice
No matter how much you dread upcoming festivities, there are some things you know you’ll do any way. And some of the things we stress over we should keep doing.
If you know you’re not going to change your usual plans this year, you need to take responsibility for how you engage in them. No matter how much duress you feel you are under to meet others’ expectations, the world will go on if you say No. It’s your choice to say Yes. Realizing you have the power to do something different, and accepting you chose to participate in activities that stress you makes them less stressful. No one enjoys feeling powerless, so claim the power you’re exercising. Don’t be lazy and resort to complaining to make yourself feel better. Don’t go in expecting bad; it puts you on the defensive and primes you to see the worst and miss the good.
We make our choices; we need to live with them. More specifically, we need to live in them. Let go of resentments over reasons you feel obligated. Stop wishing you could be somewhere else, doing something else, with someone else and let yourself be fully present in the moment.
When you live in this moment, you may be surprised by what you find there.
I spent too many years waiting for something else, not always knowing what that was, just resenting the ways my life wasn’t like I expected it to be. Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts is one thing God used to help me learn to better live in this moment to live the blessings in each.
Where’s Your Focus?
When we evaluate our choices, we have a helpful set of filters, in line with what Jesus told us are the two greatest commandments: Love God; love others.
Our first filter is God. If it dishonors God or tarnishes our testimony, we shouldn’t do it. Second, our immediate family. How will our choice affect them? Next, others. Is it loving? If it in any way devalues others and ignores what is best for them, it’s wrong.
Honoring God doesn’t mean a specific church service, or reading the Christmas story aloud, or wishing people Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays; it’s the attitude of our heart.
Honoring God, not pleasing others – or ourselves – should be the focus of our holiday celebrations. It should be the focus of every day.
However we choose to spend our holidays, our focus shouldn’t be so small as our preferences or feelings. It’s important to be aware of others and open to filling needs, but it’s not our job to please others.
Changing things up and knowing you have a choice can lower your stress and increase your enjoyment of the holidays. It stands to reason that this will make you feel happier, too. Happier or not-so-happy, we can have joy despite how we feel. Joy is rooted in an unchanging God, in unchanging Truth.
Unlike happiness, joy doesn’t depend on our circumstances. Christmas will always be worth celebrating as a reminder that God humbly came to earth as a baby, lived a sinless life of teaching and healing, suffered and died to redeem us, and reigns in heaven.
The Joy of Advent is preparing our hearts to celebrate Jesus coming to earth as a baby, and anticipation of His return.
In Him, our eternity is secure.
Looking for more encouragement to get through the holiday season with grace? Check out these posts!
Read the rest of the How to Do More than Just Survive the Holidays Series here: