Anger, Part Five: Stress

Why would I write about anger on Christmas Eve? Christmas is supposed to be a happy time, right? It’s a time for families to get together and look like those lovely people on holiday specials. We’ll all smile and hug and love each other beautifully because God loved us so much He gave the gift of His Son.

IMG_1518.cpWell, yes, of course God did love us that much, and the only way we love is because He loved us (I John 4:19), but I know that even those of us who have been changed by His love don’t always act like it during Christmastime. Most of us are completely stressed out by the end of December. Think about the accumulation of a month of making cute Christmas hors d’oevres and special treats for parties full of people we may or may not know, trying our best to find the perfect present for every single person in our family (including a finicky five year old daughter who one day loves the color gold, the next day can’t stand the idea of gold nail polish, and the day after adores it–but I’m not going to name any names), packing seemingly everything in the house and traveling (sometimes across the country with little restless ones) from one family to the next. Think about the extra work of wrapping, making adorable Christmas crafts with our kids, sending Christmas cards, making special dinners, and all the preparation for all I already mentioned. Have I made you feel even more stressed out just thinking about all of this? I’m not even going to get into the family and extended family dynamics that can add stress on top of all of it. Praise God that my in-laws do not add stress to Christmas–they, in fact, make it more restful–but I might be alone in this.

I find it interesting that with all of this, many of us have a picture of an idyllic Christmas, something out of Norman Rockwell. We might allow the picture of it to be a little quirky, like While You Were Sleeping (I can’t explain it–you’d have to see the movie), but quirkiness that makes you smile–not pull your hair out. Why are we surprised when our Christmas doesn’t look like our picture? I can remember quite a few Christmases in my lifetime that were filled with a lot of stress and yes, anger. Have you experienced any like that?

Here's a picture back from when I was pregnant with my first. I always think I can't have a happy Christmas without fudge!
Here’s a picture back from when I was pregnant with my first. I always think I can’t have a happy Christmas without fudge!

The fourth major trigger I’ve found for anger in my life is stress: when I’m too busy, running late, haven’t had enough sleep, or am under real or imagined pressure for how I or my children should behave. Pretty much all of these happen during almost the whole month of December.

Sometimes even presents aren’t opened the way you might expect!

It seems wise, in light of what I know about how stress and unmet expectations trigger anger, to let go of my expectations of a perfect Christmas. A friend of mine recently said that she and her husband sit down together before Thanksgiving and Christmas and talk about how hard it’s going to be. They talk about what they’re going to do when different inevitable situations will arise. Their expectations of what it will be like are lowered to a more realistic picture, and they brace themselves for the stress, holding hands through it as a united front. What a great idea!

I also find that letting go of some things, being thankful, and putting everything in perspective can help. No, I didn’t get those special ornaments for my Jesse Tree made this year, but I did go through the daily verses, and my kids ARE learning the true meaning of Christmas (which, by the way, is not some vague notion of joy or giving presents to make people temporarily happy or believing in Santa Claus). Not all of my kids behaved the way they should have at the last Christmas dinner, but my family WAS able to have some meaningful conversation (the part that wasn’t drowned out by my youngest’s wails). I may not have made it on time (or even made it at all) to every party, but I DID get to celebrate Christ’s birth with some friends and family.

I didn’t get to make felt ornaments this year for my Jesse Tree, but I did get to use some cute paper ones my talented friend drew!

Why do we do all of this every December, anyway? Why do we go to so much trouble? I can’t speak for those who don’t believe in Jesus as the Christ, but I can tell you that for me, it’s all to put on a major celebration for my Lord. If you know me, you know I like big birthday celebrations (here are examples of ones for Little E and Mr. C). How much more should we celebrate the birth of our Savior? I decorate for His party, I give gifts because He gave, I sing special songs for Him, and I spend time with family and friends so we can all celebrate together. However, none of it HAS to be completed, as long as I keep celebrating in my heart, and if all of it is completed but I’m not celebrating it in my heart, I haven’t celebrated at all. This reminds me of I Corinthians 13:1-3. If I can add something to it, I would say, if I get all my decorations up, give perfect presents to everybody, and make it to every special Christmas event, and have not love for my Savior, family, and friends, then it’s all for nothing.

I hope your Christmas will be one without unrealistic expectations, one in which stress is let go in the remembrance of why we do all we do for Christmas. Hopefully with that remembrance, our anger will melt away to show the not so perfect, but happy picture we imagined after all! Merry Christmas!


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