The week before Thanksgiving, it always happens – I start shoving away a growing sense of dread that begins to gnaw at the edges of my stomach and that I can taste at the back of my throat. It’s a growing realization of all that has to be done in a short span of five weeks – organize, cook, and host Thanksgiving meal, put up Christmas decorations, celebrate my birthday, organize my gift list, buy gifts, wrap gifts, plan fun events, attend fun events, host fun events, order a family Christmas card that includes a picture of all six of us are smiling and looking like we are enjoying the season, address, stuff, stamp, and mail ordered Christmas cards, celebrate Advent each week personally and as a family, shepherd older kids through finals and younger kids through end of quarter tests, make sure there is enough food in the house to feed six people three meals a day, shower occasionally, and act like I am having a happy, merry, Christ-filled heart through the whole process. Ugh.
To be honest, most of the time, I want to crawl into bed sometime around November 20th and crawl back out on December 26th when it’s all over and life can be somewhat “normal” again.
Can anyone else relate? Please tell me I’m not the only one.
About five years ago, I started to really pay attention to this growing sense of dread when one Christmas morning, the dread and despair were so bad, I almost could not get out of bed. It took everything in me to make it through the day, and once December 26th hit, I think I stayed in my pajamas and slept for 48 hours straight. At that point, I had a decision to make: I could start paying attention to my dread at its beginning stages and start to be real about it, confess it, bring it into the light, and then learn to allow Jesus to be “enough” for the minutes of each day through the Christmas season, or I could continue to be consumed by it.
I had suggestions from well-meaning friends that I just needed to be thankful for what I had – a beautiful house, a godly husband, the means to buy my children gifts, and a wonderful family with whom to celebrate Christmas. But that did nothing to alleviate my dread. It only added to it – I felt like it was entirely up to me to pull myself up by the bootstraps and be more thankful, which only added to my guilt when I couldn’t be.
Getting rid of the dread and despair at Christmas time hasn’t been easy or a quick fix; I am definitely still in process. But what I am learning – and the only thing that ever really helps – is this: to lean more into Jesus.
I know that probably sounds like too simple of an answer or not helpful at all, but I have found for me personally, it’s the only thing that helps. It doesn’t eliminate my anxiety during and around Christmas, but it does give my anxiety a place to go when it happens (which is multiple times throughout the day).
In his book Managing Leadership Anxiety, author and pastor Steve Cuss explains that anxiety occurs at any given moment when we tell ourselves we need something apart from Jesus that we don’t actually need.
He writes, “Anxiety shrinks the power of the gospel because it presents a false gospel – one of self-reliance rather than reliance on God. The gospel of self-reliance is always bad news because it always leads to more anxiety. But if I can learn to notice it, eventually name its source and triggers, and move past it, I encounter the actual good news of Jesus, the gospel of grace, which always leads to freedom.”
Anxiety lessens, shrinks, and actually goes away when I pay attention to my thoughts and identify and name what I am actually believing I need in any given moment and situation apart from Christ. When I can confess it, bring it up into the light, and then remind myself and name who Jesus is, how sufficient, good, kind, compassionate, forgiving, intentional, just, and merciful He is, then I can let go of my perceived need apart from Him and embrace the one thing that is truly needed, which is His presence.
What this looks like practically speaking is when I wake up on a Monday morning in the weeks leading up to Christmas with a churning pit of anxiety, dread, and despair in my stomach, I have to name things one by one. I often believe…
- I don’t have enough time today to do the things I need to do.
- I will not have enough time to purchase the gifts I need to purchase for the people I love.
- Sending out a Christmas card on time is an indicator of what kind of mom or person I am.
- Getting things done is more essential than loving the person right in front of me.
- Having my house look a certain way by December 1st is more important than being present to my family over the Thanksgiving break.
- And the list goes on and on…
But once I name those things, I am learning to lean into Jesus and trust instead…
- My time is in God’s Hands. I am only human. I only have 24 hours in a day, and 7-8 of those need to be dedicated to sleep. God will make room for me to do the things that are essential and eternal, and whatever is left on my list at the end of the day means it was not ordained by God to happen.
- No matter how well I manage my time, it will never be “enough.” Accomplishing my to-do’s isn’t dependent on me or a perfect schedule; I am dependent on God. And when I make a mistake or miss something, He redeems my time, gently turns me around, and somehow makes it better than if I had actually done it “right” or perfectly the first time.
- The greatest gift this Christmas season has already been given – it is Jesus Himself, the Son of God. His name is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). More than my children or the people I love need a new pair of tennis shoes, earrings or t-shirt, they need Jesus. They need to unwrap His presence in their lives, and if His presence through me is what I give, then that is enough. The greatest gift has been given.
What I am learning, little by little, is this – as long as I am anxious, I cannot be present to a very real God who stands to help me and others around me throughout my day. I am only relentlessly present to myself, my own short-comings, my own inabilities, and powerlessness to get things done or even know what the next right thing is to do. And that is what breeds despair.
But once I confess my anxiety and lean into Jesus, I create space in my heart for God to move. I say, “Here, God, I am not enough, but You are.” And in that moment, as I pay attention to His presence instead of fear, I can take the next step, and then the next one, and then the next. It is His presence alone that gives me life.
Each day becomes a peaceful journey of reliance on Him instead of myself.
It doesn’t mean my dread or tenseness permanently goes away, but it does mean it has a place to go when it occurs, and I can be free from its tyrannical grip over my life one thought, one decision, and one moment at a time.
My goal during the five weeks leading up to Christmas is shifting little by little, step by step, day by day. Whereas my goal used to be to get a certain number of things accomplished by Christmas, my goal now is to offer people around me, especially the ones in my very own home, a non-anxious presence throughout Christmas.
Once again, Steve Cuss writes, “a non-anxious presence does not mean that you no longer battle anxiety, it means your anxiety no longer infects your system, and your capacity to manage others’ anxiety is increased…..Taking on their anxiety would not have served them, nor would being aloof to their pain. Keeping the space between us also awakened me to God who was there in the room offering peace into the storm.”
Let me say that a different way to all you mommas out there: taking on your children’s anxiety during the finals, end-of-school, Christmas season, will not serve them. It will not. Nor will being aloof to their pain or emotional ups and downs or fear. But staying present to the God who is our Wonderful Counselor in confusing moments, Mighty God in weak, frail moments, Everlasting Father in our aching, unseen moments, and Prince of Peace in our fearful moments will. What will serve your children best is you maintaining a trusting, peaceful, steadfast presence before the face of God, and offering for them to step into that space with you. His presence, not yours or mine, is what brings peace into any of their storms.
So can we take a moment together right now and simply exhale? Can we turn our hands up and relinquish our anxiety and fear into the Hands of the One who holds it all? Can we surrender our gift lists and to-do lists to the Gift Who has already been given and stands ready as our wise counselor, powerful protector, eternal father, and peaceful prince to shepherd our hearts through this Christmas season?
He doesn’t want your perfect house, or your perfect meals, or your perfect party, or your perfect Christmas card, or even your perfect family. He wants your heart. And as you give it to Him, He will give you Himself and help you to give His peaceful presence to others throughout Christmas.
Anybody ready to take the journey with me? Immanuel, our God with us, has come.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
For more information on restoring your attachment through your senses or earned secure attachment, check out Susannah’s book, Restore and download the first chapter for free!