Preparing for Joy

As we journey toward the holidays, many of us already are noticing our stress levels rising and our calendars overflowing. We notice how much we could do, buy, have, or accomplish.  Sometimes we wonder how it, whatever our “it” is, will get done.

Yet, the truth is, we won’t do “it” all because we can’t.  Some things won’t get done and some things, we discover, we really don’t need to do anyway.

So, rather than wind ourselves up for stress, let us instead anticipate the holidays’ simple joys. This begins as we reflect on the reason for the season: gratitude, light and love, new life and opportunities, and, especially, God’s ever-abiding, compassionate presence in our lives.  From that perspective, we can rejoice in what matters most.

To guide the preparations:

  • Be still and silent. Stay committed to your daily prayer and meditation practice.  Use it often, especially first thing in the morning, at mid-day (or whenever you take a lunch break), and before you close your eyes to sleep.
  • Put on your own oxygen mask first, especially if you have young children, care for an elderly parent or ill spouse, manage a large staff, or oversee many projects. Remember: If we burn ourselves out first, little is accomplished and holiday prep becomes a burden rather than a delight.
  • Discern who and what you follow, especially if you’re healing from a recent loss, such as a loved one’s death. The 24/7/365 news cycle invariably has its share of sad stories, upsets and arguments, as well as its lists of the latest, greatest ways to spread holiday cheer.  Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to grieve without forcing yourself to be jolly when you aren’t.
  • During meals, even 5-minute coffee breaks or 10-minute snacks, avoid news, tweets and streams. Allow your body to absorb its physical nourishment without unpalatable information you can process later.
  • As you dine with others, gently guide conversations away from potentially contentious topics, such as politics and gossip, to something personal. For instance, ask guests about their favorite holiday memory, tradition, movie, music, or food, or about what kind of gifts they’d love to give and receive.
  • Before you rush to buy the latest, greatest gadget or toy, consider your “stuff.” If you lost belongings in any of the recent fires, floods, quakes or slides, you were forced to do this.  And if you weren’t, determine whether you or your loved ones truly want another tie, sweater, or coffee maker.  Consider instead the gifts of time and presence which can be enjoyed at movies, plays, concerts, museums or bucket-list adventures.
  • Overall, remember: Joy is a choice unlimited by time, place, or possessions. As we let joy flow into our lives, we feel it in our preparations as much as in our celebrations.

 

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Pie for Breakfast (And a Few Other Ways to Enjoy the Holidays)

During the Thanksgiving holiday before I left Washington, D.C. for good, I relished my time with family and friends. I honored my contemplative spirit which needed a respite from the fast-paced, high-powered lifestyle of “have-to’s, ” “musts” and “shoulds.” Especially, I enjoyed the Friday morning following Thanksgiving when Dad and I ate our traditional post-holiday breakfast of leftover pie and ice cream.

As I savored a combination of apple-cranberry and cherry garnished with coffee ice cream, I recounted a few disappointments, including our lack of a storybook holiday.  Dad, who’d worked in advertising, listened, then said: “Those only happen in movies and commercials.”

Alas, I knew he was correct.  And, as a pastor, I’ve witnessed how many people feel sadness and grief in believing that everyone else has a “Hallmark-Card-I’ll Be Home for the Holidays” experience.

The truth is: Few holidays are ideal.  And when we pressure ourselves to create such a fantasy, we set ourselves up for disillusionment and distress.  Furthermore, the pressure to meet others’ expectations or outshine our neighbors has us saying, doing and buying things which prohibit our contentment and stress our bodies, minds, spirits and bank accounts.

So, no matter whether we’re Type A’s, travelers, homebodies, partiers, contemplatives, or a bit of each, here are some ways to stress less and rejoice more:

  • Begin with the end in mind. During our prayer and meditation time, we can consider our schedules and what will most renew our spirits.  This includes determining who’s most important to us.  A beloved aged relative who affirms our purpose or an ill BFF who needs a boost gets priority over another cocktail party of vacuous conversation.
  • When gathered with a mixed group of varying beliefs and opinions, we can strive to listen more and persuade less. Remember: A person convinced against his/her will is of the same opinion still.  So, we can choose to gently disengage.  When someone, especially a loved one, wants to debate, we can say something such as: “I love you.  Let’s agree to disagree on this one.”  Then we can change the topic to something neutral, such as shared love of a sports team or our fondness for sweet potatoes.
  • If, for whatever reason, we can’t be physically present with loved ones, we can still call or video conference. Schedule a specific time of 20 minutes or more to connect and share.
  • Limit the highlight reels on social media so we enjoy ourselves without comparing our holiday to someone else’s.
  • Remember: Happiness occurs on a scale. This includes feeling calm, content, peaceful, relaxed and/or rested.
  • Remember also: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are days on a calendar. Their true purpose isn’t for overdoing, overeating or overspending, but for celebrating rich harvests, welcoming new life, and setting intentions for greater possibilities.  When we maintain this perspective, we often feel more grateful for what we have.
  • And, of course, consider eating pie for breakfast.

Happy Thanksgiving, Blessed Readers!

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.