The arrival of the holidays for me is often abrupt. The fall season will (finally) be going smoothly. School is underway, my kids are settling into their new routines and my main responsibility is to keep everyone on course.

Then one day I’ll be out running a simple errand, just a quick run to Target for a school project board, and then I’ll see it – Christmas stuff everywhere.

Suddenly, I start to panic, “Ugh, am I late again?” I mutter under my breath as guilt begins to wash over me. “But, wait, it’s still October, right?! My kids haven’t even finished their costumes for Halloween, and I really wanted to do something for my neighbors. I guess I shouldn’t even bother now. And Thanksgiving! I’m hosting Thanksgiving for twenty plus people, and have no plans yet. Now Christmas is staring me in the face. Ugh, I’m so unorganized, I can’t plan anything well. Maybe one of these years I’ll finally be prepared….”. The self-talk can just keep going.

I have a choice. I can allow that thinking to rob me of the season’s joy, or I can rebuke it and recognize the Enemy is trying to move me into a state of stress. I have to choose what I allow into my mind, into my heart and into my home.

I don’t think any of us would say we enjoy holiday stress, but I also think we forget to fight against it. Without realizing, we’re right back to the same old unhealthy patterns.

So, I want to highlight a few areas that tend to get stressful around the holidays. Sometimes all we need is a new way of thinking; other times we need to intentionally establish new patterns.

Joyful Giving vs. Financial Stress
– Gift-giving is a wonderful way to show someone how much they mean to you, but it shouldn’t be used as a way to earn someone’s love, approval or to gain acceptance into their life. Give a gift out of a grateful heart, not obligation. When you do, you will find that the dollar amount isn’t what’s important. (I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall a time I’ve ever been offended for not receiving a gift.)

– The gift of experiences is priceless compared to toys that may be broken or discarded in a couple of days, weeks or months. This has become a new priority the last several years for my kids, and so much more fun to “shop” for.

– Spending money you don’t have will quickly steal your joy as you worry about how you’re going to pay for gifts, travel expenses, hosting expenses, (insert-your-own-here).

Savoring Moments vs. Schedule Stress
Are you dragging your kids around town to every light show and ice-skating pop-up only to have them whining and grouchy all night? Is your husband clearly bored and checking his email every ten minutes at the live nativity while you try and force your family to focus on the “true meaning of Christmas”? If so, maybe you need to scale back. Don’t feel pressured to participate in every party, nativity show and holiday experience. Make sure you (and your family) choose activities you actually enjoy.

Heavenly Focus vs. Material Stress
Christmas can be a wonderful time of the year, if we allow it to be. It can be a time of re-centering our hearts on what truly matters. In a time where fear, chaos and uncertainty rule the headlines, we can be a beacon of light in the darkness. We can bring the hope of Jesus and the wonder of Christmas into our families, our workplaces, our schools and our neighborhoods. But we must choose that focus.

Let’s keep out the stress and choose to invite JOY into this Christmas season.

“Better to gnaw on a bit of dry crust in peace than to feast in a house full of stress.”
Proverbs 17:1 (the Voice)

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