My name is Mark Lutz, and I'm the growth and healing pastor and director of Life Reset ministries at the Vineyard. And for many people, the holidays, instead of being a time of great joy and happiness, can be a time of sorrow and pain. And that can be for a couple of reasons.
One of the things that can make holidays hard is that we're missing people. It can be that if we lost people around the holidays—the holidays remind us of that. But even just if we've lost them in the last year and the holidays are a time when normally we would be together, we might feel the emptiness of that spot, where they should be, and they're not there.
And we might lose someone from a divorce. It could be a death, it could be they moved away. And now with COVID, it's just keeping people away from one another. Maybe they can't travel and be together. So that ache in our hearts, we're missing a person that's not there anymore.
It could be a loss of a job which would mean a loss of income and a loss of means to celebrate the holidays the way we're used to doing the way we want to do. And again, certainly COVID-19 has contributed to that pain for a lot of people’s lost jobs, lost income.
Some people feel that the loss of that childhood joy, they remember the euphoria of Christmas and they're forever seeking that high again, but it never quite comes to that same degree as an adult.
Some people miss what never was. Some of us had families that were dysfunctional and instead of happy times, there may be times of violence or just unhappy memories. And so every time we come around to the holiday, again, it reminds us of those unpleasant times. And it's sort of like with each year that passes the memory gets magnified and more painful.
Sometimes people are unhappy because they're expecting the ideal–Norman Rockwell paintings and Hallmark movies depict wonderful holidays that hardly any of us ever experience. But if we compare our experience to those ideals, most all of us are going to come up lacking.
And then we have this fear of missing out—the fear that someone else is having a normal, happy Christmas and I'm missing out.
It could be for some folks the expectations they feel from other folks. And it may be that people are putting expectations on us, or we just anticipate they are. But, you get to thinking there are so many parties to get to, and so many presents to buy. There’s his family and her family, and his work and her work, and then there are church parties and maybe something for the neighborhood.
And then you're thinking about, Oh, do we need to get something for the mailman and the trash man? And before long, you have this long list of people that you have to spend time with and money on, and you realize it's more than you have. And that can be so stressful that it just steals the joy out of the holidays.
So I want to talk about a couple of things that we could do this year to survive the holidays and not just survive, but to thrive and maybe have a wonderful holiday celebration this year.
So one thing is we have to embrace is realistic expectations. All right, we might just have to let it go that we're not going to have a Hallmark Christmas. The thing is that it can't be ideal, but it can still be real and it can still be meaningful. And we might not have all the things that are in the movies, but there can still be some things that are valuable. And if we can learn to stop the comparison with the ideal and begin to be grateful for the good things that do show up, that can bring a little more joy into our experience.
But Christmas is really designed for children, right? The presents and all of that joy that we felt as children—that great joy—we're probably never going to recapture. Because honestly, it'll never be as much fun paying for a whole mountain of toys as it was opening and playing with a whole mountain of toys.
So if it's true that Christmas is for children, do what you can to spend some time around children, perhaps children in your family. But if COVID-19 is keeping you from traveling and being with family, just look for children that are nearby at this time of year. A lot of folks do programs for families in need. And if you can do something where you're contributing to making a child's Christmas better, and you're there with them, you will find that the joy that they have is contagious, and we can start to feel a little bit of it.
For those painful memories that are in our past, those things that still haunt us, go ahead and grieve those things. The tendency is to try to shove them out of our consciousness, to occupy our mind with brighter things, but really we just need to grieve those things. They're real and they have a voice and they need to be expressed and maybe even shared with trusted people. And I'll say this, that the degree that we process those past hurts or not, will decide whether they accumulate or dissipate, because without attention, they don't go away on their own.
We might have to cut back on the time and money that we spend on the holidays. You might need to do a budget for both—figure out how much time you can spend going to parties and how much time you have to hold back in reserve for your mental, emotional wellbeing, and then stay within that budget. The same thing with money; figure out how much money do you have.
And that will often determine how far out you go in terms of present purchasing. But don't do Christmas on credit because all that does is it pushes the stress of December into January, where are you going to try to figure out how to pay a bill you couldn't afford in December, but now with interest. So just do a budget and stick with that.
Focus on the people that are closest to you and focus on experiences. How many of us could really remember what gifts we got over the years, many years past? We don't remember who got us what, but we often have memories of time spent together, that there was joy and love shared, and those are the things that stay with us. So in the season, pick the people closest to you. Start there, spend most of your time with those folks and work on building memories.
And it really does make a difference where we let our focus rest. If we'd let it rest on comparisons with other people, other ideals, then that breeds discontent and sorrow. But if we let our attention rest on the things that are good, the love that we do have, the relationships we have, if we practice gratitude, then that increases the joy. Because the reality is, there's going to be both. There's going to be hard things and good things. And if we only focus on the hard to the exclusion of the good, it will be a hard, hard holiday time.
So just allowing that both can happen and spend a little time focusing on the good that's there, and above all, the most important thing is you’ve got to remember the reason for the holiday, that this is about God's generosity to us. John in the Bible wrote, “This is how God demonstrates his love among us, that he sent his Son into the world that we might live through him.”
When we remember that, it changes everything. So make sure to spend some time in a celebration in a service that grounds you in the reason for the season—in God's great love for all of us. And that can go a long way for moving the needle from the miserable to the memorable and meaningful—making a rich holiday for you.
I pray that you'll have a blessed Christmas.