The closer we get to Christmas, the closer we get to people taking vacation time, the crazier my office is becoming. With stress levels rising to the point where someone is going to have a heart attack, I was happy for this reminder: God’s people are called to a joy that isn’t based on circumstances. No, instead we are called to a joy that chooses to trust that God will fulfill His promises.
Just a few days into December and work is exploding. The environment is tense as a major project must go out soon after the beginning of the year. In other words, a typical stressful December here in my office. Knowing that things will get harder before they relax, I find my anxiety kicking in, causing my chest to tighten up. Feels like an elephant has taken up permanent residence on top of my heart. In the midst of fight or flight, God has reminded me of a snippet from Micah I read yesterday.
I want His peace. Peace that surpasses all understanding.
Taught my first Advent lesson for Sunday School yesterday. We talked about how Jesus is our hope, light, and peace. I shared how this holiday season can be one of darkness for myself. How Advent helps me focus on the light of the season, Jesus. Got me thinking about the things we bring into the holidays. I was telling Tab that we battled The Christmas Monster, even as a married couple, for a long, long, time. We’ve worked hard though to create our own traditions (which I love) and refocus what Christmas is all about for our family. Below is a post I wrote about the Christmas monster in 2015. Enjoy!
The holidays are a battle. A war filled with presents.
The Christmas list is a list that must be structured to maximize gifts received. I’m not sure what year I learned how much family members spent on me for Christmas, but I did. Strategic planning ensued. I would organize my list so that the most expensive items were at the top of the page. As one would read down the list, the items became cheaper. I would even take this a step further by listing the items retail price. I was a monster, used to three family Christmas events. One with my dad’s parents, one with my mom’s parents, and one with my immediate family.
My Aunt Jody has no children. She loves giving; she loves Christmas time. On the other side of the Christmas campfire, my mom felt the need to compete with my aunt and grandparents. Growing up, she co-owned a craft business with a friend. My mom would spend hours out in the garage, cutting out craft pieces with her scroll saw. She would then paint these items, piece them together, and then go to a weekend craft show to sell. Generating money for Christmas that we did not have. I remember my Grandma and Grandpa Ayers coming out to help her paint and get items ready to sell. The holidays were stressful for my mom. I’m sure she wouldn’t tell you that. I’m sure as a kid I couldn’t have told you that my mom was stressed over having to compete. But she was.
The gift overload distorted my view of Christmas. The season became all about what I could get. I didn’t see the stress it was causing those around me.
My mom has since learned to let go and not compete. But I’m still learning, shaping, what Christmas looks like for my family. I don’t want Wyatt growing up thinking that Christmas is about maximizing what he can get. Sure, maybe kids do that to a point. But I do not want to raise a Christmas monster.
What does Christmas look like for you and your family? How do you go beyond presents?
On the day before December begins,
I’d like to remind myself.
That no matter how stressful work gets,
Nor how much I miss family,
Swirling down into the depression pit isn’t worth it.
I need to focus on my family around me,
The anticipation of the Advent season.
Spending the entire month of December, in a funk, sucks.
You know it, and your wife knows it.
So stop it!
Break the cycle this year.
Tell depression to get off your mental lawn.
You’re welcome, by the way.
– A note from November Bryan to December Bryan.
Not sure about you, but December is traditionally a tough month for me. All through November, I’ve been watching depression circle around outside the fire light. Beckoning me to step away from the comforts of clarity and embrace the dark/warm fuzzy jacket of depression. Wanted to write a quick note to remind myself not to go down that path this year. I want to encourage you also to stay near the fire and pay attention to the words you are speaking to yourself. We can do this.
Four days into December, and I’m whipped. The combination of:
- Allergies–come on Texas, get cold!
- My company Christmas party
- And a baby dedication for my niece–which was both sweet and fun!
All the above have left me drained. Add on the craziness that is the month of December at work, and I’m ready to crawl back into bed. I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to just hunker down and push through the holidays. At some point the:
- Company Christmas cards will be finalized/stuffed/mailed.
- Hustle and bustle of the season will end. Local drivers will return to their normal driving habits.
Do not misread me, I love Christmas. I enjoy spending time with family, the joy of giving gifts, and beginning new traditions with my own family. One of the traditions we have started, as a family, is going through season of Advent. Advent allows us to prepare our hearts and focus on the coming birth of Jesus.
In a culture that uses this season to get children to dream about how their lives would be made better by possessing a certain material thing, where Christmas has been reduced to a shopper’s nightmare and a retailer’s dream, it is vital to draw the wonder of our children away from the next great toy and toward the wonder of the coming of our great Lord and Savior, Jesus. – Paul David Tripp, Come Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional
This year, we are moving through the Advent season with two guides:
- In the evening as a family, we are walking through Focus on the Family’s Holy Night Advent Calendar. Each day, you read scripture and an overall thought. Then, you cut out an item (could be a palm tree, dove, etc.) and slowly build a paper craft manger scene.
- Tabitha and I are reading through Paul David Tripp’s Come Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional. This book has been excellent so far and I’m using it as a teaching resource for Sunday School.
The craziness of the holidays and being away from family in another state, for me, can distract from what I have in front of me and what the Christmas season is all about. By moving through Advent, I’m hoping to combat the familiarity and embrace the wonder of God sending His son, Jesus.
Familiarity tends to rob us of our wonder. And here’s what’s important about this: what has captured the wonder of our hearts will control the way we live. – Paul David Tripp, Come Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional
Q: What family Christmas traditions help you keep your focus on Christ during the Christmas season?