Simple steps for replacing chaos with peace this holiday season
Family gatherings, holiday parties, winter sickness, traveling, and missing loved ones who have passed away can leave everyone worn out and grumpy. Years ago, I would take one of my two weeks of vacation and spend most of it driving from Texas to Alabama and then all over the state of Alabama to see various in-laws who refused to go to us and were not even interested in visiting us. Fortunately, when my husband finished school and only had two weeks of vacation, he decided we should not spend all his vacation time on the road. (And, yes, I am rolling my eyes.)
To replace chaos with peace during the holidays, we need to be mindful of what Thanksgiving and Christmas are about to be thankful for our blessings and celebrate the birth of Christ. Planning for Thanksgiving should always involve thankfulness, and as we enter the Christmas season, we need to remember it is about Jesus' birth, not about us and our loved ones. Keeping these two things in mind helps us set our priorities and encourages us to engage in activities that are intentionally thankful and about Christ. If we aren't being thankful or celebrating Christ, why are we doing what we are?
Step one: Intentionally plan your holidays. There is no law which states you must see every family member. I know multiple people who split one day with 3-4 different family groups....why? My husband and I chose to spend Thanksgiving with my parents and Christmas with his. It made things so much easier.
When my son was born, my husband and I decided only to do minimal gifts at Christmas. Our reasoning, it is not our birthdays; it is Jesus' birthday. So, ever since my son was little, he gets 2-3 gifts...that is it. Moreover, it keeps the expense down. And have you ever asked why we get presents when it is not our birthday? It does not even make sense. This year, we have decided we are only getting one gift each. Minimal presents keep the focus where it needs to be, on Christ. Moreover, we spend Christmas Day with just the three of us. Then, we visit my in-laws the week after.
So, think about what you want out of your holidays. Make intentional plans and watch your holidays transform.
Step two: Say "no" to busyness during this season. When making intentional plans decide which events and parties are non-negotiable and which can be skipped. If you do not know what will be coming up, limit the events and parties you will attend.
Getting the first "no" out of your mouth may be challenging, especially if you are a people pleaser. Once you get the first "no" out, it becomes an easier thing to do. I would also recommend you say something along with the "no," such as: "Thanks for asking, but we won't be able to attend; we are busy with another engagement." This keeps people from prying. It is okay if your other engagement is staying home with your family. You do not have to explain anything to the other person. Protect yourself and minimize the chaos by saying "no."
When it comes to your job, unless you have no other choice, say "no" here. You are in a mutually binding agreement with your company. You perform your job, and in return, you get benefits, including vacation. If you are expected to do your job, you should expect all mutually agreed-upon benefits. So, take your vacation. Set your reply email to state, "I will be out of the office and may not have access to the internet. I cannot reply to your email until I return on ____ date." Set your message on your work phone that you cannot return calls.
Then, do the unthinkable, do not look at your work emails. Do not listen to work voice messages.
Step three: Accept reality. Things aren't always going to go according to plan. 99% of family gatherings will have at least one toxic person present. People are going to get on each other’s nerves. Do not hope for a picture-perfect holiday season. When people are involved, things will go awry. If Uncle Henry is a jerk more frequently than not, there is a good chance he will also be a jerk this year. If you accept reality, you can make an intentional plan to maneuver the situation.
Step four: Set boundaries. If you meet grumpy Aunt Edna once every three or four years, to maneuver-hold your tongue. However, if you must routinely spend time with an individual who repeatedly crosses the line, you must set boundaries for what is and is not acceptable.
My Mom was a very difficult individual to be around; she was just plain mean. When I was 25, my Mom was being obnoxious, and I looked at her in front of my brother and sister and said, "If you don't stop your crap, I am going to leave and never come back." My siblings were horrified and said I could not do such a thing. I could and I would if Mom did not stop. Twenty-five years of her mess was enough. Setting boundaries with my Mom changed our relationship for the better.
I meet many individuals who think they cannot set boundaries with family, let alone parents. It is okay to set boundaries. What is not okay is to be rude, hateful, and unChristian when establishing your parameters.
The Bible is clear individuals are to treat each other with respect. Deuteronomy 5:16 states, "Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you." (ESV) We are supposed to honor our father and mother. However, honoring our parents does not mean putting up with abuse or extreme nastiness. Also, the Bible says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Ephesians 6:4 (ESV) Our parents are not to provoke us.
It can be challenging to set boundaries. However, I have yet to meet a person who was not thankful in the end for doing so. Jesus established boundaries all the time in the scriptures. If it was okay for Jesus to do so, it is also okay for you. So, take some time and think through your relationships about what is and is not acceptable behavior. Then, love yourself enough to expect others to treat you well by establishing good boundaries.
Step five: Take a break. Walk away or leave the house. One of my in-laws was nasty to me whenever I was around. She even went out of her way to make snide comments across the room loud enough so I could hear them. Due to her nature and the situation, I could not confront her directly (which is my preferred way to handle most cases).
So, I devised an intentional plan to ignore and not be around her. Upon first seeing her, I would politely say hello and then walk away. I would not engage in conversation. Whenever possible, I would go into another room and talk to others. When it was time to sit down for dinner, I would sit far away from her. It worked. Hallelujah, praise God. It is incredible what ignoring someone will do.
Another time, we were at my Mom's house for several days for Thanksgiving, and one of my relatives was horrible. She went out of her way to try and disrupt our family time together. At one point, my husband looked at me and said we are going out for lunch. So, we left and had a pleasant lunch. It gave us a break and allowed us to escape a toxic environment.
Do not be afraid to leave and take a break. Be the one to volunteer to go to the store. Go out to eat. Go for a walk or to a local gym to work out. If you have little ones, make a convenient trip to a nearby playground. It is a game changer.
Step 6: Keep up your devotional and prayer time. Connecting with God is often laid aside during the holidays. When setting your intentions, include devotionals and prayer time in your plan. Have your spouse or another family member be your accountability partner for this.
Just think about how you act and start to feel when you do not have your daily quiet time with God. If you are like me, you turn into a maniac. Little things set you off. People get on your nerves. You know it to be true. The holiday season is filled with chaos making landmines; this is not the time to ignore your quiet time with God. God is our Perfect Shield from explosions.
With this in mind, you may need to hide in your bedroom, the bathroom, the garage, or the car to do your devotional. Perhaps you can go for a long walk and do your devotional outside. Just get it done. Putting God first reframes the reality of your current situation.
In closing, why must we be with people and family members we cannot stand during the holidays? This is a standard of the world. Let me remove the misnomer the holidays have to involve rude and obnoxious family members. Visit your family before the holidays or have them come to visit you beforehand. Then, during the holidays, stay home and enjoy your peace.
It may sound harsh, but it is not. Why ruin limited holiday time? I had accepted the reality about some family members years ago....it took decades for others to accept the fact I had known. Once everyone was on the same page, we stopped seeing certain family members during holidays. How awesome it is.
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