The holidays. The smell of cinnamon wafts through the air. Families gather around our tables. Smiles, laughter, and music. Our hearts fill with excitement and, and…. Oh, let’s just admit it! Our hearts fill with a sense of panic!

There is so much pressure heaped upon us, especially women. You must make great grandma’s corn recipe for Thanksgiving and then endure hearing how it’s not quite the same as hers. You must have a perfectly decorated house, mantel overflowing with the figurines passed down from your husband’s family. You must create wonderful memories and uphold all the family traditions. Shop, wrap, smile, go to every activity, don’t gain weight, and make sure everyone is happy. It’s simply exhausting!

Isn’t this supposed to be the “hap-happiest season of all”?

Well, yes. It is. The holiday season: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. Each one really is cause for “good cheer.” Taking time to be thankful to our heavenly Father, rejoicing in the arrival of the long promised Savior, and pausing to consider what God has done in the past year while looking forward to His continued work in the new, are actually really good things to celebrate. Our hearts ought to be lifted! So, let’s take a step back and figure out where all this pressure is coming from, put it in its rightful place, and lay hold of the joy that the Lord has for us in this season!

Stolen Joy During the Holidays

I think there are two primary “joy suckers” surrounding the holidays. Number one is expectations. Now, expectations are not bad in and of themselves, but we must take time to look at them and ask, “Okay, Lord, what do You expect of me?” Can you bake that corn recipe with joy and as unto the Lord? Well then, by all means, go ahead! But if not, guess what? You do not have to make grandma’s recipe! Freedom! If this is likely to upset some family members, then let them know ahead of time. Communicate that you value a relationship with them so much, that you don’t want to be stressed during the holidays, and so you are letting this certain thing go. Invite them into the solution. If this particular thing is important to someone in your family circle, honor him or her by passing the responsibility over to that person. You do not have to own someone else’s priorities.

Enemy number two is traditions. Traditions help our families build sweet memories, but they can also bury us in needless activity. Whatever we do, we need to do as unto the Lord, right? That’s why, a few years back, I took a hard look at all our traditions and asked myself whether they added meaning to the holidays or not. For example, I used to gift-wrap every single little trinket in our stockings because that’s the way generations had done it in my family. We all loved it. But as we grew, adding couples and grandkids, I was wrapping tiny little things to fill 13 stockings! I let that one go, and no one really cared. However, having Advent devotions was worth the struggle. Even if kids needed to get to sports and choral events, it was important for us to carve out time to settle our hearts and to put our focus back on the fulfilment of God’s promise. Cookie baking was a big deal, too. We paired that down, baking just enough for gifts as an expression of love for our neighbors. Now this tradition holds purpose and no longer overwhelms me.

Focus on God’s Faithfulness

I think it is helpful, in this busy season, to be reminded of our Old Testament ancestors. Like us, their calendar was studded with festivals and celebrations. I’m sure mothers of that time were busy scrubbing their homes, wanting everything to be just right as they anticipated the arrival of out-of-town guests. Shopping, cleaning, food preparations…so much to do! One holiday even had them making booths out of branches! But God had not added these special days to their calendars to create busyness. No, there was clear purpose. Each aspect of the festival, from the foods, to the sacrifices, to their outdoor leafy booths, was to help them do two things: remember the faithfulness of their God in the past, and trust Him to be faithful in fulfilling His promises in the future.

That is also what I want to focus on. God’s faithfulness. He has been faithful in the past. He is faithful in the moment. He will be faithful in the future. I want our meals, our treats, our decorations, our gift-giving, our New Year noisemaking to point to the faithfulness of God.

So, this year, as the holiday season approaches, let your highest priority be honoring the Lord in all your do. Reflect on the meaning of each holiday and thank God for all He has done. Dear Sister, don’t be ruled by the expectations of others, or by traditions that only cause you to be busy. Instead, be thoughtful and purposeful in your activities. Maybe even put your feet up as you reflect on how wonderful Jesus is. Let your heart fill with joy and just maybe it actually is “the most wonderful time of the year!”


Photo by Nicholas Safran on Unsplash

Lisa Updike

Lisa Updike is the Director of Children’s Ministries at Covenant in Harrisonburg, VA and doesn’t remember a day when she didn’t love Jesus. Her ministry experience includes teaching, special education, leading children’s choirs, and writing. Several of her books and curriculum are available through the PCA bookstore. She and her husband, Kevin, have been married since 1989 and are blessed with 4 adult children, 3 of whom joined their family through adoption. Lisa and Kevin stay busy with church activities, creating art,  and best of all, doting on their two grandsons.