“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV)
I love Christmas. I did not used to love it. As a mother and student or mother and career woman (depending on the phase of life I was in) I found the season demanding and stressful (did I mention I am also a career perfectionist; that alone is enough to ruin any good gathering). And then, of course, there is family. We all have one of those families.
The simple truth of the season is this: some of us spend the advent period leading up to the celebration of the birth of our redeemer as a Martha (rushing hither and to in a frantic effort to perform at some temporal standard for the holidays) and some of us can prepare for the holidays at the Savior’s feet, reflecting on the precious gift of all that is represented in the nativity (a Mary). But if we are honest, being a Martha comes a little more natural.
If we focus our eyes on that which is seen, on the temporal, we inevitably forfeit our joy and peace during the demanding holiday season. It is too easy to get caught up in making a perfect holiday meal, finding the right gift, the right party outfit, or in outdoing last year’s holiday tradition. But what part of those experiences will matter in eternity… or in 100 years?
However, there are many wonderful moments this season that will matter in eternity. Those “unseen” things include the relationships we cultivate, or repair, the joyful memories we create with those we love, and the careful preparation of our hearts, our inner lives, toward the gratitude and contentment that produce both joy and peace.
As you prepare for this holiday season, may you be encouraged to keep your eyes focused on the unseen, on the eternal. In the meantime, here are some practical tips to maintaining your sanity this season:
1. Be realistic. Do not set unrealistic or perfectionist expectations for yourself or others with regards to holiday gatherings and gift giving. Give yourself permission to be human and to enjoy the beauty of imperfection.
2. Practice all things in moderation. This applies to spending, eating, as well as other holiday indulgences.
3. Stay connected; this is the season to deepen relationships, build memories, or perhaps reconcile with someone with whom you have had some conflict or distance. Being connected to others, especially during this time of year, is imperative to reducing the experience of isolation and marginalization so many people seem to struggle with during the holidays.
4. Practice gratitude. This might be the single most important thing on this list. Pate wrote a wonderful blog last month on this very topic. Gratitude, as it turns out, is also very good for your body and brain. Gratitude activates the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that regulates sleep, appetite, body temperature, growth and metabolism) bringing the body’s systems into balance. But it also causes a release of dopamine (the feel-good neuro-transmitter) which not only makes us feel happier and more content and joyful, but also reduces pain (physical and emotional).
Finally, as you prepare for this holiday season, with an eye toward eternity, may you “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
The Faculty of the CBSS wishes you a very Merry Christmas and a truly Happy New Year!
Angela Deulen, Ed.D.
Associate Professor of Psychology