The Heart of Christmas (Sarah Lindsey, LAC)
Growing up with law enforcement, I learned a few life lessons early. I learned that you can’t always trust what you hear on the news, that there is always MORE to every story, and the holidays aren’t always about caroling and happy memories. My dad, who worked as a night detective most of my childhood, often did not make it home by daylight on Christmas morning. It wasn’t until my teens that I questioned the reason of his delay (mainly because it delayed our present opening extravaganza). It was then when I learned that Christmas Eve was often a time where families would call on the police to calm the tribe. “Why in the world would people want to fist fight each other on Christmas Eve?”, my young, naive self would wonder. The tragic truth is that when you mix a lot of people, a lot of expectations, and a lot of holiday drinks you get holiday drama! So as we all prepare for big meals with big personalities and big expectations, let’s also prepare for how to bring our best selves. And what better guidance during these very human traditions than relying on the wisdom of Proverbs? Here are a few nuggets of Godly wisdom to guide us through the next couple of weeks.
1. “A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.” – Proverbs 11:17 ESV
It sounds simple enough: be kind. Yet in moments of frustration, even with the best intentions, we can be cruel. Often times our cruelty is not acknowledged until it is brought to our attention by those who feel it. If your words have caused hurt feelings to those in your family, each new holiday is a chance to lead with grace and love. When your uncle insults your political views, your cousin ruins your favorite Christmas decoration, or mother-in-law declines to recognize your efforts in baking, remember that kindness serves you. Leading every interaction with a focus on simple acts of kindness will benefit you, therefore benefiting everyone around you.
2. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” – Proverbs 12:15 ESV
So there you are, planning the big event, down to the last details, everything from the perfect time to the perfect tinsel. But wait, your sister doesn’t want to do dinner at 5:00, your in-laws will be playing Bingo until 7:30, and your husband insists on finishing the game first. Don’t they know you’ve made everything perfect?! They are standing in the way of the perfect holiday experience…the memories that will live on through time! How could they be so selfish?! In moments like these, remember the words of these Proverbs. Like Kevin McAllister from the movie Home Alone learned when he experienced Christmas alone, TWICE, that Christmas isn’t just about you.
3. “Be careful what you think because your thoughts control your life.” – Proverbs 4:23 NCV
The Confirmation Bias is a psychological term for a perfect example of how destructive our minds can be. This term, created by English psychologist Peter Wason, refers to preexisting beliefs that lead to an error in interpretation. This is particularly challenging during the holidays, when lots of people with lots of baggage are put in a small area for an extended period of time. Are you waiting for that sexist comment or that passive aggressive insult? Are you watching every move made around your kids or listening for any doubt voiced about your parenting styles? If you answered yes, or anything close to a maybe, beware. Prior to your visit, consult a trusted friend or confidant to share these negative thoughts and expectations. Although it would be easy for me to challenge you to put them aside for a 24 hour period, it is important to acknowledge that these bias’ were not created in your head without reason. Referring back to the first Proverb noted in this piece, we are often victim of cruelty unrecognized by the offender. In other cases, the cruelty is recognized, yet no effort has been made to reconcile. Talk these through with a wise, gracious listener. Bringing negative thoughts to the surface does not mean they will hold you captive. Your thoughts are simply ways you protect yourself from harm.
Acknowledge the things that you are sensitive to in an effort to prepare for peace. Ask your person to pray with you in the days leading to the event, focusing on opening your heart to be led by grace. When you feel attacked by these thoughts in the moment, reach out for support. This can be done in subtle, yet effective ways. Squeeze the hand, give the “look”, send a one word text, whatever you can to communicate that your thoughts are affecting you. In that moment, use that recognition to breathe in love and breathe out grace. This will simply help to re-frame your negative belief into a reminder that you need love.
4. “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” – Proverbs 27:19 NIV
As you begin to plan for holiday events, take a moment to choose the things that are the MOST important. In therapy, we call these things your VALUES. It may seem too big picture for a holiday meal plan, yet it is too important to overlook. If the most important thing to you is quality family time, then invest the most mental energy in preparing for good conversation topics, family ice breakers, or fun games. If the most important thing to you is a cooking show quality meal, then take time to test out recipes with close friends before the big day. Take inventory of specific allergies or food preferences of guests. Or if the most important thing to you is to have a welcoming and inviting home, then download a holiday play list, make sure you have enough seating, and assign a member of your family to greet each person that walks in. When you choose the most important things, you allow yourself to channel your energy and passion to things that reflect you. Choose to NOT worry about a store-bought dessert or paper plates if you’d rather spend the time visiting. Choose to NOT worry about what Uncle So-n-so says during dinner if everyone is busy enjoying their fabulous meal. Choose to NOT worry about not having that perfectly decorated tree if the people sitting around it are relaxed and comfortable. Let your life, who you present yourself as during the holidays, reflect YOUR heart, because your special heart is a unique and Godly design with a purpose to glorify Him.
The team at Christian Perspective Counseling wishes you and your family a blessed holiday visit. We hope that you are left with memories of love and joy, and we are here to help with everything else.