Part 2: How to Make Holidays More Joyful
Nov 20, 2016 04:08AM
By Bonnie Lyn Smith
Last week, I listed five very basic, non-festive ways to find more peace and joy during the upcoming holidays if you're dealing with loss or a difficult season of life. This time I want to focus on how to get through the celebrations, parties, gifting, and busy schedule on the low energy you may be feeling.
1. Simplify your calendar.
Another way of saying this is: Choose your events wisely.
Do not overload your schedule. While this may be great advice during any holiday season, it is especially important when you are feeling depleted, sad, or stressed. You do not have to see The Nutcracker, attend your neighbor’s open house, or participate in five Secret Santas or white elephant gift exchanges just because you have in past years.
You also do not need to focus on anyone else’s expectations or worry about letting people down. If they are true relationships, they will have grace for your “free pass” year. Introvert or extrovert, you only have so much energy to go around when your strength is spent right now getting through the day to day.
While some people may not understand because their expectation levels do not match your reality at the moment, this is a good way for them to learn to respond with grace to those who are hurting. Or maybe you need space from people with inflexible demands right now. Either way, do not carry the extra weight around of pleasing other people.
Because I’m introverted, I limited my holidays outings to two occasions last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas: an open house at a friend’s house and a women’s Christmas tea. I also cancelled my involvement in Small Business Saturday at my church and a meal at someone else’s home. It was the best thing I could have done for myself. I had the enthusiasm for a few events, even though they were difficult because my father’s passing was still fresh.
I remember wanting to return home after the first five minutes at the open house because I met some very outgoing people who wanted to engage at a high intellectual level when I really just wanted to sit in the comforting presence of a few people I knew and sip something warm. I am very glad I made myself go, but I am also thankful I graciously stopped the conversation to be with low-engaging folks in the other room. I just needed to be with people, so I didn’t isolate, but I had no ability to fake holiday cheer.
Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
2. Be a minimalist in décor.
I have teens and a tween at home. Skipping all holiday décor was not a realistic option for me last year, but I did explain why I was limiting it—not because it was wrong to celebrate or that we had to be a house of mourning but because, again, I needed to spend my limited ability to focus on the essentials.
We put up a Christmas tree, used our Christmas dishes, and hung our stockings. Other than a few candles, that was it. If you have a family member anxious to do all the decoration for you, go for it! For me personally, I wanted a little to go far with a touch of this and a touch of that to remind me that life goes forward after loss. It helped to have seasonal arrangements around the house from friends who expressed condolences.
On the other hand, if it makes you happy to deck the entire house out, go crazy!—but do it for yourself and not out of a sense of having to.
Perhaps you can relate to “do-er” Martha in this account in Luke 10? She wanted everything “just right,” but Jesus said her sister Mary chose what was best: being with Jesus.
Luke 10:38-42, ESV
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.
But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me."
But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."
3. Continue a holiday tradition from the past that gives you peace or honors your loved one. Or create a new one.
For many people, a holiday meal that used to be shared together but now has an empty seat at the table is an excruciating reminder. My family has always lived states or even half a world away from our loved ones, so extended family meals have not been part of our regular tradition. In other ways, however, I needed to (and still need to) honor my father. Last December, we included him in prayer times, thanking God for the extra forty years we had with him after his first diagnosed terminal cancer. He survived six more incidents of cancer!
There are so many ways to do this:
- Put an ornament on the tree in remembrance (a symbol of a memory, shared pastime, favorite activity).
- Make one of your loved one’s favorite holiday recipes.
- Create something (a painted ceramic plate, cross-stitch picture, photo collage, scrapbook) that can be brought out each year.
- Set out sweet framed photos of time spent with that person over holidays or any time. Make it something special that only comes out during the holidays.
- Write a memory book.
- Share a dinner out or coffee visit with someone who also misses your loved one.
- Visit the grave with a poinsettia, if that helps you.
- Plant some bulbs to bloom in the spring in his/her honor.
- Write him/her a letter about how you miss him/her at the holidays but how the kids are growing, and you think of this person when….
- Play your loved one's favorite (Christmas) music.
Whatever you do, be sure that the focus is on remembrance but not staying stuck. The idea is to have a tangible reminder of who he/she was in your life and how his/her love touched you, but it’s also to be able to approach the holidays unafraid and with the reassurance you are not going to forget this person, even as time moves on.
It gives you permission to still celebrate without detracting from your sense of loss or entering a new chapter. It offers a sense of control when loss otherwise makes us all feel completely helpless.
Philippians 1:1-5, ESV
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
While the Apostle Paul is referencing believers in Christ who were still alive at the time, this verse indicates how important remembrance is. Paul often began his letters acknowledging those he loved in this way. As long as it isn’t worship, reflecting on the people God blessed us with is part of the art of being thankful and cultivating a heart of appreciation.
4. Take a year off from gifting expectations and mailing cards.
If, like us, you have a list of folks you like to gift at Christmastime, the thought of malls, shopping, or even wrapping/packaging right now might make you break out into hives. Even online shopping overwhelmed me last year.
My solution? I sent an email to all of our regular recipients to let them know we were gifting everyone with “a break from gifting/exchanging” this year. It wasn’t just about our grief as a family; it was about needing to feel more focused on Christ. Many of our loved ones expressed how that was a gift they needed that year and that it gave them more time focusing on what is most important.
I think we can go back to our friends, sisters Mary and Martha, from the earlier reference in the gospel of Luke for this one.
In addition, I offer this:
Psalm 46:10, ESV
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
This year, we are resuming our gifting but limiting it to yummy treats that are special to each person or family. We learned a lot from our year off about being still, and we don’t want to lose that again in the frenzy of finding the perfect gift.
5. Dwell on Jesus, the Perfect Gift
Speaking of the perfect gift, it was phenomenally comforting to dwell on Jesus and all He had done for us, how very present He is in times of help.
Psalm 46:1, ESV
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
It sounds so simplistic, and yet when we thought about everything being stripped from our holiday, down to the basics, Jesus was enough. He always will be. Gifts, cards, decorations, holiday events, and traditions are all extra, but not one of them is necessary.
In a manger, so long ago, everything we will ever need arrived in an obscure stable among animals and straw, wrapped in rags, with a bright star overhead, beckoning the shepherds, wise men, and all sinners everywhere to come and worship the newborn King, Savior of the world.
He came to hold your pain, bear your sins, change your life, offer you eternity with God, bring you peace and joy. Placing my focus there—being still—that’s how I came through last year’s holidays amidst my own devastation and sadness.
Colossians 3:2, ESV
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
And that’s how I face this year’s with excitement in my heart. If you’re not fully there yet, it’s okay. You will get there eventually. Let Jesus take your hand....
Isaiah 43:1-2, ESV
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."
[Last year I began my grieving in the midst of Thanksgiving and Christmas. If it helps, I share how I tried to mourn my loss in healthy ways.]
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration.