Themes of joy and gladness saturate the chilly air of December. Between the celebration of Christ’s birth and the magical hype of Hallmark flicks and orchestra melodies, Christmas is painted as the pinnacle of joyous occasions. And it can be. Yet how many times have I complained about a sub-par Christmas gift? Or curtly replied to a relative who asked the wrong question? Or wished I had a front yard that looked like that? Or … I’m running out of fingers.
As much as we hope we’ll become idyllic people during this idyllic season, our struggles refuse to take a holiday. In fact, they’re given plenty of stage time with all of the stress and family dynamics taking place.
I hate to think my behavior could sabotage my own, or other people’s, enjoyment of Christmas. But unfortunately, it happens. And it’s not purely our enjoyment at stake, but how pleasing we are to God.
It’s never fun to say “I’m struggling,” but it’s the only way to move toward growth. So, let’s examine five common temptations that surface in the whirlwind of Christmastime, and pray for God’s strength to resist them.
Just like any other time of year, we’re tempted to grumble when plans go awry. And year after year they always seem to: Weather cloisters us indoors. The kids, then you, catch the flu. An estranged sibling shows up unannounced.
When we take the time to remember Christ, we know we shouldn’t complain, but our exhaustion and selfishness take over.
Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (Philippians 2:14-15).
If we are children of God, made so because God Himself became a child, we have nothing to grumble about. Instead of succumbing to the easy road of complaint, we ought to stand out as “blameless and innocent.” Our family members—those living with us and those we only see at Christmas—should notice.
Do you want to be characterized as a child of God or as a child of this “crooked and twisted generation” who knows no better? Pray for a thankful heart when frustration surfaces.
2. Serving snarky responses
“Are you dating anybody?” Classic. Singles hardly expect any other question.
“How’s your job?” When nothing’s new, or worse, you’re out of a job, this can be a particularly distasteful one.
“When are you going to have kids?” What are you supposed to say? When God wants us to? This hurts especially if you’re already disappointed it hasn’t happened or you’re grieving a miscarriage.
I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they don’t realize they’ve broached a touchy subject. However, I’m guilty of thinking, Can’t they come up with a better question? Don’t they know I’m more than my singleness/occupation/childlessness? But then I realize at times I can be just as insufferable.
The key to traversing holiday discourse is grace. Paul tells us we should, “Let no corrupting talk come out of [our] mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). He wouldn’t have added “give grace” if people didn’t need the reminder.
When you’re tempted to lash out with “No, I’m not dating anyone. Rub it in, why don’t you?”—take a step back. Run a quick self-assessment of your attitude. Is your pride, anger, or disappointment getting in the way of your kindness?
Plan on fielding a few personal questions at the Christmas table and remember they’re just trying to make conversation.
Gifting, feeding, and frolicking take funding. Go figure.
Where we put our resources can reveal our priorities. Have you ever purchased something for your kids out of fear of the fuss they’ll make without it? Or maybe you’ve decided to splurge on the prime rib to impress your mother-in-law? Even when we don’t have the means, it’s tempting to spend more than we should.
As with everything, in our spending we have to be aware of what Scripture says. The apostle Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Ask yourself, What am I teaching my family about spending right now? Does this purchase please Christ or just me?
Treating our family during celebrations is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s healthy to ask yourself “why?” when you’re enticed by extravagance.
4. Snapping at your guests
With the holidays comes company. And with company comes stress.
Whether it’s hosting a dinner, an ornament exchange, or your parents for the week, much is demanded of you. You have the food to think of, cleaning to finish, conversations to keep up, relatives to appease, and the nuclear family to maintain. That’s no small feat.
If you want your hospitality to bless others, you’ll need a hefty dose of patience. Impatience is difficult to camouflage; when patience dwindles, your words tattle on your heart.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness” (James 3:5-6). It’s our tongue we have to watch out for under the stress of entertaining.
Nothing clams me up faster than receiving an undeserved harsh word. Though I know I’ve done nothing to merit it and am merely the unlucky recipient of their stress, I still have to talk myself out of feeling responsible. Research says it takes five positive thoughts to counter each negative one.
Before causing much damage, do your family and guests a favor and ask for help. Take a nap. Don’t feel like you have to entertain your company every moment. Most importantly, ask the Holy Spirit to help maintain your stress and keep it from spewing verbal flames atop your guests.
Every Christmas as kids we would go to our grandparents’ house for the big meal after opening gifts in the morning. We’d tote a few of our new things to play with and show to our family members. Of course, my cousins would do the same thing, all of us exchanging an exuberant, “Look at what I got!”
While most of the time our motives were good, there were times when we just wanted to show off our new treasures. And with this came the monster of comparison. It’s nearly impossible not to think, Look at what they got! I wish I had that …
This monster is no stranger to adults, either. Especially during the holidays when everyone pulls out all the stops, we compare the size of our Christmas trees, extravagance of our yard decorations, even the ornateness of the ornaments we bring to exchange parties.
The emotional energy we expend observing what others have and responding in pride or discontentment is exhausting. In fact, Proverbs 14:30 tells us, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” When we let ourselves envy what others have, it mars our ability to enjoy what we do have.
When you catch the monster of comparison latching on, ask the Lord for a heart of thankfulness and enjoy the season with your family.
If your struggles won’t take a holiday, you might as well face them. Rather than succumbing to discouragement in your temptations, thank the Holy Spirit for revealing them to you, and ask for His divine help.
And you never know … As He aids you, the December air may turn a tad warmer in your family atmosphere.
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