Have you started to feel SQUEEZED by the holiday season yet?
Maybe it was all that you could do to get through Thanksgiving with the family... Or maybe your son has gone through such a grueling stretch of medical challenges that you feel driven to get him that one thing he really wants at that Black Friday sale... Or perhaps your daughter is already tipping the scales of anxiety thinking about the school's upcoming Christmas program. You see where I'm going with this. The insane amount of PRESSURE this time of year can rob us of every ounce of joy that the season was meant to hold.
We want so badly for our children to enjoy the best parts of the holidays like we did when we were young. We want them to fully participate and be filled with the wonder and excitement these days hold. We want them to be left with happy memories to carry along with them into their adult years.
At the same time, we have unbelievable pressure pushing and driving us. Relatives expect us to show up for their parties and dinners, nicely dressed with well-behaved children. Teachers expect us to help with classroom parties and public performances. The boss expects us to be at the company "holiday party," undistracted and undetered, showing our devotion to the corporate family. The Christmas cards... The cookie exchange... The extra volunteers needed at church... They all press in on us this time of year.
What if we gave the best gift ever this year? What if we released the pressure valve, let some of that steam evaporate, and said, "ENOUGH!"?
We may seldom think of it, falling victim to the marching orders of others, but we can give a gift to our children that they will never forget: MERCY.
This is what the gift of mercy looks like in a household where a child has a chronic medical issue or special needs:
- Saying "NO" to many more things. This means taking the pressure off our children to endure programs and parties that overwhelm them. It's okay to sit out the neighborhood round robin for a couple of years. Not going to your sister's on Christmas Day with 80 people might be a wise choice for a time. It could even mean that you make a limited appearance somewhere out of deference to your child and their needs. Regardless, relieving yourself and your child of that tension can actually open up the opportunity for a deep breath of that crisp winter air and the peace it brings.
- Choosing your battles. I can remember the year that our youngest daughter's sensory issues were at the peak of their chaos. While all the other little girls were adorned in pretty bows and dainty dresses, our girl wanted nothing of the sort. Tags, and tights, and certain materials drove her crazy. I managed to get her to wear a puffy, polka dot, corduroy vest, over her long-sleeved shirt, so she at least looked presentable for a winter program. In the big scheme of things, it didn't matter one bit what she was wearing. Yes, this can be one of the times where it stings to have a child who is different. Yet, years later, you will be so glad you didn't ruin yourself over holiday attire, and may even smirk when you look back at those photos from Christmas past.
- Change YOUR expectations. This really flows out of the "choosing your battles" mentality mentioned above. No matter who we are, we each have our vision of what we want the holidays to look like. This is another piece of life where we need to "die to self" or we will rob ourselves of enjoyment. After numerous holiday seasons where we were facing surgeries or joblessness or a death in the family, I learned that flexibility and just living fully in the moment creates the opportunity to appreciate things as they come.
- Cuddle up close to the ones you love. Honestly, as every year passes, I see more and more how just being together is all that matters. As we snuggle, sharing the story of God-come-to-earth, a sense of awe seems to easily wash over all of us. The praise goes up to the Lord, and the blessings fall down on us. What more do we need than that? Pausing together to quietly realize that every moment is a gift trumps every other expectation, demand, ceremony, or celebration that nips at our heals.
PRAY: Jesus, help us to remember that the last way You would want us to celebrate your birthday would be to rush, and push, and demand of one another. This year, let us offer ourselves and our families kindness and clemency when it comes to so many expectations involved in the season. Remind us of Your love and mercy, that we may offer each other the same.
~ Barb Dittrich