How to Beat The Holiday Blues
Series: A Simple Christmas
How To Beat The Holiday Blues
(Original title: How To Beat the Holiday Blues)
There's a myth that suicides increase during the Christmas holiday season. It's not true; the Mayo Clinic reports that a recent 35-year long study found no increase in suicides during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. The Mayo Clinic also reports that even though people aren't more inclined to become clinically depressed during this time of year, many are inclined to get the holiday blues. There's even a medical term for it: SAD — Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Emotions that we keep at bay during other times of the year tend to surface during this season. For many people, the Christmas holidays aren't a celebration, they're a time of tension, disappointment, loneliness, and frustration. No doubt most of you have experienced this once or twice. For some of you, it's an annual event. Today we'll look at How To Beat the Holiday Blues. First, let's take a quick look at the cause.
What causes the blues?
Unrealistic Expectations. During Christmas we want everything to be perfect, and, of course, it never is. One mom told me, "At Christmas I want to be able to at least pretend I have a normal home." She expected the dysfunction of her family life to disappear just because it was cold outside, but it never did. Each year she became a little more disappointed.
Financial Pressure. Each year we want to give the kids their "best Christmas ever." In addition to our kids' gifts, we have a zillion other gifts to buy for extended family members, friends, co-workers, employers, and on and on. Plus we spend more on food and travel and decorations.
Busy Schedule. Even the most sedentary people — people who socialize only once or twice a month during the rest of the year — have a packed calendar during the month of December. There are parties and programs to attend, and we have to squeeze in time to do our shopping and baking and visiting and all the other activities that come with the season. We get too busy, and we feel like we're in such a hurry we don't have time to enjoy Christmas.
Family Conflict. Some people you see only once a year for a good reason: you don't get along. There are relational conflicts that date back decades, and every year these wounds are re-opened. One young father said, "The part I most dread is visiting my parents. We travel 500 miles just to endure 3 days of criticism about every detail of our lives — from how we raise our children to the kind of church we attend. But if we ever decided not to go home for the holidays, we would never hear the end of it."
These are some of the things that cause the holiday blues — there are probably others — and today we will look at some way we can avoid these pitfalls. Christmas doesn't have to be stressful. It can be a time of experiencing God's presence and connecting with our loved ones on a deeper level. But those things cannot happen if we spend too much, do too much, and expect too much from everyone else around us.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. ()
Today we'll look at three ways to rethink your attitude about Christmas. You'll learn how to beat the holiday blues, and see show this season can be transformed into a simple, Christ-filled Christmas. These ideas come from . This is the song that Zechariah sang when his son, John the Baptist, was born. The song isn't so much about the birth of his own son as it is about the coming of the new Messiah. Here are three things...
1. Rethink your expectations.
People who struggle with disappointment often approach the holidays with the wrong kind of focus — they try too hard to make it a perfect Christmas for themselves. They mentally script out how everything should be and what everyone should do. Not only do they end up disappointed, everyone else ends up exhausted. People who expect too much are emotionally draining. So give yourself and everyone in your family a break: expect less. Don't demand perfection from yourself, or your kids, or your siblings, or anyone else.
Remember, your family is not on TV, and you are not June or Ward Cleaver. Some things won't happen as planned. You'll run out of wrapping paper, or you'll forget to buy batteries, or you won't be able to assemble the bike, or the turkey will be dry, or someone will show up late for the family meal, or the kids will get into a squabble, or the adults will get into a squabble, or all of the above.
Rethink your expectations about this holiday season. Instead of asking "What will this Christmas be like for me?" ask, "What will I be like this Christmas?" Instead of thinking about what you can get out of it, think about what you can give. Isn't that what we're trying to teach our children to do? Maybe we should try it, too. Approach Christmas with the attitude of a servant; see each event as an opportunity for ministry.
This is exactly what Zechariah prophesied for his son. He said his son ministry would be...
77, 79 ...to give [God's] people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins...to shine on those living in darkness...to guide our feet into the path of peace.
In the next few weeks you'll see many people — including some you don't see very often — and you'll have a chance to minister to them...to be merciful, to be forgiving, to be a peacemaker.
Imagine the kind of Christmas everyone would have if your attitude became: Christmas doesn't have to be perfect for me this year; I just want to spread love and joy to everyone else. Sounds like something Pollyanna would say, doesn't it? Well, maybe, but people will sure appreciate it. Rethink your expectations this year; minister God's love to everyone. Secondly...
2. Rethink your obligations.
In December you can easily find yourself with something to do every night of the week. At our house, in the next ten days we have 3 ballet performances, 2 band concerts (and special rehearsals for each one), a Christmas party to attend, and relatives coming in to visit — and Christmas is still weeks away! We haven't picked out our tree yet, or trimmed it; we haven't taken the kids to do their shopping (or finished all of ours), and what's more, we have relatives coming in. We haven't decorated the front of the house; we have a big, tangled ball of lights in the attic that needs to be unraveled; we haven't yet addressed our Christmas cards — in fact, I'm not even sure we've bought them yet — and did I mention that we have relatives coming in?
It's easy to get overwhelmed. There's all this stuff to do, and your schedule spins in circles until you finally admit there's no way you can do it all. Save yourself some trouble; realize it now. Remind yourself: "I can't do everything I want to do, or that everyone wants me to do, or all that I think I should do. I have to re-think my schedule and make sure I do those things that are most important."
It would be a shame to make it to a half-dozen parties but never have time to serve others. It would be a shame to see all the lovely decorations on the houses in the best neighborhoods, but to never notice the people this community who are in desperate need during this time. It would be a shame if Christmas became just a flurry of activity, preventing you from finding the opportunity to share Christ with someone else.
This Christmas season I'm challenging you to rethink your obligations. All those things you think you have to do in order to make this a perfect Christmas, well, maybe some of them aren't really all that important. Think about what really matters. In today's text, Zechariah gives us a clue. He's talking about why God is sending the Messiah to earth, and he says one reason is...
74-75 ...to enable us to serve him out without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
Jesus came into this world in order to give us a whole new perspective on life. He came so that we could learn how to spend our days not serving ourselves, but serving him.
We serve him by serving others, so look for opportunities to do it. When you help someone, you offer your service not only to them, but to God. Rethink your obligations. Restructure your priorities. Give yourself a chance to do something for someone else this holiday season.
Some may ask, "What does this have to do with beating the blues?" Everything. It's hard to be depressed when you're helping others. It's how we are made. Helping others doesn't just benefit them, it benefits us, too. Solomon said...
A generous man will prosper. He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. ()
Rethink your obligations. Instead of filling your schedule with activities that please only you, look for ways to serve others. And take joy in knowing that you are doing something to benefit someone else. Thirdly...
3. Rethink your celebrations.
It's amazing how some celebrate Christmas — rocking around the Christmas tree, drinking too much at the office party, or judging how well it went by the gifts you get. Even Christians sometimes make the mistake of putting too much emphasis on the externals of the holiday — family time, big meals, unwrapping presents. There's nothing wrong with these things, but there's much, much more to celebrate at Christmas.
During my first year of ministry, Christmas fell on a Sunday. I was pastoring a church of about 50 people. On the Sunday before Christmas, one of the leaders came to me and said, "We've decided not to have church next Sunday." I thought he was joking, so I laughed. He said, "No...I'm serious. We all want to be with our families on Christmas day, and it's too much trouble to get out and come to church."
I had already expected the Christmas Day turnout to be lower than usual, but I didn't expect that we would shut the doors of God's house on his Son's birthday. Later, I made this announcement: "Here's the deal. We're having church on Christmas Day. It will be a different kind of service. You don't have to dress up — in fact, you can bring the kids in their pajamas if you want. I'll bring my guitar and we'll sing Christmas carols, and we'll read the Christmas story, and we'll have communion."
I thought my family might be the only ones there, but as it turned out, almost everyone showed up. We had a simple service with singing and scripture reading. We held hands and prayed. We shared communion.
Afterward, one lady in the church, (who never was my biggest fan) said to me, "That was one of the loveliest services I've ever been to." Of course, that might have been because I didn't preach. I think, however, it was because the service was a simple celebration of God's love shown to us through the gift of his Son.
I'm saying this: In addition to the family celebrations and parties, let's not forget to celebrate Jesus. Without him, our lives would be nothing. Without him, this world would be in total chaos. (You think things are bad now? Imagine what the world would be like if Jesus had never come.) Take some time this year to worship Christ as our Lord and Savior. It's a cliché, but it's true: Jesus is the reason for the season. Let's all celebrate him this Christmas. This is what Zechariah encouraged us to do...
68 Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation of for us...
72 ...to show mercy to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant.
As we read in the book of Romans earlier, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Paul is saying: "Change your thoughts and you can change your life." I'm saying the same thing about Christmas: Change your thoughts, and you can change your Christmas.
You don't have to be on edge all month. You don't have to dread the hectic pace. You don't have to miss out on God's blessings. Rethink the way you approach Christmas. Rethink your expectations and your obligations — and look for ways to minister to and serve others. Rethink your celebrations — remember to focus your attention on Jesus: worship him and celebrate the wonder of love. This will help you beat the holidays, and will give you the best Christmas ever.