During the holiday season, how many times have you watched a commercial on TV that shows a big table with 20 family members, passing a picture-perfect spread of food, as they gaily smile at each other? Wait, what? How did they finish cooking all of that food at the same time? Nothing is burnt or cold! I need to step up my “hostess game.”
Or this one: it’s Christmas, there’s a beautiful house, a 12 foot tree perfectly decorated, and two kids laughing as they run down the stairs to find all the gifts they circled in the ad. The wife opens her diamond necklace as dad notices a Mercedes, with a big bow on top, waiting for him in the driveway. Wow! We must really be failing as a family if this is how Christmas is supposed to be.
My kids usually open their three gifts and with a forced smile say, “Thaaaanks,” knowing that they will go to their dad’s house (yes, a broken home; unlike the Hallmark family on TV) and have a second shot at getting what they really want. Not only do I battle against the media and a culture that’s saturating my family’s minds with what our holiday is supposed to look like, but there are deep hurts and generational curses that thread through our family. As soon as October hits, so does my anxiety about the impending holiday season.
What food do I have to buy and cook?
Will my kids behave?
Will I contribute enough?
Will THEY help me clean up this year?
Whose house will it be at? I hope it’s not there, or worse…it’s here!
Will we do something to offend someone?
Will one of our four rowdy kids break something or be a bad influence on their cousin?
Should we make sure to ask what everyone wants, and overspend, so we don’t look bad when the gifts are exchanged?
Should we get family photos to show everyone how good we look and how perfect our kids are? #LivingTheAmericanDream!
And THEN, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, mind-reading, performing, and putting our best foot forward, we will take 15 minutes for a quiet pause and reflect on what Christmas is really all about. What? This seems so messed up, but we keep doing it EVERY YEAR! Why? And finally, after it is all over, we will go home to our empty bank accounts and wounded kids, because, in the words of my kids, “I was being a freak!”
This holiday fantasy robs us of the gift of our reality. I don’t experience the goodness of God and the greatness of what He gave us! He is so good; when we feel and BELIEVE this deep down, we want to share our experience with others—THAT’s the gospel! I want to have a heart like Jesus that hurts for the people on the street, the single mom trying to make it, the widow whose lonely heart is breaking, the parent whose child is away sacrificing for our freedom, and the kid who just lost his parent.
This holiday season, should we be running full speed and trampling over our kids just to accomplish a massive to-do list? Should we try to arrange gatherings with people we want to impress, rather than being present with people who need us to show them what God really meant by Advent? I’ve lost the joy of waiting expectantly for God to do what only He can do. I’m so consumed with making sure I don’t upset anyone and that nobody upsets me that I’ve lost sight of the purpose altogether. I’m so focused on getting to the end goal that I can’t hear anything God is whispering to me along the way.
As soon as that first family trigger hits—you know, that feeling you get when your heart speeds up and you feel a little angry inside—your mind begins racing about the things you could say or do to make you feel superior again. No? Just me? Okay, moving on.
This is NOT what the holiday season was meant to be. I should be teaching my kids about what it may have felt like to be alive during a time when people were waiting for their SAVIOR KING! I should be taking the time to show my kids Jesus through love and loving people. After all, it is the greatest commandment—Love God and love others. I want to do more of this and less approval-seeking. I want to feel that uncontrollable excitement because of who Jesus is and what He has done! I want to be flooded with childlike anticipation as I wake up each morning to see what God wants me to do.
I want to give until it makes me nervous.
I want to love until my heart feels like it might burst.
I want to serve until my hands ache.
I want pray until there are no more words.
I want to praise until my throat hurts.
I want my ears and eyes to be open to what God will ask me to do next.
I want my kids to be as excited about Jesus as they are about Santa!
This year, I have taken some drastic steps that have been hard for me (because I’m a peacekeeper), but so necessary. I’ve really had to take a hard look at myself and really HEAR what my kids were telling me. When I am nasty, mean, and acting like a ticking time bomb, something is wrong. God doesn’t want me to be this way with my kids, yet I get this way EVERY Christmas.
I have started keeping track of when I become triggered—experiencing body and mood changes that seem to happen randomly. I’ve started paying attention to when these triggers hit and when they do, I ask myself several questions to figure out the source. How can I address these issues in an honest, non passive-aggressive way? Like my friend says, I need to “use my words.” Using my words can be scary (because I might make someone mad), but how they respond is not my responsibility. If I am honest about the way I feel and why I can or can’t do something, then the rest is up to the other person. I can’t continue to bite my lip and then turn around to unleash a fire-storm on my children for spilling milk.
I’ve often found that it is easier to love people when I am honest about what I can and cannot do.
Let me give you an example: For YEARS, I have done all of the cooking, hosting, and clean-up at family holiday dinners. My family, whom I love, would show up right on time to eat. They would make comments about how well I prepared dinner, how something could have used a little more seasoning, or how I should have made a different dish that they saw in a magazine. Then, when dinner and visiting was over, they would leave; leaving me with all the mess to clean up. Not only was I left with a physical mess in the kitchen, but an emotional mess that often landed on my kids. I was SO stressed, I couldn’t even see them—truly see them. Their little hearts wanting to help, wanting to show me something, wanting me to engage. This isn’t fair to them and the madness has to stop.
So THIS YEAR, when I felt that initial trigger—while grocery shopping and I hate grocery shopping—I thought, “Nope, not doing this.” I went home and talked with my husband (because he’s super smart). I realized that I was mad!
Basically, I was feeling used. I know this wasn’t their intention; so instead of doing the same old thing—slamming cupboard doors and letting out huge sighs so everyone would GET THE POINT THAT I WANTED HELP—I decided to be a big girl and use my words.
I called my family and let them know that I would be hosting the family dinner and cooking three items. They were welcome to come, bring two items each, and help me clean up after dinner.
The amazing thing was that they did it! Now, I did have to work through some of my control issues—because I actually do like my cooking better—but it was worth it to see the proud faces of my family as they presented their best dish. Putting healthy boundaries in place resulted in less stress and I enjoyed the gift of being able to serve my family. I didn’t know it could be this easy! After my initial trigger, the anger I was feeling was completely diffused when I voiced my feelings in a healthy way. I was able to focus on loving my guests instead of being bitter that they weren’t doing more. My mind-reading was unfair and I was assuming that I knew their intentions.
There are some relationships that are fragile and difficult to navigate, especially during the holiday season. These family relationships can be in such a toxic place; they may require no interaction and a lot of prayer.
When you have experienced relationships that are so damaging—you cannot function as a parent or spouse—you HAVE to protect your family. Families have many generational curses that run deep. In relationships where so much trauma has occurred, it can cause you to repeat the same unhealthy patterns in your own home; withdrawing from your spouse and kids under the weight of shame.
When this happens, my husband and I will ask ourselves the same questions listed above to help identify the source of the trigger. Sometimes, even when you’ve asked all the right questions and put loving boundaries in place, the relationship is strained. The result: your kids end up with an angry, depressed, and withdrawn parent. When there is unprocessed pain and trauma in your family of origin, are you willing to let this same trauma impact the experience your kids have in your home?
I have to remind myself: I may have had some really messed up things happen to me in my upbringing, but I get a second chance with my own kids—it doesn’t have to be their story. Sometimes I have to do the hard thing and say, ”No. This is not good for me or my family. I pray that things can change and we can have a loving relationship with mutual respect, but until then, I need to protect my family from harm.” I have learned to:
Bring in wise counsel; someone who can help us both navigate feelings,
communication, expectations, and respect.
It’s okay to protect your family, even if it’s from other family members. It’s okay to not feel trampled on “in the name of being a good Christian.” It’s okay to not change all of your family’s ways of doing things—becoming the ugliest version of yourself—just because it’s what people do at Christmas.
This Christmas, I challenge you (and myself) to shift your perspective. What if we all focused on loving God and loving others? I want to start with the people right in front of me—for me, they usually get the scraps. For you, it might be someone different—that person who has been very difficult to love. The point is, God is really cool and very relational. If you ask Him where you should start, what is dirty and black in your heart, He will show you.
Do one thing different this holiday season! With each task you say yes to this Christmas, ask yourself, “Does this add or take away from my ability to love people, not impress them, LOVE them?"
Ashley is the International Women's Groups Coordinator for Pure Desire. She oversees all Women Regional Groups Leaders (RGL'S) and is a member of the Pure Desire Speaking Team.