Three Strategies for Staying Sane for the Holidays

young girl shout because of christmas stress

Christmas may well be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most stressful. Some research even suggests it can cause a heart attack!

Many variables contribute to the craziness—including the tensions produced by the dynamics at family gatherings.

Luke 10:38-42 gives an account of a household meltdown that can help us navigate the challenges which threaten a peaceful holiday.

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.”

Here are three takeaways for staying peaceful and calm the rest of December from this tale of two sisters.

One, monitor personal desires. Kudos to Martha for showing hospitality to Jesus and his followers.

But her desire to pull out all the stops (a common temptation for serving types) got Martha a loving but firm rebuke from Jesus. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.”

Luke says she was “distracted”—literally pulled in a zillion directions—”with much serving.”

Her desire, not bad in and of itself, went south when it deteriorated into a demand leading to an outburst. That’s precisely how idols work, if we don’t watch over our hearts and control their passions with the Lord’s help.

Two, resist critical judgments. Ken Sande has blogged about the progression of idols from desire, to demand, to judging, and punishing. Martha makes for a textbook case.

What puts her version of this slippery slope into a whole other category is her criticism/demand not just of Mary but of Jesus! “Lord, do you not care? Tell her to help me.”

Good grief, talk about an awkward moment around the living room. David Powlison writes:

We judge others—criticize, nit-pick, nag, attack, condemn— because we literally play God. This is heinous. . . . Who are you when you judge? None other than a God wannabe. . . . When you and I fight, our minds become filled with accusations: your wrongs and my rights preoccupy me. We play the self-righteous judge in the mini-kingdoms we establish.

Three, guard spiritual priorities. Jesus defends Mary for choosing “the good portion,” not to be taken away from her.

Much serving at the expense of much worshipping leads to much worrying.

Regularly choose the one thing necessary this Christmas for keeping your idols in check and your peace in place.

Question: How do you choose the good part during the busy holiday season?

Help for Anxiety

calm and anxiety t

After our worship service a few weeks ago, someone hit me with a pleading question. “PC, in one sentence, what has helped you most in dealing with anxiety?”

Have to admit it. I immediately dropped back ten and punted. “Can I ponder that for a bit and get back to you?” Then, I thought, wait a minute, I have an answer. I told her that since returning from my sabbatical I have been operating daily with a new motto in mind:

Expect nothing; enjoy everything.

I’m not sure anything has ever helped subdue my anxiety demons more effectively than this little phrase. Why expect nothing? Because I don’t deserve anything. Well, that’s not entirely true. This sinner deserves judgment. That’s why I often respond to the question, especially from strangers, “How are you?” with “Better than I deserve.” because it’s entirely true.

But back to the anxiety issue. The longer I live, the more Psalm 115:3 becomes my life verse. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” I control very little in the big scheme of things. Keep the expectation bar set this low and you’re liable to avoid a lot of disappointment. God is in control. He will do what He will do. I remain on a need-to-know basis.

Why enjoy everything? Because God gives graciously. First Corinthians 4:7 also competes regularly for my new life verse. “What do you have that you did not receive?” Answer, nothing. Everything I experience daily – salvation, life, breath, health, family, vocation, food, drink, friends, housing, books, faithfulness, fruitfulness – the list could go on infinitely – comes to me as a gift from above (Jas. 1:17) for which I am immensely grateful when I consider the alternative.

Expect nothing; enjoy everything.

Take a dose of that every day and you likely won’t have to call me or any other pastor in the morning.