The season meant for celebrating God’s gift of salvation in his Son can so easily be marred when we lose track of that meaning.
Finding the perfect gifts, budgeting for them, arranging for travel, planning holiday meals, and keeping your waistline in check can quickly get overwhelming– to say nothing of all the potential family drama or emotional baggage!
For couples and families, there is yet another block to stumble over at the holidays: traveling from house to house in order to see, and satisfy, every single family member.
Many well-meaning families try their best not to leave out anyone on both sides of the extended family, but it really adds up. Before you know it, you’ve got an itinerary of three, four, five, or more houses to visit and dozens of gifts to give, and Christmas Day becomes an endurance trial for you, your spouse, and your children to survive.
In a thoughtful post for her Sparrows And Lily blog, Lindsey Maestas described her experience running the Christmas gauntlet of visiting five houses, sinking tons of money into gifts for 19 kids, 10 siblings and 3 White Elephant parties, and spending the “most wonderful time of the year” feeling stressed, frazzled, and exhausted.
“I remember the day like it was yesterday. Our son Sutton was 1-1/2 years old and we rushed home a ridiculous number of times to pick up food and gifts to take to the next house. And then the next house. And then the next.”
On their final trip home that day, Maestas’ exhausted husband told her he had grown to despise the holidays, which he had once loved, which only fed into her stress, leaving both of them feeling miserable at the close of their son’s first Christmas.
“When we finally came home for the night, it was completely dark. Sutton’s toys were piled up, untouched, in the corner. He didn’t get to open or play with anything that day and he was passed out by the time we got home.”
“Our house was a disaster because I had rushed to cook and bake everything for each house and didn’t have time to clean before we left,” she added.
It was in that moment, surrounded by the reality that her own home had been neglected during their holiday odyssey, that Maestas learned the crucial lesson of setting healthy boundaries “in order to invest and nourish this little family we have created — even during the holidays.”
In God’s design plans for marriage given in Genesis, however, He gives us the simple truth that sets us free from the holiday bondage of trying to please every member of every part of every family:
“Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24
While it is still foundational to remember to seek to love and serve others at Christmastime and all through the year, Maestas declares that you “don’t want to create strife or forfeit our family principles to people-please or to simply fulfill society’s standard of what Christmas is supposed to look like.”
Giving gifts, decorating, cooking and baking, and spending time with family at Christmas can be such a wonderful blessing. It’s when you try to do it all and spread yourself impossibly thin that you become too busy, stressed, and exhausted to be a blessing to others, let alone guard yourself from sins of anger and resentment.
So, this season, don’t be afraid to get creative with your schedule. Split the holiday up into several days if you must visit several homes, or else don’t be afraid to simply say, “not this year,” and find another way to bless the home you can’t visit.
Don’t abuse your budget and put your own little family in potential financial danger for the sake of fulfilling our materialistic culture’s expectation of giving a gift to everyone in your family (which will likely wind up on a thrift store shelf in 6 months, if we’re honest).
“When you and your spouse are at one another’s throats because you have to put on a false smile for your in-laws who you swear have it out for you,” Maestas contends, “you are sacrificing the health of the one you were intended to cling to for the family that you were intended to separate from after you said, ‘I do.’”
Instead, let your whole year be Christmas. Demonstrate that you love your extended family in all seasons, so that they know missing one holiday dinner isn’t a reflection of how much you truly love them. Don’t try to fit a year’s worth of love and connection into one single day.
Instead, Maestas encourages you to honor God and cleave to your own family this year.
“Take it slow. Simply do your best to love and serve those around you without allowing pressure or obligation to consume you.”
“And most importantly, spread true joy and the love of Jesus with those you come across. It might even be a lot easier this time around because you’ll be rested enough to do so.”