One of the writers I follow is Susan Alexander Yates. She has offered a great blog addressing the upcoming holiday season and feeling overwhelmed. This is her blog entry on November 8, I think you will be encouraged…look her up if you want to receive her emails. Only 2 weeks to Thanksgiving and 47 days to Christmas.

Blessings Love y’all

Forming Realistic Expectations for the Holidays Amidst Conflicting Emotions

Susan Alexander Yates, Nov. 8

Are you already feeling overwhelmed as you look ahead to Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Do the magazines showcasing beautiful decorations entice you with “must haves?” 

Are you excited?

Or perhaps you are preparing yourself for disappointment?

A wide range of emotions hit us at this time of year. 

For many, there’s a deep sadness- caused by the loss during the past year of someone close to you. You may be anticipating loneliness at this season because you are single or your family is far away, or your kids will be at their in-laws, leaving your house strangely silent.

For others, your anxiety barometer goes way up.  What if there will be personality conflicts? What if I disappoint that person? What if the kids don’t like their gifts? What if I can’t get the cooking done, the house clean? The “what ifs” most often cause us to fear. 

On the other hand, there’s another dangerous phrase. “If only.”

If only I had a spouse, If only I had kids, If only I did not come from such a messed up family.  If only I had not…If only we had finances… Most often,the “if onlys” cause shame and regret.  

These two phrases can invade our expectations, bringing guilt and pain and cause our focus to shift from God’s joy to our own self-pity. Sadness is not wrong. It’s a normal emotion. Many times, Jesus himself was sad. In the garden at Gethsemane, he wept bitterly. (Matthew 26).

As God made man, He identifies with us–with all our emotions. He “gets us.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)  

And David reminds us that God’s understanding has no limit. (Psalm 147:5).

However, we must take care that our emotions don’t lead us, causing our anxiety to increase. His truth is to lead us. It is our standard. It’s helpful to ask ourselves, “What is controlling my heart today? Is it my emotions or His truths as proclaimed in the scriptures?

Where does this leave us as we approach the holidays with multiple expectations and differing emotions?  

For most, the “Hallmark Card” view of Christmas just doesn’t seem real…it’s a fantasy. There is a clash of fantasy and reality. How do we prepare with realistic expectations for this amazing season? We need a fresh vision, a new mindset.

Here are 4 practical ideas: 

  1. Creatively focus on what Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about.

Re-read the historical account of the first Thanksgiving. Use your imagination to act out or tell the story. Have a child or grandchild prepare a little report on Thanksgiving to share at the meal. Take time for individuals to share things they are thankful for from the past year. 

If you are a few adults together, share experiences from the past 10 years where you have seen God’s faithfulness. Compile a list of thanksgivings in your journal. 

As you anticipate Christmas, spend time immersed in the Christmas story. (Matthew 1&2, Luke 1&2.)

Choose one character from this story that you will study between now and Christmas day. Learn all you can about this character. Use your imagination to ask the following questions: Why might God have chosen this person? What did this person feel like when…? What might God reveal to me through this person? 

2. Be alert to the Comparison Trap.

My younger brother wanted a bike for Christmas. It was all he talked about. His best friend also wanted a bike. Christmas morning came, and under the tree was a cleaned-up “secondhand bike.” He was thrilled, until his best friend came over with a brand new shiny one. In a moment that could have turned into deep disappointment, my wise mother exclaimed, 

“Oh how wonderful you both have bikes! And how special it is that they are different. Let’s see you ride!”

With that, the boys were off. Looking back, I imagine my mother may have been afraid of disappointing my brother and also sad that a brand-new bike wasn’t in their budget.  Yet her positive, enthusiastic response changed the atmosphere, diverting disappointment into joy.

When we compare our lives to someone else’s, it’s easy to let envy and jealousy creep in without our even realizing it.

My wise friend, who is thirty and single, shared with me that when she was a child, she expected to be married with kids by now. That hasn’t happened yet, and being single during the holidays can be hard. I asked her, “How do you handle this disappointment?” She replied, “I have had to honor where I am now, yet hold on to hope for the future. Gratitude helps me do this.”

We all need to ask God to alert us when we fall into the Comparison Trap, and we must choose to run to Thanksgiving instead.  

3. Simplify your Plans

A subtle form of comparison can come in the form of who is doing the most?

In a world of too many options, it’s easy to think we must do more, add more, and get more every year. The pressures on us and our kids from social media feed this frenzy. Enough is never enough. We are bombarded not only with good stuff but also with good opportunities. An honest friend said, “Susan, I just want it to be over.” I imagine we all have felt this way. It’s easy to run on overload. 

Both John and I come from large families, and we now have 21 grandchildren. Years ago, we gave up the habit of giving gifts to our own siblings. None of us need any more stuff. When our children reached elementary school, we had them draw names for one sibling to whom they would give a gift at Christmas. 

Today, I do not buy or wrap any Christmas gifts! Instead, we send the parents checks for their own gifts and for each of their children. They do the shopping and wrapping! (For some of the older kids, we send cash in a card for “after-Christmas shopping.” We always ask the parents what they prefer we do.) 

I cannot tell you the wonderful stress reliever it has been for me NOT to do any shopping or wrapping. It has enabled me to focus more on the true meaning of the season. It has simplified my life. 

In order to simplify your life, you might consider cutting out something you did last year. You don’t have to host that cookie exchange every year. Why not move to every other year? 

Set aside time for a “Quiet day” between now and Christmas. Put it on your calendar in ink now.  Go away for a day alone or with a friend or your own family simply to be quiet together, to read the Christmas stories, and to reflect on examples of God’s faithfulness throughout scripture and in your own life. 

Treasure simplicity. Seek quiet. “In His presence is fullness of joy!” (Psalm 16:11)

4. Do something different

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut doing the same things over and over, especially for those of us who are older. This might be the year for you to mix things up a bit. One year, we invited a young Nigerian friend and a single, fragile older woman to join us, our son and his wife, and their four kids for Thanksgiving dinner. We had our two friends share their life stories and faith journeys, and it was a refreshing perspective for each of us. Watching our grandchildren engage was a genuine thanksgiving. 

In a culture where loneliness has become epidemic, it might be your year to include someone else in a holiday event in your home–a new widow, a single person, an elderly neighbor, a recent refugee family.  Involve your children in brainstorming who you might reach out to this year and the best way to do it. Have each child participate in some way-decorating the table, making a gift, etc. This is one way of “loving our neighbor as ourselves.”

As I’m thinking about Christmas this year, I’m focusing on the character of Joseph. How must he have felt? Mary’s pregnancy, what people thought of him, of them? The fears? How would he support them? Where would they go? What would happen? I am trying to put myself in his shoes. Already, I am being reminded that our God goes before us to provide for us. My role is simply to obey Him one step at a time and trust Him with the details. “Lord, give me more of your insight about Joseph this year.”

Who will you study during the next few weeks?

May He richly and abundantly bless you as you seek to know Him more deeply. (Ephesians 3:20-21)