The angels ring in the first Christmas shouting, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). The angels wish us peace, but the holidays are rarely as peaceable as I would like them to be. When my children were little, I had many expectations about all of the great things we could do as a family over the holidays, but often we faced too many opportunities and too few hours in the day.
We juggled nap times, work requirements, family expectations, and Christmas adventuring, but not always very successfully. We joked that it wasn't Christmas until someone at the party was in tears in the bathroom. There was always a sick kid, an exhausted baby (and parent), an irritated family member, and someone green from too many sweets. Peaceable is not the way that we would normally describe the Christmas season.
We all want the holidays to be this beautiful, relaxing time, but we can become quickly frustrated when our unrealistic expectations do not align with reality. Sometimes the dinner burns, the household gets the flu, and gifts do not arrive in a timely manner. Instead of playing the negative tapes of failure that are self-defeating, opt to repeat an uplifting truth instead: God still reigns and we can celebrate Jesus birth even if the casserole burns or a gift is forgotten. Here are a few challenges to help you experience peace in the holidays:
I cannot change other people’s behavior, and I am not responsible for their behavior or happiness. It's not my job to regulate the emotions of others. I can control only how I behave and respond. Stepping back emotionally from the situation is a challenge, but emotional awareness is key to not letting frustrations get the better of me. While I enjoy pleasing others, keeping everyone happy and meeting everyone's expectations is not my responsibility. When others misbehave or are cranky, their behavior belongs to them and not me. It's not my fault nor my job. What I can do is respond well with some empathy for what they're feeling, and set boundaries around bad behavior. Remembering the words from Romans 12:18, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." Choose peace in the interactions that depend on you and let the rest go. Others get to make their own choices. That's a great beginning point for keeping your sanity in stressful times.
I am also still learning not to attempt too much or to insist that things be perfect, but rather to lower my expectations for the always spectacular and let things be simply pleasant and enjoyable. "Pinterest Perfect" standards are an enemy to peace of mind and not realistic for anyone! I am still learning to laugh instead of getting irritated with others and myself when things go sideways. I am trying to take my husband’s advice, “If the mishap of today might become the funny story that we laugh about down the road, just start by laughing about it today. If it's funny tomorrow, let it be funny now.”
Stress tends to reveal the cracks. The losses we carry with us into the holiday season tend to resurface and can threaten to rob us of our peace. We miss those who are not there around the table. We hurt again over those from whom we are alienated. Limited resources mean that we cannot always celebrate the holidays the way we would like to. Shared parenting schedules can mean portions of the holidays are spent alone. It is good to grieve the losses we experience and shed a tear. We mourn that things are not always as we would like them to be. We grieve, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Our pain is real, yet we can also look past our pain to see Christ Jesus and the healing that he brings.
Jesus came as the Prince of Peace and that true peace is found in him. Jesus says in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” We do not need to be fearful or anxious; our peace and comfort is found in God’s presence.
Amid the bustle of the season, find time to rest in God’s word and listen to his leading through time spent in prayer. The Prince of Peace invites you to find rest for your weary soul saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
May you experience the Prince of Peace this Christmas!
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra