It seems like the month of December is to activities what fly papers are to flies. Okay…so maybe that’s not the most festive of visual pictures…but when I look at my calendar, it just seems like appointments and events and gatherings and services all flock to it faster than I can keep up with. Already this month I won “Terrible Mom Award” for getting a rehearsal pick up time wrong and leaving an unnerved child standing waiting, wondering where I was because my brain is on overload. It’s supposed to be “visions of sugarplums” dancing in our heads, but it seems like all that’s in mine is dates/times/locations.
So what does one do about all this? Is it avoidable? Is it possible to slow-down and enjoy the peace and joy of the holiday season?
Well, if you’re here thinking I’m going to have some magic answer for these questions…I’ll just give it to you straight. I don’t.
However, I think that applying the “Why Filter” can help at least pick and choose which things we might want (or have) to say no to, and which we need to choose to make the best of.
For me, most of our busy-ness comes in these first few weeks of the month. There are rehearsals-galore for my more musically inclined children, and of course the actual performances. There are choral concerts, orchestra concerts, shopping mall performances…of course, amid the ‘normal’ schedule of practices, lessons, clubs and other typical appointments. (And it seems there’s always a couple days with an extra dose of ‘crazy’ thrown in thanks to the viruses and bugs that begin circulating this time of year as well!)
In addition to kids activities there are the adult ones too…my sister & bro-in-law’s annual greenhouse Christmas show which we help/work at for the whole of the first weekend, work holiday parties, craft fairs, family gatherings and the like. And church activities, of course (because hey, it’s Jesus’ birthday, so we can’t forget to be ‘extra-religious’ about those things too, right??). Oh, and I almost forgot…it’s also ‘good deed’ season! It seems there’s always an extra ‘push’ to do volunteer things right around now as well…help with class parties and activities, serve with various non-profits (Salvation Army bell ringing, anyone?), etc.
Let’s not forget…this is all in addition to those pesky little things we have called ‘jobs’…which amazingly, don’t give us a paid leave of absence to juggle all of the above!! (And if you’re someone that works in retail…let me just offer you my deepest sympathies and tell you that I think you should pretty much get a free pass from ANY holiday activities that you want!!)
So, take a deep breath, and let’s sort this all out. Keep in mind…my priorities are going to be what works for me, in my season, for THIS year. Next year it could all change. For you, it will be entirely different. Your ‘whys’ will surely be different than mine. The goal isn’t to come up with a ‘correct’ answer, it’s to keep the things we are doing meaningful and important. And hopefully, by being able to recognize the purpose in what we are doing, it will make these things a bit more enjoyable as we face each new week’s activities.
So, start looking at your calendar and ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” The most obvious clue will be, if you can’t come up with an answer that makes sense…that thing will be the first to go.
When it comes to my main craziness…kids’ concerts…the ‘why’ for me is, because they love music, they invest themselves in it year round, and it’s important for their development. Secondarily, I do enjoy seeing them display all the hard work they’ve been putting in. I know that the skills and talents they are cultivating will have lasting value. So, while it can feel like a lot of effort put into this, these activities will stay, I will choose to make the best of it, because they are worthwhile and important.
Family gatherings, work parties, and other people-oriented events (especially with people that we don’t often get to see) become priority as well, because these aren’t things that can (or do) necessarily happen just any other time. It seems important to not pass them up because it’s less about the food, or the entertainment or whatever, as much as it is about valuing time spent with people. (Alternately, if it’s an event where we all show up and keep to ourselves, probably less like to ‘make the cut’.)
However, when I look at some other things which I would ‘want’ to do this time of year, like maybe attending a local performance of ‘The Nutcracker’ or some other holiday show…for me, those are the things that get scratched. Seeing new movies in December…unlikely. The town “Santa Comes to Town” parade…really not even gonna take that one into consideration. Those type of things are the ‘extras’ that I have to turn down. This is where the sliding scale of importance varies for everyone. Someday, I would like a ballet or a symphony to come back on my radar. I enjoy those things. But it this season of life, they are the ‘expendibles’ of my calendar. And I’m okay with it. There will be plenty of years where I will not be taxiing children nightly, and I can squeeze some culture into my life. Just not now…because currently there simply is not a valid ‘why’.
Secondly, if you have a reason…a good one…for the legitimacy of an activity, ask yourself if it HAS to happen THIS month. To me, these are the ‘regular’ things that we have, like church leadership meetings, small group studies, trips to the library, extra school activities, etc. Normally, ‘library day’ is totally valid, and valuable. But not in December…it can wait. It becomes more important to ‘pick and choose’, and if something can be put off for a few weeks…it’s just wiser to say “bag it” and allow myself to take a deep breath instead.
Church activities are one that I also allow to fall into this category. While they are definitely important, in reality, some of them could just be laid down for this month, and it will be OK. Leadership meetings, worship team practices, small group…all things that I very much value, as well as enjoy. However, from a point of caring for others as well as looking for some wiggle room for my own sanity…I have come to realize that it’s okay to take a break. Allow people (myself included) to rest. (Rest was actually God’s idea…and it was a good one!) It is sometimes easier and wiser to do the minimum…address the most pertinent topics by phone or email on an as-needed basis instead of taking up a whole evening for a meeting; allow worship to be simplified; and just gather with friends to enjoy one another’s company instead of trying to keep plowing through something.
It’s a good time to remember the ‘why’ of doing all these things is really about people…not tasks, services, or for ‘brownie points’ with God. This isn’t an easy one for me to be relaxed with, because it kind of goes against my grain. But I’m learning to be more gracious, and be okay with simplifying things.
And while on the topic of church activities, I think that we need to find a healthy balance of things that we do because they are healthy, worthwhile and enjoyable, and those we do out of obligation. Gathering for worship during this time is important, not because Christmas services are prettier, or we get to sing carols, or because it’s “Jesus birthday” (Ya’ll know it’s not actually his ‘real’ birthday, right? Ah…another topic for another day.)
It’s important to gather with our church families because our spirits need to be fed, we all need to encourage one another during what can be both a good and/or stressful and/or depressing and/or tumultuous time. Everyone’s holiday experience is different, and as Christians we are called to consider others, not just ourselves…to rejoice together and to mourn together. Now, as much, if not moreso, than any other time of the year.
And, most importantly, because God is worthy of our worship no matter what season it is.
So…if you are debating whether or not to attend that cookie social, or the holiday bazaar, or the live nativity, or the sing-along, or the candelight service…why not completely set aside the obligation aspect and do a heart-check. Is your including the event an act of feeding your soul, or another’s, or an act of genuine worship? If so, awesome. Then do it full-on. If not…give yourself some grace to pass, and find what will be that ‘better thing’.
Pretty much of the same can be said for volunteering as well. It really comes down to a heart-check. If you feel a desire to serve, maybe choose this time to begin exploring not only what you can do at Christmas time, but how could you help in some ways year-round? If it’s only the talk of ‘goodwill toward men’ that stirs your compassion for a month, but doesn’t last come the ringing in of the New Year…maybe it would be better to take some time to process through that instead of just throwing yourself into ‘one more thing’.
Please hear me…I’m NOT saying DON’T volunteer or give of yourself. There are many needs, and the holidays provide lots of opportunities to be a part of meeting some of those. But my hope, for myself and others, is that the source of the desire to help would not be limited to 1/12th of the of year. Don’t make it just an extra ‘pressure’ thing to squeeze into these few weeks. Think bigger…go beyond the holidays. Needs don’t go away when we pack up the ornaments and lights.
I think, in general, you get the idea. Don’t accept the pressure to participate in every.single.thing. that comes up this month. It’s okay to be choosy. Think deeper than the calendar…think with your heart.
When we know that what we are doing is the right thing at the right time, it makes it much easier to find the joy in it all.