Facing the Holiday Stress

Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone; now it’s full speed ahead to Christmas. Yikes! Do you feel a case of holiday stress coming on? I do.

It’s that feeling of adding a mountain of extra work to an already full schedule. Happy work, maybe, but too much of it. The weeks between Thanksgiving and the first of the year are filled with extras:

  • High expectations
  • Many preparations
  • Noisy commercialization

These add up, not just in our schedules, but in our brains, making us a little crazy.

The Stress Gender Gap 

Despite our best intentions of making “Jesus the reason for the season,” we find ourselves much like the culture around us. Too busy. Too noisy. Trying to fit too much into an already full schedule. Trying to make extra decisions while pummeled by advertising.

Women tend to feel it more than the men around us. One survey documented the gender gap in Christmas stress. We are typically the ones who plan and shop and invite and cook and wrap and bake and decorate and clean up. This, on top of the all normal things we do. Men may offer to help, but women remain the primary project managers.

When we try to de-stress, we often do it in ways that hurt us more than help us. The numbers show that women, more than men, resort to holiday comfort eating and begin to jettison self-care, like exercise, out of our schedules. As many as 67% of women report stress during the holiday season, leading to a slow slide into the very behaviors that will increase the slump.

Garage Gym Reviews cites the problem, but then moves into a practical plan for addressing it. They cover why it is so easy for us to fall out of our fitness routines at a time when we need them most, as well as a list of obstacles and insights for getting back on track.

It’s helpful to consider these tips as well as other internet articles about holiday stress as we gear up to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Some of them are quite helpful, even coaching us to look beyond the holidays with fun ideas and motivation for striding into the New Year.

All well and good. But how can we turn to the Christ of Christmas to save us, even (especially!) in our Christmas preparations?

The Stress of Expectations

Christmas comes with a long list of expectations. We feel obligated to create the magic we remembered as a child. Layers of family traditions build up. But if holidays are hard, weddings are worse.

Jesus walked into just such a situation in Cana, a small town in Galilee—a wedding. Think of all the cultural expectations that would have surrounded such an event. Imagine the preparations and pressures on a host to please his many guests.

Jesus’ family were among the guests. His mother was invited. So was Jesus, possibly because as the eldest son he escorted his mother, taking Joseph’s place at public events.

But at this juncture in his life Jesus was more than Mary’s eldest. He had recently been baptized by John and blessed by a Voice from heaven. Only two days before, according to John’s timeline, he had called his first four disciples. His public ministry was just beginning. 

However, up to this point Jesus had not yet performed a miracle. Not one.

The Stress of Failure

The stakes are high at weddings. Food must abound and wine must flow. When the wine began to run low, the host must have panicked. Mary found out.

I love what Mary did instinctively. She turned to Jesus and told him. “They have no wine” John 2:3.

Did she understand who she was asking for help? Partly, but not yet fully. She knew the Scriptures. She heard what the angels had said. But Mary had never seen Jesus do a miracle.

Did she understand what she was asking him? Not really. For her the wine was a social necessity. For him it represented the cup of God’s judgment he would drink when it was time, when it was “his hour.” So he pushed back.

“Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” John 2:4.

Undeterred, she knew him well enough to say to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” John 2:5. 

Calling on the Christ

We know the rest of the story. They “did whatever he told them”—filling the urns with water, then drawing out a cup and taking it to the master of ceremonies. He pronounced it excellent.

The servants didn’t have a clue what he was doing. Jesus didn’t let them in on his plan. He didn’t scold or lecture. He simply, quietly, performed his first public miracle for the benefit of host and guests.

I’m comforted by this first miracle. The setting is my world, a stressed out hostess, trying to meet expectations and avoid failure. But the miracle changes my expectations.

Sisters, we are simply servants at the feast of Christmas. He is the Lord of the feast.

  1. Let your needs be known to him, just like Mary did. “Lord, I have no idea what to get Aunt Mary for Christmas.”  “Lord, I don’t know how I’m going to have enough money to cover these expenses.” “Lord, I have no joy.”
  2. Then do whatever he tells you. As you nibble on Scripture, hear his voice. As you shop and cook and wrap and bake, ask him for wisdom. His indwelling Spirit will give you insight. I could have the kids help with this. I don’t need to make that from scratch. Those expectations are not from Him.
  3. Finally, invite his presence. He is the joy of your feast in all his plenty and excellence.

“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11).

He will help us and we will believe in him again.

Next: Christmas in the Wilderness