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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas stress’

 

christmas-tree

Each year our Christmas tree gains more decorations and loses any semblance of colour coordination.   But each year I love our tree a little more. It captures memories from long ago, with its frayed and faded decorations which once adorned the Christmas trees my husband and I gazed at as children and the collection of treasures made by our sons when their fingers were small and chubby and scribbly masterpieces were presented to us with enthusiastic smiles and lots of glue and glitter.   It’s a tree full of memories.

Christmas is a funny time which brings out both the best, and the worst, in many of us.  I think of it as the bipolar time of year.  When the mood is high, we have the warmth of community carol evenings, churches gathering treats for hampers for the needy, the giving and receiving of gifts and all of the champagne-popping feasting and festivity that happens when friends and family get together.  But then there’s the low mood moments – the pushing and shoving to be first in line at the shops, the road-rage to find a parking spot, the arguments in the supermarket, the stress about having too much to do, the anxiety of waiting to face a festering family conflict on Christmas Day and that lonely empty feeling that everyone else is having a much better time than you.

I witnessed both the highs and the lows last week on a brief trip to our local shopping mall.  There was the helpful man walking by in the congested car park who directed us to a free car space, just out of our vision.  He didn’t need to do this, but he did.  But then there was the lady who pushed into a queue ahead of us, making no eye contact, head held high.  The lady serving saw what had happened and pleasantly said to both of us:  “So who was next?”  The lady jumped in immediately, like a winning contestant on Family Feud punching her buzzer with: “I was”.  She reminded me of a footballer diving in for the winning try.  And I let her enjoy her victory.  When she left the shop assistant made a comment about the rudeness of shoppers at this time of year, and we laughed together. 

On the next leg of my journey I noticed a woman with a young daughter with her shopping trolley stuck on a busy escalator. She wasn’t strong enough to shift it and  the crowd grew rapidly behind her, building up like items on a conveyor belt.  There was lots of huffing and puffing and rolling of eyes and a few creative expletives were thrown around. Eventually one man found it in himself to assist her, but even then it was done in an angry and abrupt manner.  The lady’s small daughter looked on with large frightened eyes.  Meanwhile “Silent Night” played away in the background and the pretty lights twinkled. 

It’s interesting how stressed we become at Christmas.  There’s so much to do, so much to organise, and there’s this gnawing feeling deep inside that our lives have to look and feel perfect at this time of year.  Sometimes in all the striving, the worst in us can come to the surface:  the selfishness, the aggression, the Me-First attitude.  Just as we long for peace, joy and hope all we see are chaos, stress and misery staring right back at us. 

If you are feeling this way this Christmas, if that little knot of anxiety is starting to form and grow in your belly, can I encourage you to step back and remember what Christmas is really all about.  It’s not actually about overspending and eating lots of turkey.  It’s about the person we occasionally catch a glimpse of in the Nativity Scene or hear snippets about in a Christmas carol.  He doesn’t play a starring role in the whole Christmas extravaganza these days, but Jesus is the meaning and heart of Christmas. He came to bridge the gap between mankind and God and to model a life of sacrifice, service and compelling love.  

So please pause for just a moment this Christmas. If you have a long Christmas gift list be thankful for it.  My list is smaller than it once was, with a few key family members now missing.  If Christmas holds memories of absent family members and times long past, pause and remember them and don’t be ashamed of the tears.  Just let them fall as they heal and cleanse you.

If someone steals your parking spot, smile at them and don’t yell.   This will probably shock them more than your yelling will.  The other day I blew a kiss and smiled encouragingly at a man who cut me off in traffic.  You should have seen his face!  So much more satisfying for the soul than getting flustered.  Smile at strangers, help people when you can and give someone who really needs it an anonymous gift.  

Breathe and look around you.  Buy simpler gifts and serve simpler food if the effort of creating perfection is impacting your mental health.  It won’t matter.  You’ll be more relaxed and have more fun that way and that’s what people will notice.  Even if your house isn’t pristine and perfect, Christmas can still be wonderful.  I hope that whatever Christmas looks like for you this year, whatever memories and longing it stirs up, that you will be warmed by the true Christmas spirit  – the flame of God’s unconditional love and the light of peace which surpasses all understanding.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

" ... because of the tender mercy of our God,
     by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
  to shine on those living in darkness
     and in the shadow of death,
 to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Luke 1:78-79

 

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Sydney flower memorial

Martin Place flower memorial

It’s Christmas night and a stillness has settled over our home after all the busyness.  Our bellies are full, our eyes bleary and there are discarded bits of wrapping paper all over the house.  I love the gently flashing Christmas lights – silver and gold dancing in our darkened loungeroom.  Tonight I can finally take a breath and think about all the joy, wonder and longing that Christmas evokes in me.

I think of the families who are facing a time of deep sorrow this Christmas. Sydney was adorned last week with a floral memorial in Martin Place, the vivid colours and sweet fragrances symbols of our collective grief and sadness at a cafe siege where two hostages and the gunman lost their lives.  The flowers brought beauty to a place tarnished by ugliness and evil.  They have since been removed, but the memory of that sea of flowers has left a lasting image in my mind.

The flowers were a positive and powerful reaction to an act of violence against innocent souls.  They demonstrated that people have the capacity to react with love and grace, rather than rushing to seek revenge or to judge others, and I felt so moved by this spirit of love.

Christmas is many things to many people. For some it is packed full of gift-giving, heart-warming folk stories of Santa, lights transforming ordinary suburbs into fairy lands, and bucket-loads of delicious food which we devour unashamedly. For others it is a lonely time where ‘Brady Bunch’ families flaunt their perfection and amplify the emptiness we feel, where fractured families are forced together and old grievances are revisited, or when financial pressure stretches us to the limit. Whether yours was a positive or a negative Christmas, it’s easy to forget the reason for all the fun and fuss – the humble birth of Jesus.

Reflecting on Jesus and the extraordinary way he lived his life tonight has highlighted a few truths for me.  These truths are just as relevant today as they were over 2000 years ago.  One thing that jumps out at me is the unexpected and controversial ideas Jesus held in violent and turbulent times:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.… ” (Luke 6, 27-28)

History tells us that Jesus lived an exceptional 33 years on our planet. He wasn’t exceptional in conventional terms.  He wasn’t powerful or rich, but he was exceptional in his love for all mankind – particularly those who were doing it tough – the diseased, the mentally ill, the disabled, the homeless and those on the fringe of society, the prostitutes – and even the much hated tax man. He offered acceptance, healing and new life to everyone searching for it.  But he was betrayed and murdered while still a young man, despite the fact that he’d done nothing wrong. When faced with unspeakable violence, he didn’t fight back.  He didn’t condemn his murderers, but forgave them. Even while hanging on the cross, he spoke healing words to the criminal hanging next to him.  Yet in his life he was never weak or wimpy. He never hesitated in pointing out to the religious hypocrites the error of their ways. But he didn’t try to force himself on others, he never resorted to violence and he always responded in love. Jesus lived his life overcoming evil with good.

I wonder how somebody as flawed and ordinary as me can ever hope to follow in such lofty footsteps.  Two weeks before Christmas I was in my local post office and I encountered a woman who gave me a clue to the answer.

Struggling under my bundle of Christmas parcels, I hastily grabbed some post-packs and fumbled my way back to write the addresses. The post office was elbow to elbow crowded, with a line of flustered shoppers going right out onto the footpath. The atmosphere of tension and impatience was suffocating. Finally at the desk, I grabbed a pen on a string to write the addresses.  It didn’t work.  I moved to the next one, but this pen was out of ink too.  I scribbled and scribbled on a spare piece of paper, but all I got was dry scratching.  Anxious now, my face getting hot, I reached into my bulging handbag and everything you could wish for was in there – except a pen.  At this desperate moment I felt a gentle pat on my arm. I looked up to see a kind face of a woman, smiling knowingly at me.  “Here you are dear. I have plenty. You can keep this one.” It was a shiny, burgundy pen, full of blue ink.  I smiled and got teary all at once.  Her kindness and thoughtfulness overwhelmed me.  In that one simple act, a rushing tide of selfishness and stress lost all its power, and kindness and joy gently and gracefully took over.

So this Christmas, let’s not despair at the evil intentions of others, but instead remember that each of us has the choice to tip the scales for goodness.  Jesus is so much more than the baby in the manger in the nativity scene. His spirit of love lives on like a steady flame which ignites and glows more brightly each time one of us offers a simple act of kindness.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.    Romans 12:21

Happy Christmas to all and a big thank you to my readers, for taking the time to read my rambling thoughts, for your thoughtful comments and special friendship.

 

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