As this year draws to a close and the new year approaches, our thoughts naturally turn to goals and resolutions. What do we hope to accomplish in this upcoming year? How do we want our lives to change? What are we resolved to do differently?
At this busy time of year, sometimes I find myself switching into endurance mode. I focus on pushing through, on accomplishing goals, on crossing tasks off my to do lists. I tell myself that when the family is all gathered together, when Christmas Day comes, then I’ll be able to relax — right now, there’s work to be done, presents to buy, cards to mail, food to prepare.
And yet… if I have a wonderful Christmas Day but a terrible two weeks leading up to it, is it really worth it? If I focus only on the destination, then I forget to enjoy the journey. And the journey is where life happens.
I look forward to Christmas every year. It is a time of celebration: music, parties, gifts, great food and time with family and friends. The anticipation of Christmas morning never grows old. Watching the excitement in my own kids as they open their presents brings great joy. Joy was the theme of the first Christmas. The angels told the shepherds to fear not, for they brought “good news of great joy for all people.”
But we live in a broken world. We look around us and we see wars, social unrest, and personal tragedy. How can we have joy when we are surrounded by so much pain?
This song evokes such sadness in me, sadness at the ending of relationships, at final goodbyes.
A number of years ago I was talking to a ministry leader about serving. He was expressing his frustration about how some Christians do nothing with their faith. He stated, “They rust out. I don’t want to rust out, I want to burn out.” That sounded so noble at first. Going out in a blaze of glory while serving God and others. But then I thought, both these ways of living share something in common – they are both “out.” Is that what God wants for us?
Ah, the joys of the holiday season! The smell of fresh-baked gingerbread cookies, the cheerful sounds of Christmas carols as we shop, the happiness on the faces of children opening presents, the warm familiarity of loved traditions… there is much to look forward to this time of year.
But oh, the stresses of the holiday season! The crowded stores and packed parking lots, the pressure to buy the perfect gift without blowing the budget, the rush to get ready and head out the door to yet another Christmas event, the arguments with the ex about who gets the kids, the frustrations of hanging out with family members who know just how to push our buttons, the bickering of the kids over who gets to play with the new toys first… there is much to dread about this time of year!
How can we better prepare for the holiday season so that we minimize the stresses and increase the joys? How can we create a more meaningful Christmas season that helps bring our family together?
My husband and I have found that one of the keys to a less-stressful holiday season is to clarify our expectations ahead of time.
Like many other ministry leaders, when I was first called to ministry, I had passion and zeal to change the world for Christ. After all, we get the privilege of introducing people to the creator of the world, to a God who can dramatically change the human heart for good. I couldn’t wait to see how God would use me in his epic story.
I quickly found out that ministry wasn’t as easy or as glamorous as I thought. That first summer, as an intern, a student drowned at one of our retreats. I can remember sitting in the hospital room with the brother of the student who just died. I thought, “Why did the youth pastor choose me to be here with the brother?” I felt so inadequate. Youth ministry is supposed to be about leading kids to Christ, discipling them and having fun. Yet here I was dealing with a tragedy. I learned that ministry was less about fun and more about walking with people through life, both the highs and lows.