A couple years back, out of a sincere desire that the people I have the privilege of pastoring would not lose their soul and everything they’ve worked so hard for during the past year over the holidays, I decided to put together something of a “survival guide for the holidays.” We put it together as a printed letter and passed it out to our folks at the end of November and to my great surprise (though we really shouldn’t have been surprised), we found that it had a lot of traction with folks.
As wonderful as the holidays are, they also can be deeply disorienting and painful, and instead of rushing into the new year with life and joy and vitality, we limp into the new year, licking our wounds and trying to pick up the pieces… which is such a tragedy because the new year ought to be a time of fresh vision, imagination, and commitment. In my own life I’ve sometimes found that it was mid-late February before I found myself well enough again to begin to dream about what I wanted to year to be.
That’s no good. As the years have passed, I’ve stumbled into a few things that I’ve found to be really helpful in my own “soul preservation” efforts, and thus decided a few years back to share them with folks. I hope that you’ll take the time to read them and to pass them along to others. We steward a great gift, this gift of life. Let’s live it well. SO…
Some tips for not losing your soul and everything you’ve worked for personally over the past year during the next four weeks of holiday madness
1) Prioritize self-care. Don’t overdo it. Don’t overbook your schedule. Don’t get involved with more than you know you can handle. In fact, I would suggest a counter-measure approach: scale back your activity level so that you can actually enjoy the season. Schedule appointments with yourself where you can have uncluttered space to do the things that you know make for a personal sense of wellbeing.
The following encouragements flow out of that first one:
2) Exercise. If you treat your body well, it will treat you well. So take time to exercise. Go on walks. Take bike rides. Jog a bit. Get to the gym. Do yoga. Whatever it is you do to get the blood flowing. Trust me, it will make a difference.
3) Don’t over-, or under-eat. More than that, try to eat regular, good, balanced, wholesome meals. Don’t go on any radical diets so that you look awesome for when you see your family next. Good Lord. Dispense with the vanity. It’s not a path to happiness. And please, and by all means, if you’re prone to run to food when you’re feeling blue, have the self-awareness to know that the food’s not actually going to make you happy the way you want it to. Go on a walk or listen to some good music in a quiet room instead.
4) Pay really close attention to how much alcohol you’re consuming. Make it a point that none of your headaches over the holidays are going to come from drinking too much. And, please, and by all means, if you’re prone to run to alcohol when you’re feeling blue, have the self-awareness to know that the bottle’s not actually going to solve anything. It will usually make it worse. So go for a bike ride or read a favorite book instead.
5) If you’re married, schedule a handful of date nights between now and the end of the year. The holidays can really increase the level of “static” in a marriage. Cut against the grain of that tendency this year. Make it a point to enjoy each other more, to listen better, to fight harder to be in sync with each other. It will pay off. If you’re married and/or have kids, don’t just “deal” with them between now and January 1st. Try to create some new and fun memories. Savor the moments. Build a friggin snowman or two. You get the idea.
6) Take your regular routines of prayer, meditation, solitude, and Scripture reading MORE seriously. High-pressured seasons have a way of making us think that we’re too busy to do the things that keep us anchored in God. You’re not too busy to pray. You’re NEVER too busy to pray. Cliché as it sounds, I think it is correct to say that you’re too busy NOT to pray. So pull away into the “desert” as often as you can to center yourself in God and his love for you. Adore the Christ, around whom the season centers.
7) “Hold onto yourself” when you’re around family and friends that you haven’t seen in awhile. Our long histories with old family and friends can be both a source of great comfort and also a source of great consternation—those that have known you the longest are always going to be prone to see you through their understanding of the person you used to be. If you’re not careful, despite the fact that you’ve changed—you really have changed!—you’ll start acting in ways that conform to their expectations. And man, that is a horrible feeling. So let this be an encouragement to you: you have become a different person, and you are permitted to “hold onto” that difference, even and especially around those with whom you have a long history. Don’t let them shove you back in the box. Stay on your feet. If what you’ve become is a disappointment to them, so be it. Your personal growth is too important for you to give up at the first sign of resistance or misunderstanding from others. Hang onto yourself.
8) Worship. Stay with the people of God. Don’t miss church. If you’re out of town, find somewhere to worship. The church in which I grew up in Wisconsin blew up several years back, leaving me without a place to go to Christmas Eve when we were visiting our families one Christmas. So I went to a Midnight Mass service at the local Catholic Church. I didn’t do it as a gimmick. Gimmicks suck. I went because I needed to be with God’s people adoring the Incarnate Christ. That was an anchor to my soul. Worship always is.
I hope those few encouragements help you. If you’ve stumbled into some practices or convictions that have helped you, I’d love to hear them… so feel free to share them here!
In the light of Advent,
Grace and peace,