Every year when the holiday’s edge ever closer, we hear the same sentiments begin; there’s too much to do. It starts with the stores slowly stocking the glittery, pine needly, ever enticing decorations that I already have too much of but still somehow wonder about fitting a few more in. Then it’s the music, the not-so-subtle shift from long-forgotten 90’s songs to the oh-so-familiar Christmas melodies at every department store, gas station, grocery, and office. You know those songs, somehow by heart, even though you only hear them a couple of months out of the year, unless you’re married to a man like my husband, who sings them routinely beginning in mid-July to remind himself that the miserable heat of the summer will fade. After the sights and sounds change, the smells become unbearable; even though I’m not a pumpkin spice kind of gal, just one tantalizing whiff of the stuff packs five pounds around my middle. Not that I’m complaining, it often gets -30 where we’re at, so I can thank our Lord for the extra insulation.
With all the holiday cheer, it amazes me each year to hear that aforementioned sentiment; people are becoming overwhelmed. There are tubs and boxes of decorations to put out, parties to attend, children’s performances to prepare for, meals to make, so much baking, shopping, traveling, visiting, and budgeting for all of it. Is it any wonder it can quickly turn into an overwhelming season? But there’s more to what makes holidays feel overwhelming, and it sits heavily on many of us this year; sickness and grief. Aside from the loss recent events caused, we all often begin to remember long-lost loved ones around this time of year. Spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents, children, friends, mentors – we feel these losses when the memories of past seasons of joy and laughter come to mind. Sickness is another point of difficulty, not only for those suffering but the caretakers who are balancing the demands of the holidays alongside their daily strain. It’s compounded this year, much as it was last year, by the fluctuating economy and uncertainty.
While these two reasons for feeling overwhelmed certainly play on one another, I have to address them separately to help avoid year-end burnout. And we must, as believers who are told to be patient, kind, loving, forbearing of one another, prevent it to the best of our abilities. It’s far more challenging to avoid the stumbling blocks our flesh naturally trips over, like ungrateful or selfish behavior, when we’re already overwhelmed and exhausted. The Biblical adjuration to flee from sin is helpful here because fleeing is premeditated and takes forethought. This is precisely what I want to encourage each of you to do before we get too much further into the holiday season. All of this is something I struggle with each year, and while I can only give you the advice that works for me and mine, it might not be what works best for you. Please don’t let that discourage you; everyone’s brain works differently; find ways that help keep you from the mental meltdowns so common this time of year.
The easiest part of becoming overwhelmed to avoid is the part brought on by all the activity. As a mom, I can tell you that mom-guilt is alive and well in my flesh and has to be daily mortified. Maybe mom-guilt doesn’t descend into sinful idolatry of your children as it does for me, tempting me to turn my thoughts from glorifying God to putting the wants and needs of my beautiful daughter above all else. Perhaps you’ve become sanctified enough not to let that mom-guilt tie you up in knots until you’ve jumped through so many hoops that you’re physically and mentally exhausted.
It’s even possible that you’ve never gone without stopping to sleep or eat to ensure you’ve accomplished everything you possibly can to make the holidays something they’ll remember. Or you’re not a parent, not a spouse, but the child, friend, loved one who wants to do more than they’re capable of to be a blessing to others. You might not even feel the guilt of not doing enough; maybe you feel like you’re missing out like it’s a once-a-year time and you need to pack it all in before it’s too late. However it happens, whether it’s others’ expectations or your own, it’s all too easy this time of year to find yourself with more to do than hours in the day. Suddenly the sights, sounds, and smells that ushered in the season trigger a twisting in your gut, a pounding in your ears, a tightening in your chest like those holly decked walls are slowly closing in on you.
We have to make that choice, in advance, not to get to this point, and if you’re already there, it’s not too late to fix it. Start by evaluating everything you need to do, not want but need to do, for the upcoming holidays. Next, make a list of what you want to accomplish, and make sure at the bottom of these two lists you include your budget so that you don’t find yourself in over your head halfway through the season. Remember that you can’t do it all, recruit help where you need it, and plan for moments when you need to catch your breath so that you have time to decompress. You’ll be amazed at how much it helps others to have someone calm and sober-minded when so many others are strung out.
Dealing with the grief that seems to flow out of our memories this time of year naturally is more complicated than just reorganizing your schedules. But grief doesn’t need to aid in the overwhelming emotions that cause those walls to start closing in. In fact, over the years, I’ve found that addressing grief rather than trying to ignore it, or suppress it, enhances the joy and gratefulness I feel during the holidays. To start with, when you have a memory of that loved one, share it with your family and friends. If someone you know is dealing with a recent loss and brings up memories, ask them about it; what was their favorite memory with that loved one? What traditions did they celebrate with them? Laugh together, mourn together, bear one another’s grief, don’t just ignore it or slap the bandaid of an overly used phrase on the moment.
On the other hand, if you’re struggling with sickness that has limited the amount of participation you’re capable of, it will be even more difficult not to become overwhelmed. Pain will always be the burning furnace that brings the dross to the top, purifying the metal therein. It is an encouraging sentiment after the fact, but during the struggle, especially if that pain is chronic, it’s harder to be grateful for sanctification. In contrast, others enjoy their holiday free of pain or sickness.
I’ve spoken to so many women who struggle with chronic illness, and the mom-guilt is a daily battle, worsening during the holidays. The most important thing to remember is that God is sovereign, even over our health, and as Charles Spurgeon so rightly put it, “I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the Rock of Ages.” His grace is sufficient for us, His power is made perfect in our weakness, s .take a deep breath, give yourself some grace, and recognize your limitations. It might even help to make another column in our earlier list, what you’re capable of doing.
I struggle with severe insomnia; once it’s been more than three days without sleep, I’m no longer capable of driving. When planning for the holidays, I have to consider that, especially if we decide to travel to see family and friends. I might not be able to help with the driving side of the trip, but I can help in other ways. You might not be able to travel at all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be a blessing to others. Rather than let the list of things you can’t do overwhelm you, focus on what you can do. Add helping these brothers and sisters-in-Christ to the list of things you need to do this season for those of you reading this that aren’t sick. This is a time when, whether they know it or not, a great majority of the world is surrounded by reminders of the grace of God. We should look carefully at how we walk, making the best use of this time! That’s easier to do when we aren’t bogged down with the stress of being overwhelmed.