* This article was first published at the New Growth Press blog here.
“I’m just trying to get through the holidays.” Sound familiar? If you like Christmas movies, this statement should ring a bell! This sentiment forms the central theme of—arguably—one of the top three holiday movies in box office history (including Christmas Vacation and Diehard; yes, both are Christmas movies).
In the movie Elf, Jovie, a struggling department store clerk, laments to Buddy that she’s just trying to make it through the holidays. I don’t know a single person who can’t identify with Jovie’s conflicted feelings. We’re all just trying to get through the holidays. (And if you feel like an outsider on this one, bless you. You’re doing far better than most of us.)
Against our wishes, Christmas season thrusts many of us into a kind of survival mode. Pressured preparations abound.
Is the house clean enough? Are the decorations photoshoot ready?
Will everyone love their presents? Are the stockings hung with care? Could they catch fire?
Will we all get along for a month in this little place? But where will they sleep? Turn on the fan and close the door—they will be here any minute!
Are the ornaments and lights evenly spaced? Did you put water in the tree stand? Wait, is the tree leaning a little? I’m telling you it’s leaning!
Will all the elements of Christmas dinner come together on time? I don’t think that’s going to be enough food. Should we get more eggnog?
What will we wear to the Christmas Eve service?
What if the flu strikes? Did everyone take their immunity supplements?
Did we light all the advent candles in order?
I really hope it snows.
What if someone brings up Santa? What if no one brings up Santa? Did we sing enough hymns around the fire?
Is Jesus satisfied with our traditions?
Where’s the scotch tape? I thought you got tape . . .
Hmmm . . . sounds like fun.
On top of almost endless anxieties, the holidays provoke in some of us a deeper level of heartaches, regrets, reminders of loss. It can be such a hard time.
With anxieties on the surface, pain beneath, or both—it makes sense we feel like just getting through it already. In one way or another, part of us doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas…we want to have celebrated Christmas.
That’s really a sad state of affairs, isn’t it? And what’s more troubling—this dynamic plays out in other areas of our lives. When my young family went to Disney once, we started the trip saying, “Let’s just get through it in one piece. And returning home, we let out with a sigh, “We did it.” Did you hear that? We went to “the happiest place on earth” hoping we could get through it. (The second time was much better, I’m happy to say. The kids were older, and we didn’t have strollers.)
I just want to get through this wedding day. I just want to get through this semester. I just want to get through this illness. I just want to get through this stage of parenting. I just want to get through this week, or month, or year. If we follow the path far enough, we end up with a life reduced to merely getting through rather than really living in the light of God’s present and glad grace.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could know more happiness in Christ in daily life, such that we no longer wished to just get through it already? This Christmas season provides a good opportunity to press more into the joy of our present, living Savior. Here are a few suggestions I’m finding helpful:
LOWER THE PRESSURES OF THE SEASON AND LIFT THE PROMISES OF YOUR SAVIOR.
We are masters skilled at turning a month built for peace and joy into an intense and exhausting production. But when the pressures of the season rise, we can renew our focus on the gentle promises of Jesus. We can remember he came not to examine the tree, nitpick the meal, or look the children up and down, but to deliver to us grace upon grace.
Hear these words of Jesus in Luke 19:9–10: “And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’” We need constant reminder of the comforting truth that Jesus came to seek us, not to investigate us. Yet so often we feel the need to perform or measure up when pressures rise. We can find freedom when we see Jesus as the a promise Maker and Keeper, who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves.
CAPTURE THE TREASURES HIDDEN IN THE PRESENT MOMENTS OF GRACE.
In his mercy and care, God has delivered gifts to enjoy at every turn. But if we peer over the present with hurried anticipation of the blessed end to the holiday season, we’ll overlook the many gospel blessings God offers us in the now. Do you remember what the Bible says about Mary at the time of Jesus’s birth? The shepherds declared to her precious words of God’s grace toward the world. Mary treasured and pondered in her heart each of these words. Like Mary, we can become more intentional and attentive to the incredible, redemptive realities infused into our life during this holiday season: “And all who heard it were amazed about the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:18-19).
PRIORITIZE HAPPINESS IN CHRIST OVER HAPPINESS IN THE HOLIDAYS.
The central question of every suffering, struggling, or sinning heart is this: What will make you happy? God has wired every person to seek happiness, and true happiness is only found in the enjoyment of his grace. Jesus came to deliver this overwhelming happiness to his people as the ultimate way of giving God glory. A million counterfeit joys vie for our attention every day. And in a strange twist, even the Christmas season stands in line offering to make us happy if we give over our hearts. While many sweet joys are infused in our Christmas celebration, they pale in comparison to the infinite happiness God has in himself and offers to us in Christ. So, what will make you happy? God will!
As Psalm 16:11 reminds us, “You will make known to me the way of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”