We all want to have a Merry Christmas. But many factors can sabotage the merriness we desire. I recognize this danger for myself. So, what follows is my pursuit of merriness: six ways I’m practicing my way towards a more joyful Christmas holiday. I write in hopes that one, or all six, of these practices speaks to you and enriches your Christmas.
1. Grieve the losses in your life that are not “merry.”
Ever since my mom died and since experiencing additional relational losses in my family, Christmas has been hard for me. This has now become a time of year where I more naturally feel loss than fullness. I’ve learned that I need to make space this time of year to feel and grieve these losses. You cannot experience wholeness in your life unless you’re paying attention to the wholeness of your life, which includes pain and loss. Healthy mourning is one of two key ways to keep your heart healthy. To fail to face and feel your grief is to pursue a superficial merriness. A helpful guide can be meditating on a psalm–many of David’s psalms model honest, healthy grieving in the presence of God. What do you need to grieve this Christmas? A loss? A desire unfulfilled? Feel and face that grief.
2. Make (and pray for) Christmas plans that you’re excited about.
Don’t just let Christmas happen to you, happen to Christmas. What I mean is: make plans. Do the best you can to proactively plan for a Christmas holiday that you’re excited about, that is life-giving. For me this started with brainstorming conversations and petitionary prayer with my wife several months ago as we shared with each other and the Lord our desires and ideas for this special time of year. This then developed into something we’ve never done before as a family, fresh plans that we’re excited about. In addition to our little family vacation, we’ve prayed for and made plans for little local gatherings/parties/get togethers/new traditions with friends that we’re excited about. What at first looked like a bare December months ago has shaped up to be a special, full month for which we’re profoundly grateful. What do you want? What plans could you still make for Christmas that would make things more merry? What prayers do you have for this Christmas? Go for it–pray and plan!
3. Focus your attention on all you have to be merry over.
“Merry: Showing high spirits or lightheartedness. Suggests cheerful, joyous, uninhibited enjoyment of frolic or festivity.” God is glorified by our merriness. As you process grief and loss, make the transition of focusing your attention of all you have to be merry over–all you have to be thankful for. Christmas is gift. Christmas is grace. Christmas is undeserved. Christmas is the historical, eternity-changing reality that God entered our grief-stricken world to be with us and bring us back into relationship with himself. At the center of Christmas is the call to make merry over the best gift ever: 8-ish pounds of human & divine in a manger in Bethlehem, and to make merry over all the gifts in our life which are undeserved. Grace is all around us, and we most appropriately enjoy this grace as we notice it and make merry. “I will make merry before the Lord” -King David (2 Samuel 6:21). How can you focus your attention in the most merry-making, God glorifying way this Christmas? What do you have to be thankful for? Make merry!
4. Slow down, do less.
I tend to operate at too fast a speed. My whole city does. Silicon Valley has one speed: full speed ahead. I’m learning to slow down, and I’m really enjoying it. To appropriately enjoy something, to experience deep merriness, to experience any form of deep change or transformation in your life, you’ll need to slow down and do less. Your heart can’t recalibrate until you slow down and do less. To flourish as a human you need appropriate space and pace. Don’t rush and hurry through this Christmas. Don’t try to do too much. If you’re in 5th gear right now, start shifting down. Try to make it to 3rd gear by Wednesday, 2nd or 1st gear by Friday. Where do you need to slow down? How can you do less this Christmas? Slow down, do less.
5. Make new, merry memories this Christmas.
Part of what made Christmas painful for me the last few years was a too-tight-holding-on of past Christmas memories (a time before devastating loss hit my life). This prevented me from moving forward and focusing energy on making new Christmas memories. Related to proactive practice #2 above, this Christmas I’m focusing on being fully present in the moment and treasuring the new memories I’m building with my family of five. What memories do you want to make this Christmas? Make these memories, and capture them with photographs or musings in your journal.
6. Focus on giving, not getting (aka, Forget yourself and love others)
Christmas is about receiving the greatest gift ever: Jesus and his unconditional love and in-breaking kingdom. Receiving this love makes you a new person, the kind of person who can let go of the slavery of self focus and increasingly enter into the freedom of self forgetfulness and loving others. The more you can forget about yourself and instead attend to loving others and giving, the more merry this Christmas will be for you and those around you. How do you want to use this Christmas to love and serve others? Know yourself, be yourself, forget yourself, and generously love others this Christmas.
Friends, I wish you a merry Christmas!