“Hey Dad, did you see my Christmas list? I am really hoping to get a phone this year. I’ll be okay with a new snowboard but I am really hoping for a phone.”

“Dad, I am so excited this Christmas because I am going to get a china doll to put in my room. It is going to be beautiful and I can talk to her every day and tell her everything that happened during my day. I told Santa at the mall and mom and grandma that all I want for Christmas is a china doll. I can’t wait.”

Jason was glad his son and daughter were excited about Christmas but before he could even respond, his wife blurted out, “Honey, I told my mom and dad that we will be at their house Christmas morning. I’m not sure when we will see your family, but we at least have my family figured out.”

The flurry of expectations was making it difficult to remember that Christmas is a great time to celebrate the arrival of the Savior and connect with the people we love the most. Jason was trying, but questions haunted his thinking and blurred his perspective:

  • Why do everyone’s expectations ramp up at Christmas time?
  • When are we supposed to set up our own traditions rather than just fold into the traditions our parents established?
  • Why does my wife make commitments before she talks to me? I think I am pretty agreeable, but it is irritating not having a say.
  • How do I keep a focus on Jesus when all my kids can talk about are phones and china dolls?

He silently prayed, “Well, Jesus, I am going to do my best, but there may not be any room at the inn for you again this year.”

There is certainly no way to erase the stress of Christmas, but there are ways to align our perspective and adjust the focus of the holiday season.

ALIGN YOUR PERSPECTIVE

Stress can be created by real circumstances or wrong conclusions. Philippians 4:8-9 is an intense reminder that we can intentionally influence our thoughts and attitudes.

“… if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things… And the God of peace will be with you.”

Stress encourages thoughts that are deceptive, disruptive and destructive. As the Christmas celebration was developing, Jason found himself entertaining thoughts he would never recommend to others.

I think my wife would rather spend time with her family than with me.
My kids think I am an online retail store.
I wonder if there was a meeting I wasn’t invited to where everyone decided to irritate me for Christmas?
Maybe I will boycott Christmas this year and see how everybody likes that.

He knew these were not good ideas, but the stress was making them seem worthwhile. Step one was to realign his thinking with thoughts that were true and trustworthy.

Jesus, I am grateful you are a big enough deal that everyone wants to make Christmas as rewarding as possible.
I am grateful I have a family that wants to spend time together.
I am impressed that my kids think I have unlimited resources to work with.
If my wife didn’t work so hard to keep us connected with family, I would have to do it all by myself.

These thoughts, of course, didn’t change any of Jason’s circumstances but they made everything seem easier. The emotional energy he was spending complaining was now available for problem-solving.

ADJUST YOUR FOCUS

In addition to thinking better, Jason knew some changes needed to be made or resentment would build under the surface, so he scheduled a “Holiday Business Meeting” with his wife, Sandra. She resisted at first, but his persistence convinced her it truly was important to him. Over a casual meal, they made the following decisions:

  • To help keep expectations realistic, we are going to determine “the most important people” in this year’s celebration. For the current year, they decided Sandra’s parents were top of the list because they were planning to move, so this would be the last family celebration at the home where Sandra grew up. They agreed that next year it would probably be the kids.
  • To ensure that our primary focus is on Jesus, we are making two “non-negotiable” commitments. First, we will attend the Christmas Eve service at church as a family. We will invite the rest of the family to join us but we will attend regardless of who else joins in. Second, we will give Jesus a Christmas gift that costs more than any other present under the tree. The gift might be a donation to a cause we believe in or monetary help for a less fortunate family. The hope was to create a tangible way of saying, “This is primarily about Jesus.”

There were plenty of Christmas stressors they hadn’t addressed, such as the need to balance time with their families, their desire to set up their own traditions and their children’s intense interest in gifts, but they were pleased with the progress.

An unexpected realization developed as they talked. Jason said to Sandra, “I wish we could be home more during the holidays rather than running around so much to see others.”

Sandra blurted out, “It doesn’t bother me that much because Jesus wasn’t home on Christmas.”

Jason was jolted into a new reality and responded, “You are right. In fact, no one was home. The shepherds, Joseph, Mary, the wise men and especially the star of the show. They were all on the road. I might even start to feel sorry for people who stay home.”

THE PAYOFF

Having decided, Jason and Sandra needed to share their conclusions with their kids.

“We have decided to do something new this year. First, we are going to thank God that we get to be away from home when we get in the car to go to grandpa and grandma’s house,” said Jason.

“Why are we going to do that? It doesn’t sound right,” blurted out their son.

“Well,” replied Sandra, “Jesus and his family were away from home on Christmas so we are glad we get to be like them.”

“Then,” added Jason, “we are going to choose a birthday gift to give Jesus this year.”

“What?” questioned their daughter. “He doesn’t need anything!”

“You are right, but lots of other people need help so we are going to give to them in honour of Jesus. We can choose a ministry or a family who can’t afford to give each other gifts.”

Their daughter went suddenly quiet.

“What’s the matter, honey?” Jason asked thinking something was wrong.

“I am afraid Jesus wants someone else to have my china doll.”

“I am confident Jesus will let you have good gifts but first let’s see if we can find a girl your age to help this year.”

When the holidays increase stress on your marriage, choose to turn your irritations into insights and do something tangible to make Jesus the prime focus of Christmas.

BILL FARREL challenges people to be adventurous individuals of integrity. He has served as a youth pastor, senior pastor and most recently as the small group pastor for Dr. David Jeremiah. He is a frequent speaker at men’s events including Promise Keepers Canada and Iron Sharpens Iron events. He is also the author of The 10 Best Decisions a Man Can Make, 7 Simple Skills for Every Man, Men Are Like Waffles—Women Are Like Spaghetti, Red-Hot Monogamy and the Her Best Friend app for husbands.
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