by Karen Jordan
How can we get a grip on our stress, so we can focus on our blessings during the holidays?
The Old Testament book of Lamentations gives us a clear word on how to deal with stress. “When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear” (3:28-29 MSG).
But what does that advice look like in the real world?
Go off by yourself. Jesus knew the importance of spending time alone with His Father. When He needed to hear from Him, He would get away from everyone else. We read in Matthew 14 that after Jesus fed the 5,000, “ … he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night” (23).
But sometimes solitude seems impossible! My son Adam still jokes about the many times I locked myself in the bathroom for a good cry. Now that my kids have homes of their own, I still retreat to my prayer “closet” at times. But since I have more space at home now, I can usually find a more comfortable place of solitude.
Enter the silence. In 1 Samuel, we find Hannah, crying out to the Lord. Hanna’s husband had two wives. [That’s enough to cry about right there.] But the second wife taunted Hannah year after year, accusing God for Hannah’s inability to conceive children. “Crushed in soul, Hannah prayed to God and cried and cried-inconsolably … praying in her heart, silently” (1:10-13).
Solitude doesn’t guarantee silence. So, I find that I must choose to tune out the distractions at times. Whether someone else has provoked me, like Hannah’s tormenter, or I’m overwhelmed by negative thoughts—it takes effort, planning, and God’s grace to embrace silence.
Bow in prayer. Prayer can become natural as talking to good friend on the phone. Or it can be as intimate as a secret whisper. It can happen any time of day, no matter where you are or what you are doing. God promises that if we just call His Name, He’ll listen. And “… if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us …” (1 John 5:14).
The book of Philippians urges us not to worry, “Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.” (4: 23)
And if “… we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans” (Romans 8:26).
Don’t ask questions. I had a little bit of trouble with this point at first. So, I searched God’s Word for some examples. I noticed that Jesus asked His disciples on several occasions, “Are you listening to this? Really listening?” (Matt. 11:15; 13:9; Mk. 4:9, 23)
My questions often get in the way of my communication with God—I’m talking, instead of listening. But I’m so grateful that God is not impatient with me, like I am with my loved ones at times. In fact, I’ve learned a lot about parenting as I search God’s Word. Not only does He promise to provide whatever I need, according to what’s best for me, He’s not surprised by my child-like questions.
Wait for hope to appear. I’ve spent a lot of times in waiting rooms during my adult life, especially during this past decade. And I don’t really like to wait. In fact, I’m very impatient at times. But waiting does not need to be boring or hopeless. We can have hope, when we know that God hears us. The psalmist also speaks of this promise, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry …” (Ps. 40:1 NIV)
What can we do when life become stressful and chaotic during the holidays?
Remember, “The Lord is near … in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:5-7).
And “ … go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear” (Lam. 3:28-29 MSG).
How do you manage the stress of the holidays?
Karen Jordan encourages others to “tell the stories that matter most.” Find links to her writing workshops, speaking topics, and other online connections on her personal blog/website (www.karenbarnesjordan.com).
What makes a gift exceptional?
It was the early 60s—an era of Chatty Cathys, Barbies, and baby dolls of all sizes and shapes. That particular Christmas I remember giving my next-door neighbor the most wonderful present my mother and I could find. Something she would treasure … a reminder of our friendship.
I remember her ripping the paper and the thrill in her eyes when she discovered a beautiful doll with hand-painted features. And then, with anticipation of what my neighbor had chosen especially for me, I tore into the gift-wrapped rectangular package that she had placed in my hands.
Much to my disappointment, she had given me a book. An ordinary book. And then my friend’s mother said something like, “We have something else for you, Mary” as she opened a closet filled with stacks of wrapped presents. Even as a young child I knew that she was somehow trying to make things “equal.”
But I didn’t come that day to get equal presents. I had come to give an exceptional gift.
As Christmas approaches, I can’t help but ask myself: What makes a gift exceptional?
From the heart or from the hand?
Gifts come in all sizes and shapes. Some are handmade while others are store-bought. To me, the heart behind the gift is what really matters.
My eight-year-old granddaughter drew a special picture for me two years ago. “It’s you, Nana,” she said, when she handed me the Crayola-sketch of a dark-haired girl in slacks. That simple drawing still means a lot to me. It’s hanging on my cubicle wall at work, and when I look at it I remember spending days and hours and moments with my little legacy. I’m reminded of the priceless value of family.
And there’s another picture on that wall: a pencil-drawn butterfly, created by a co-worker’s child. One day she approached my desk with several drawings. I smiled, thinking that she was about to give one of her masterpieces to me. Holding her pictures, she asked a question, “Would you want to buy one for 50 cents?”
Of course I did. But the sketch I paid for can’t compare in value to my granddaughter’s free gift. It was from her heart.
Without strings attached or with hidden costs?
Gifts from the heart are invaluable. Gifts from the hand? Why they may be quite costly.
The other day I was talking with a dear friend who almost dreads the Christmas holidays. That’s because her ex-husband seems to declare war under the Christmas tree. It’s as though he has a mental scale weighing the value and number of his presents for the children versus those from her.
This man is determined to outdo his ex-wife … to somehow “win” by giving the children the most presents, as if things can be translated into love and care. Although my friend realizes that she can’t compete, she’s learned a valuable lesson: The things that matter most in life don’t come with price tags.
As her kids have gotten older, they’ve also learned some lessons: Some presents have strings attached, while others have no hidden costs.
Refused or received?
When I think of gifts, I can’t help but think of the worst Christmas of my life. The best way to describe the situation is to say that I had a disagreement with someone I’ll call Sue. Now, Sue wasn’t just a casual acquaintance. I loved her dearly. Wanting to resolve our differences at the holidays, I chose some special gifts for her and put them under the Christmas tree.
I invited Sue over to the house.
She didn’t come.
I told her that I had some Christmas gifts for her.
She didn’t care.
She simply would not accept my gift.
As we give gifts this Christmas, may we question our motives. Are they given from the heart … without any hidden cost?
And as we receive gifts, may we accept them with gratitude, knowing that someone had to pay for whatever is in the package.
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But whether we give or receive Christmas gifts, may we remember the very One whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day: Jesus Christ. He didn’t come to earth to get equal presents. But he did come to offer the best gift possible, eternal life.
May we not refuse such an exceptional gift, one offered through perfect love.