Avoid the 4 Pitfalls of the Holidays!

Stress and the 4 pitfalls, young couple
Stress and the 4 pitfalls, young couple

By John H. Thurman Jr.

Can you believe it? Christmas is almost here. And in the next few days, millions of people will be headed home for the holidays.   If you are a parent, then you are also keenly aware that Saturday morning cartoons, YouTube, and other prime time for kid’s program are filled with toys, computer games or devices that they “just have to have.”

While television and the movies portray the holiday season as a wonderful, magical time, for many people the beginning of the season that can dredge up unpleasant thoughts and memories.  The truth is that the holidays can be a time of great joy and a time of painful reflection. 

With that in mind, I wanted to warn you about four pitfalls to avoid. Why? So you can become more resilient as a person and a couple.

There are at least four Pitfalls that can show up, particularly during the holidays.

The Pitfall to Avoid is Bitterness  

Remember The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? Dr. Seuss was writing about bitterness.  Holding on to anger and resentment is not only dangerous to your health but can harm you spiritually, emotionally and relationally.  Bob and his two tweenage (9 and 12) sons were preparing to celebrate their first Christmas after his wife had abandoned he and the boys for another man. “I had heard about anger and resentment in a DivorceCare™ Class at church but had no idea or understanding of how powerful these emotions were until the “Holiday play” at my nine-year old’s school.  At that moment, while watching my youngest son, by myself, I felt a pain and a level of anger that really shocked me.

Part of the recovery from any loss is coming to terms with bitterness, anger, pain, and disappointment. The problem for many people is that they refuse to let it go. The roots of their bitterness usually relate to old anger that many times was righteous anger that failed to get processes.  Carrying around these feelings can literally destroy you from the inside out.  Holding on to these thoughts and feelings can, and usually does lead to some type of emotional and physical manifestation.   

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 

Jesus said, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” Forgiveness is a powerful tool.   Forgiveness does not mean that you approve of what happened to you, or that what happened to you was okay.  It does mean that you can learn to forgive. Forgiveness means that I as an individual can learn to release my hurts to the Lord and let Him take care of them.  When I forgive those who have sinned against me, I leave the consequences of the offense for Jesus to deal with.

The Pitfall of Perfectionism

Sally was a hardcore perfectionist who loved God and had a home that would make Martha Stewart proud.  She had struggled for years with her need to be perfect.  The fact that her mom, a professional perfectionist all of her known life, hadn’t helped.  Perfectionism means you are constantly trying to achieve a self-induced standard that you have a slim chance of hitting.  And that standard is usually linked to a parent or family of origin that struggled with the same issues.  Some of you know exactly what I am talking about, remember the eight grade when you brought home a report card that had five As and a B, one of your parents didn’t notice the As, but instead they shared their disappointment over the B.  Now that is a perfectionist family.

Perfectionism is kind of like walking by the chocolate shop at the mall and only having a free sample of their fine chocolate, the perfectionism leaves you consistently unfulfilled. The pressure of perfectionism leaves you feeling like a loser ensuring that you will never enjoy the life God has given you to live right now. You feel that there is this standard that you will never be able to meet and the truth is you won’t, but Jesus already has.

Check your self talk.  It is the chatter of the mind that seems to run on automatic.  It is those thoughts that can consistently build you up or tear you down.  There are specific strategies you can learn to help you more effectively manage those thoughts. If being stuck on perfectionism means that you never feel like you are good enough, your house isn’t clean enough, your project isn’t correct enough, you are stuck, captured by the power of perfectionism.  The following passage of Scripture can help you learn to check your self-talk and manage it in a way that is more realistically based on biblical thinking.

Learn to push back that voice of fear.

As you learn to more effectively manage your perfectionism you will find that you will begin to feel less stress, more focused and be able to enjoy the celebration of the Lord’s birth.

The Pitfall of Shame

You are either living your life with a balance of grace and appropriate guilt or you are living a life out of balance with some grace and a lot of blame, shame or inappropriate guilt.  Our culture has adopted the “find someone else to blame,” and though you may feel like you may be justified in blaming others for things in your life the truth is that there is only one person that can make you feel guilt or shame and that person is you. These feelings can and are usually rooted in some old family relationships, which is one of the major reasons the holiday season puts the issue so close at hand.

Walking around with feelings of shame and guilt about who you are and what you have done in your life will only slow you down and steal the joy of the holidays. When you are consumed by shame and guilt you cannot and will not live a life that has the joy of purposefulness in it.  

Barbara was one of those folk who had grown up in the Southwest.  She was the oldest of four.  Her dad was a pastor and her mom worked as a school teacher.  Being firstborn, she tended to be driven by rules and competition.  In her early teen years, she stopped going to church and began to experience sex, drugs, and the party life.  She had heard all of the talks about how bad premarital sex was, but she had to admit it felt good to be pursued and to feel like someone loved her.  Within two to three years she came to a place where she decided it was in her best interest to slow down the sex, stop drugs, and to rethink her partying pattern, and to rededicate herself to the Lord.  

She struggled to forgive herself and seemed to carry around a fifty-pound sack of shame with her most of the time.  What Barbara needed to do was to accept God’s forgiveness and forgive herself. 

Look in the mirror and forgive yourself.  Remember the story of Jesus and the rich man.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  You need to do an internal, reality-based gut check. 

The Pitfall of Anxiety

If you feel like a cat running through a room of rocking chairs then you are probably having an up close and personal season of stress and anxiety.  If you are stressed up and tweaked out about everything from your relationships, finances, and health, it is inevitable that the holiday season will probably add to your stress and anxiety.  Mix into the soup the sometimes unrealistic hopes for the perfect holiday with tender family time, award-winning decorations and meals that the chiefs from the Food Channel would be envious of and you are heading for a major crash.

Anxiety and stress are usually expressed physically.  This can manifest itself with heart palpitations, racing thoughts, feeling insecure and hopeless.  Stress can also make you feel numb and may cause you to become completely overwhelmed.  Because Christmas and New Years normally cause us to review the past and hope for the future, the Holiday season can be a time of stress, anxiety, and hopelessness. 

Modern research validates the ancient truths of Scripture, with that in mind here are just a couple of short poignant examples.

“As a man thinketh so is he..,” Proverbs 23:7.

Any my favorite antidote to stress and anxiety is Phil 4:4-9

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again–rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. 

And now, dear brothers and sisters, let me say one more thing as I close this letter. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. NLT 

I hope that you and your family have a peaceful, blessed, hope-filled Christmas.

Here are some links to other articles:

Reduce Fear, Anxiety, and Stress

Be Aware of Stress

Grief, Recovery, and the Holidays: Christmas and a Recipe Card

Me prepping the chocolate.

For those of us who’ve lost a parent or family member, particularly around the holidays, this time of year can have some rough patches as we remember our loved ones.

In December of 2015, I received the call from my sister that my mom

Mary Anne Thurman had breathed her last breath. As a Jesus Follower, I took comfort in the fact that I believe that when she took her last breath on this Earth, she took her next breath in Heaven.  That being said, her death began a new journey for myself, my siblings, my dad, and my family.

Grief is not a neat, predictable process or orderly thing. It is messy, sometimes unpredictable, and rarely follows the handy, five or six-step path that some folks espouse.

It is also intensely personal and unique for all of us.

And while each of us processes the loss of a loved one is very different and unique ways, I choose to celebrate some of the good memories of mom.

One of the ways that I celebrate her is by preparing one of her favorite Christmas recipes each Christmas.

First, a little bit of a back story, I left at home to go to military school when I was 15, and apart from a few years in the late seventies and early eighties, I have lived away from my family.

Since I was the one who was not home most Christmases of my adult life, mom would always make sure that I received a care package close to Christmas. It usually included fruit cake cookies and Martha Washington Candy. (Here is a great link that gives the story of MWC).

Over the years, I would call mom and ask for some of my favorite recipes, and a few years ago, she sent all of us a box of handwritten recipes. The photo at the bottom is the one for mom’s Martha Washington Candy. (NOTE: Oleo is an old school name for margarine, use butter that is at room temperature instead.)

Every year as I begin to pull our that special recipe box gentle memories of my mom, dad, siblings, and Christmases past slowly trickle through my mind as I remember her.

At the same time, I think about the 47 Christmases with my wife, and thirty-seven years as a parent, and now a grandparent. I am thankful for the life I have.

May your Christmas be filled with joy and precious memories as we celebrate the first coming of Christ the King.

Lower Holiday Stress as a Couple

Lower Holiday Stress as a Couple

Three things that will enhance your relationship over the holidays.

Our Christmas Tree is up and operational, and one big difference this year is that I didn’t trim the house with lights! 

I was looking for the box of Christmas bulbs that I’d hung around the house for years when Angie (my first wife) reminded me that we had a discussion last year and that we’d decided not to put them up. I was unaware until last year that she was not very fond of the lights.

Why on earth would I tell you this? Because the holidays can be a very stressful time for any relationship. With that in mind, I wanted to give you four things you can do to have a less stressful holiday.

First, turn towards each other. It is so easy to be swept up in the frenzy of the season. One of the easy things to do to have less stress over the next few weeks is to be sure to spend some time together as a couple. No smart devices, if possible, no kids, no distractions. It might only be a few moments in the morning or the evening; just make sure you get some uninterrupted time together. NOTE: don’t think big on this, a few private moments can go a long way.

Second, share the load. For many, the holidays can become a whirl of activities. It is essential that as a husband and wife, we make sure we work together to share the burden and get through the season with minimal stress. When I was a teenager, we had horses, and I remember talking to our local vet one time. He was telling me that two draft horses pulling together cannot pull twice as much as one. They can actually pull three times as much. The two draft horses that can tow 8,000 pounds alone can pull 24,000 pounds by working together. So, share the load.

Third, encourage each other. This past weekend we watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and one of my takeaways was how encouraging Fred Rogers was. Now I am not asking you to be him, but I am asking you to be more intentional, and thoughtfully engage your partner. 

Encourage. The word means to give courage, hope, and confidence. Here is a secret that I have learned as both a therapist and a man married to the same woman for 47 years.

Men need three things: To feel needed, to feel competent, and to feel respected.

Women need three things: To feel valued, to feel cherished, and to feel secure.

If you think about these three needs, you will find that it will be easier to be an encourager.

Remember, these three things, turning towards each other, sharing the load, and intentionally encouraging each other can go a long way in mitigating the stress of the season.

I sincerely hope your holidays are filled with joy, contentment, and great memories.

A Different Kind of Christmas

My First Christmas without my Mama
by John Thurman
This Christmas will mark a first for me. It will be a bittersweet one because my mama went to be with the Lord on December 3, 2016.

Her death was not a shock or a surprise. For the past several years she fought off the effects of COPD until she was no longer able to breathe. That Friday, she took her last breath on Earth and her first breath in the presence of the Lord. She was surrounded by her family and her family doctor.

My mama loved this time of year! As a florist and small business owner, she enjoyed preparing for the Advent Season and was a joy-filled bundle of energy during the Holidays. I have many memories of some of the extraordinary things that she and my dad did for us during Christmas time.

Like many of you who have experienced a loss in the past year or two, I will rejoice at the memories from my childhood and adult years with my mom. I accept the fact we are born, we live a life in between the dash, our start date and out end date and then we pass from this earth. My mama had a great run between her birth and death. She lived a full and meaningful life, her dash between these dates touched many people and she gave my brothers and sisters an example of resilience and a positive attitude.

For those of you on this shared journey, I hope that this Christmas will be a hope-filled, joyful season for you while you both mourn the loss and celebrate the memories of your loved one.

While I love the story of the birth of Jesus and have had the blessing of visiting his birthplace in Bethlehem, I am reminded that his birthplace is only minutes away from where he died and rose from the dead.

While we celebrate the birth of the baby, Jesus let’s remember one of the earliest confessions of the church.

As a reminder, at this time, there was no New Testament, and very few people were literate. This confession was an instructional tool used to help early believers understand some fundamental doctrine about Jesus Christ.

The Apostle’s Creed or Nicene
This creed was first formulated at the First Ecumenical Council, held at Nicene, located in what is now Turkey, in 325, as a response to the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ.  It was revised at the Second Ecumenical Council, held at Constantinople in 381 as a response to the Macedonian or Pneumatomachian heresy, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.  Through him, all things were made.  For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made a man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.  On the third day, he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.  With the Father and the Son, he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

Special Note:  The word “catholic” with a lower-case ‘c’ does not mean the Roman Catholic Church, but the universal Christian Church as a whole.

My hope, as you and I work through the losses that we have experienced, we will have a sense of hope, peace, and comfort
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I love what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3: 3-4
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others”.

Focus on the Family has some wonderful articles on dealing with the Holidays after losing a loved one.

You might also enjoy a post from a couple of years ago. Don’t Let Your Sugar Plumbs Turn to Prunes

Here is a link to a great article on Good Parenting Skills from www.findmykids.org
May you have a Merry and Meaningful Christmas.

Please feel free to make a comment or add your thoughts.