We are well into the season now and at least some people are getting cranky. There are reasons of course, but it seems that many of us are falling into habits that need to be nipped in the bud. Of course the reason we are doing this is the same reason why it is a bad idea! It is the holiday season and people are trying way too hard to make it perfect.
Guess what? It isn't going to be perfect, so we all need to back off. We need to show some grace to ourselves and to each other. The picture in our head isn't going to happen. Still, if we chill out a bit what will happen will be better than what we can reasonably expect.
In our house right now we are having quite a few conversations about decorations. We feel like--for very good reasons--we are way behind and each of us has a different picture in our head of what each room would ideally look like. We are also stressing out about shopping lists and food. I also get to be stressed out about the various religious services and other church events that other people have vested with more wieght than they can realistically bear. If we--all of us--aren't careful, the whole season can become a narrative of disappointment. Who wants that?
This brings us to an important subject. We need to monitor ourselves and our mental health during the holidays. Part of this is self-care. Part of this is caring for others. Often we tend toward one. However we are social people so each circles back around. Anyway, here are some things to think about doing for the next few weeks and maybe beyond...
Practice forgiveness: This is as good a place as any to start. Yes, this means forgiving ourselves for not getting every single thing right. However, it also means forgiving the people around us even if they aren't quite measuring up. Everyone is in this together. Everyone is having a hard time. We need to practice a level of grace when we are out in the world. We need to do the same in our own head-space.
So the wreaths aren't as full and bushy as you would like them to be. Can you forgive yourself for getting them anyway? Can you forgive the harried worker who sells them to you? Hint: the answer should be "yes" both times. The holiday is not about the quality of the wreaths. The holiday is not about the stress you are feeling about them either. Take a breath. Figure out what is going on inside you. It probably isn't about what is setting you off, after all. One of the many themes of the Christmas story is that nothing is perfect but God still exists in the midst of those imperfections. This is a good thing to remember right now.
Get some exercise: We all need to step away a bit and give our bodies time to practice just being bodies. Sure, running about from task to task does burn calories. However, that is not what exercise is about. It is as much a mental re-set as anything else. We need that. We need to remember that we are alive and vibrant children of the Divine. Walking is good. So is going to the gym. If you are one of those people who can afford a Peloton and a place to store it...do a session a day. Part of what is making us cranky is that we are neglecting ourselves in favor of this extended and constantly extending holiday season. Exercise--whatever works for you--will give you perspective and energy you need.
Cut back on consumption: This one should be obvious...but it is hard to do. It also comes in two forms. We over consume during this time on things and on food. We should be watching both. No one is making us buy wreaths, or a tree, or an expensive scarf for Aunt Sally, or whatever it is we are stressed about right now. We also don't need to put everything in our mouths! Too much alcohol makes us depressed and can cause so many social problems when we act before we think. Too much food makes us sluggish and sad. If we do absolutely nothing different this season--if we just eat beans and vacuum occasionally--do you know what happens? Christmas still starts on December 25. Amazing right? In fact, the beans and vacuuming are optional! Time just keeps marching on.
Get Nerdy: Literally everybody I know has something they do that makes them happy. It can be reading a particular genre of fiction. It can be studying a specific area of history. We engage variously in video games, tabletop roleplaying games, model trains, carpentry, playing or collecting music, and knitting. There are more examples, of course. Yeah it's the holidays and we are busy. Yeah we are carrying around feelings that come from past holidays, missing people, and regular-old conflicts. However, we are also going to drive everyone crazy if we don't do the things that help us relax. Engage your passions, people! As with exercise, they help us to step away.
Embrace Imperfection: This is the big one, which is why I am circling back. Perfection is killing us. None of us are going to get there this season. Honestly, trying will make it worse. Advertisers, our families, our friends, and society in general are attempting to get us to be perfect. We--yes all of us--are expecting perfection from everyone else. I mean, what a small and petty way to live. Perfection is the enemy of the good. We cannot let perfection win. So yeah...stop trying so hard. Stop feeling bad about when things go south a bit. Stop expecting more of others than we are able to sustain for ourselves. We are doing good and that is enough.
I guess what I am saying today is that I am very much in favor of a slacker Christmas. Let's step back a bit and just do things in there time. If time runs out...well...it wasn't meant to be, was it? That is OK. This time really isn't worth getting ourselves messed up over. It isn't worth messing up others or our relationships with them, either.
I am leaving you this video as well. Abbie Barnes is a young hiker and mental health activist from England. She produced this video during the plague and addresses many of the same issue from a mental health perspective.
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.