How to Cultivate a Stress-Free Holiday

a stress-free holiday

Show of hands, please, if you want to know the secret to a stress-free holiday?  It is said, that Christmas is the most wonderful time of year, but let’s be real, it can also be pretty stressful. There are numerous reasons for that, but I refuse to believe it has to be that way. I’ve spent many years wrestling through the motions trying to orchestrate the perfect holiday experience, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s not about the event.  

When I was a young wife and mother, my goal was to create a hallmark Christmas. Talk about an exercise in futility. Life doesn’t look like that and to be completely frank, the effort required to fit that picture-perfect ideal into the moving parts of our reality creates so much stress. Extended family is a beautiful gift, but the desire to please everyone can lead to some pretty dark places. 

So, how do we manage all of it? 

Well, I think it starts by letting go of our expectations and then making a deliberate choice to follow Jesus all the way through. Now, you may think that’s over-simplified and perhaps a little too broad, so let’s break it down. 

Christmas is a holy day. It’s a sacred day set apart so that we can contemplate and remember with gratitude, celebrating the intrinsic greatness of God. How we do that will look different from community to community, and even from year to year. So, before we can even begin to let go of expectations we need to re-frame our understanding of what the holiday is even about.

Re-framing Christmas as a Holy day

Here in North America, Christmas has been hijacked by consumerism, and for the most part, I think people are okay with it all. That may sound like a harsh indictment, but it’s true. We’ve abdicated what is truly sacred in an attempt to have everything. And each year, the gluttony of it all increases.

The opulence of Christmas cheer curated in the entertainment industry has a rancid taste to it. And while most of us are aware of it, put off even, we still work and run after it to some degree or another. This is not an accusation, so much as a confession. For sure, this is what I observe in my part of our global community, but even more, I know it’s the wrestle in my own heart too. 

Re-framing our picture of Christmas is the first part of the secret to a stress-free holiday. I’m not saying that all the traditions that we use to celebrate are wrong, just that we need to understand what Christmas is before we fall in line with the pageantry of it all. 

As Christians, we celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of Jesus, our Messiah. Christ came into the world to bring light, life, and hope—He is our salvation. This is a sacred Holy Day, set aside for contemplation, remembrance, and gratitude. It should lead to deeper intimacy. When that’s the starting point, what we do (our practices and traditions) has greater meaning and purpose. 

Preparing the heart for a stress-free holiday

The next part of the secret to a stress-free holiday is found in how we prepare our hearts. Re-framing our idea of Christmas is the critical starting point. Once we’ve got eyes locked on Jesus, it’s all about orienting and aligning the heart with his. What we do isn’t the point, it’s why we do it that matters.

A friend of mine recently said that as fun and delightful as preparing the house for the holiday is, getting her heart ready is the most important thing she on her list of things to do, for Christmas. I know just what she means, but I also know that can sound a little abstract. 

So what does it mean to prepare the heart for Christmas?

Well, from a practical standpoint I think preparing the heart starts with making room. And making room always requires some kind of surrender. Mary, the mother of Jesus gives us a beautiful example of what it means to let go of expectations and surrender to the goodness of God. 

And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the LORD; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her. 

 

Luke 1:38

Reading about how God invited Mary into His epic plan to bring salvation to the world never gets old. Think about it. Can you even imagine what that must felt like?  Mary’s life was so completely upended with this important assignment. She recognized that obedience would not bring acclimation from her community, yet she agreed with God, knowing it would mean surrendering her dreams and plans for marriage and family, and life. 

Like Mary, we need to surrender our ideas and expectations, so that we can experience the fullness of God’s goodness. 

Embracing stewardship

The next step of the secret of a stress-free holiday embraces stewardship. Remember how I said that Mary made room for Jesus?  She embodied that surrender in active obedience.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

 

Luke 1:39-42

Mary made room by surrendering and letting go, but also by stewarding the promise. She planted herself in a place where faith roots could grow deep and strong. She invested herself in a place where the promise could flourish. Did you catch how Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary came into the room? Obedience has a ripple effect.

Stewardship is a critical part of preparing the heart. Sure, we can reduce it to money management and investment portfolios, but the heart of stewardship always begins with surrender. It’s an act of worship that demonstrates complete trust—even if some of the circumstances around the offering tell a different story. Stewardship isn’t just giving, it’s about sowing into what we believe.

Mary carried the promise of God and stood in faith. That act of obedient faith was so powerful that her presence changed the atmosphere. If you want to eliminate the stress of gift-giving, then consider how you can steward the promise of God.

Boundaries

Boundaries are important because they give us guardrails in our everyday lives. The secret to a stress-free holiday is allowing the heart to operate within those safe places where life and health are nurtured, not just consumed.

Mary gives us an example of how to guard the heart. The scriptures tell us that she stayed with her cousin, Elizabeth for 3 months. Why? Mary’s unwed pregnancy would be met with judgment and ridicule. It was a dark time and the people of Israel were not looking at the signs. It doesn’t matter that the prophets spoke about a virgin birth, the spirit of doubt was just as alive then as it is now.

Mary accepted her assignment, but she went to be with those who would believe and nurture the promise. Could she have just stuck it out on her own? Sure, but she knew her human limitations and what was important. She chose to live and be with family who could nurture the assignment of God.

We all come from different places, so your boundaries may need to look different from mine, and that’s okay. The point is, we need to acknowledge our limitations and honor them as Mary did. If this is an area of weakness for you, then I want to encourage you to check out Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (this recommendation comes because I found the book helpful–period).

What boundaries do you need to set so that your heart can thrive?

A stress-free holiday

Cultivating a stress-free holiday

Okay, so we’ve talked about how the secret to a stress-free holiday includes re-framing Christmas as a Holy Day, preparing the heart, embracing stewardship, and establishing boundaries. But what does all that look like from a practical standpoint? 

Christmas is about remembering Jesus and celebrating the extravagant goodness of God. To really get a hold of that, we have to let go of the empty cultural mirage. Pursuing the heart of God in all of this means going deeper. This is about surrendering the heart to the fullness of God.

If you want to cut out the stress and create an atmosphere of shalom you are going to have to let go. Surrender to the love of a good, good, Father, who wants more for you than you do. His more just looks different. Trust Him and follow. Plant yourself in a place where your heart can flourish. 

Resist the temptation to just do it all. Be strategic about your yes’s and no’s. And just to make it a little more practical, here 5 disciplines that can help you prepare your heart for the fullness of God this Christmas.

5 Disciplines that help cultivate a stress-free holiday

  1. Simplicity

The goal of simplicity is to untangle the things of life that confuse and complicate. The deliberate practice of this discipline in life is always good, but especially so during the holidays.  So, instead of just adding more into an already busy schedule or full space, choose to cut back. Simplicity sets priorities that flow from loving God above all else, clearing and making space, and removing distractions.

 Embracing simplicity –10 habits that cultivate wholeness

 

2. Solitude

Solitude is actually a container discipline, which means it can be used to practice other disciplines, like contemplative prayer, centering prayer, practicing the presence of God, and others. The goal is solitude with God, meaning this isn’t something we do with others. Practicing solitude creates space in the heart to see the movement of God and to hear his voice. Our lives are busy and noisy, which isn’t always a bad thing, but the soul needs a safe and quiet space to commune with God. That’s what solitude does.

5 benefits of breaking through the barriers of solitude

 

3. Meditation

The goal of meditation for a Christ-follower is to look deeply at the work and word of God. Eastern religious versions of this are about emptying the mind, but that’s NOT what we’re talking about here. Meditating on the goodness of God means, chewing and ruminating over His promises. This is what it means to rehearse the promises of God. We think and contemplate over them again, and again.

4. Devotional Reading

Lectio Divina is an ancient form of devotional reading. It’s a slower, spirit-led, form of reading the scriptures that incorporates meditation and contemplative prayer. This has become one of my favorite ways to meet with God. It’s low and slow. If you want to hear the voice of God and encounter the more of His goodness, then be still and behold as you dwell in His word. Revelation into the daily things of life comes when we slow down enough to listen. Devotional reading helps us do that.

5. Contemplative Prayer

I think contemplative prayer is another container discipline. Essentially, the goal is to cultivate an open and responsive heart to be present with God. Disciplines like practicing the presence of God, Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, and prayer walking (just to name a few) are good options to explore. I am creative, so I often incorporate art, photography, writing, and music as contemplative expressions in prayer. 

I don’t know if you’ve caught on, but the goal in all of these disciplines is to slow down, quieten the soul, and behold the goodness of God. That’s it, that’s the secret to a stress-free holiday. Slow down. Let go. And embrace the goodness of God.

Why contemplative prayer is so worth the effort

 

Just one more thing…

Thanks for sticking around right to the end! I hope you found this post helpful and encouraging.   If you know someone who might need to hear these words, feel free to share! If you want more like this, I invite you to sign up for my weekly devotional called, The Grace Notes. 

Always,

Maureen

 

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