It’s wild how the holidays can bring out such intense sides to our personality. Right after we gather around a table with family and friends to thank God for His blessings in our life, we gather to malls and store aisles to wrestle one-another like gladiators for deals. Our displays make the news and from one breath to the next we move from gratitude to greed. The hustle and bustle continues for another six weeks, stretching over Christmas and finally to New Years. Yup. It’s a crazy time of year where, as a culture, we sacrifice to bless another one minute and indulge in almost every imaginable way the next.
In our marriages, the rush, the expectations, the schedule and the cookie induced sugar buzz can really make for some stressful--potentially explosive--situations. You might feel like your spouse turned magically into Mr. or Mrs. Clause and has a mission to give presents to the entire known world. Or perhaps you feel like your honey turns into the Grinch for Christmas and zaps the joy out of the celebrations. Or perhaps you feel like your wife turns into a real-life version of Frosty the snow-woman and has a melt-down at every holiday impasse. If this is anywhere near your Christmas family “traditions” then take heart; you aren’t alone! All families struggle with the extremes the celebrations bring out of and on us! Here’s a few tips to help you navigate the season:
Listen to each other. Whenever frustrations are bubbling near the surface, mentally slow-down and choose to engage in actively listening to one another. More often than not, the most frustrating part of a conflict is not that we see things differently, but that we feel un-heard and misunderstood. If she’s buying too many presents, listen to her heart and find out why. If he’s getting Grinchy, there is a reason. He hasn’t swallowed a magic potion and transported ya’ll to Whoville. Listen to each other and search out each other’s motivations and heart behind the issues.
Listening might actually help your spouse understand why they are doing certain things. One year at Christmas, I was pretty bent out of shape about a number of things. My sweet man listened to me recount the troubles of the day as I melted Frosty-the-snow-girl style into a puddle of woes. Then at the end of it all I said what was really bothering me--I missed my grandpa! My grandpa had passed away and it was the first Christmas without him. I was trying so hard not to let the grief swallow the happy things that I wasn’t letting myself see how much it was really bothering me. His listening provided a release and healing for me. So, go ahead and listen to your sweetheart!
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. James 1:19-21 NASB
Be a team. Commit to being more committed to your spouse than to your plans, expectations or Christmastime dreams. Nope. She might never make the pies the way your grandma did. Nope. He might never hang the lights the magical way your dad did growing up. It’s ok. You married a one-of-a-kind person who can only be who God made them to be! And all our Christmas wishes don’t hold a candle to the value of our spouse and our relationship with them. Choose to not allow disappointments to come between you. Don’t misplace your treasure by valuing plans over people and relationships--especially your relationship with God!
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:21 KJV
Make a plan together. While we want to avoid putting plans above people, we can steer clear of unnecessary headaches by coming to an understanding and agreement about holiday plans. If he expects to go skiing for New Year’s that will impact the Christmas budget. If she thought Christmas Eve dinner was at her parents this year, then it’s good to know before you tell your mom you are coming to her house! Sounds simple, but it’s so easy for the hustle and bustle to begin and before you know it, the calendar is full and no one knows how it got that way! Sit down and make a prioritized list of time and budget plans.
After you’ve made your plans, consider and pray about, the best way to guard those plans. Especially during Christmastime, my man is the social secretary. If it were up to me, we’d never sleep between Thanksgiving and New Year’s with all that’d I’d try to cram in! I know a couple who purchases one of those money-gift-cards and puts an agreed-on amount on the card for the wife to spend on Christmas presents. When the card is empty, so is the budget. No using the credit cards, no accidental debit overcharges! No more disagreements over the Christmas spending--yea!
Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so? Amos 3:3 NIV
Keep your focus. Christmas isn’t Jesus birthdate, but if we are going to celebrate it as His birthday, then HE should be the highest priority in how we budget our time, finances and Christmas activities. So practically, if Jesus is my celebration and priority, then it is more important that I reflect His love, joy and peace than that my house is spotless, that the cookies turn out just perfect or that all my presents are wrapped to perfection. You know there’s even been years I told my family I was just going to have to give them some of their presents for New Year’s. Everyone lived through it! And I was able to keep Jesus more at the center of my focus than if I’d tried to accomplish the impossible. If any of your activities rob your daily devotion time, tempt you into anxiety or anger, or pull your heart away from Jesus then it’s safe to say those things need to get trimmed out of your life.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2 NAS
When disappointments come, look for the good, look for the redemption, look for God’s hand and practice letting go of the little things. At a recent ministry conference a pastor’s wife shared an insight I’ve been turning over and over in my mind. She reminded us (a group of pastor’s wives) that our relationship with Christ is built on redemption, that our marriage is built on the redemption of two people who hoped to see His redemption in the lives of others and that our ministry will also be built on redemption. Disappointments come--whether they come to you or your pastor, are ministry related, or are in your family or marriage, career or calling, and it’s OK. We serve a big God and if all the rest of life is built on the redemption of our messiness, then our disappointments won’t kill us, ruin us or end us. They will simply become part of the bigger redemption story. If we won’t release small disappointments (like the potluck dish that spills all over the back seat or the family squabbles over who hosts Christmas), then how will we ever release the big disappointments to God’s redemptive hands? The Christmas season offers ample practice to release disappointments into God’s redemptive grip, doesn’t it?
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 NAS
May your marriage shine bright with the love, joy and peace that comes from knowing the One we truly celebrate!
April Motl is a pastor’s wife who loves to laugh, loves her man, loves to talk on the phone entirely too long and most of all, loves her Lord. April is a graduate from Southern California Seminary (MRS) and has written for Just Between Us Magazine, Dayspring's (In)courage, and The Secret Place and also writes regularly for crosswalk.com. For more information, visit Motl Ministries at: www.MotlMinistries.com