If I saw one article or blog post about how to have a stress-free, joy-filled, slowed-down, quiet-hearted holiday season this year, I saw at least two dozen.
In addition to providing useful tips and encouragement, these kinds of pieces are helpful because they give us hope that such results actually are possible, even as the glittering, decorating, purchasing and consuming accelerates around us.
But while observing this steady stream of articles in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I also was experiencing something I’ve never really felt during the holidays, at least not to this degree.
Instead of being anxious about buying presents, taking the perfect family picture, sending cards, helping to organize our church’s Christmas Tea and getting our decorations up exactly right, I felt at peace.
Not all the time, mind you. (We will purposely not include quotes here from various family members about when I failed to feel tranquil and what transpired as a result.) But overall, something was different this year.
Never one to let a positive change slide by without overanalyzing it, I started to ponder what might be at the root of this new scenario. Was it the fact that I had been much more intentional about purchasing up little gifts for relatives throughout the year instead of waiting until December to do it all?
Was it because this was the second year I had been more involved in organizing the Christmas Tea, so I felt more comfortable with all that it entailed? Maybe it was because I simply decided to forego a couple items on the list of holiday stressors—namely the perfect family picture and the greeting cards.
Those changes all helped, but none seemed powerful enough to produce the tranquility I was feeling.
Then it hit me. Maybe the difference wasn’t in something I began doing during the holiday season. Maybe it was something I started on Christmas Eve last year and haven’t stopped since.
You might be familiar with the practice of choosing One Word for the new year—a word that describes who you want to be or how you want to live for the next 365 days. I hadn’t planned to choose a word for 2015, but that Christmas Eve morning, a word chose me.
The word? Fruit.
More specifically, the fruit of the Spirit (as described in Galatians 5:22-23).
That very day, I began a practice of praying for all nine traits—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control—to grow in my heart and in the hearts of the people in my house. I can’t say I prayed for this every single day, but more often than not, I remembered to do it.
I wrote about choosing my One Word here, and added this update a few months later. In sum, while I prayed that these characteristics would develop more fully in each member of my family, I discovered that the one who needed them the most was me.
So I kept praying.
And as I consider my newfound holiday peace, I think that’s what has made all the difference. Over the course of the year, my prayers for the fruit of the Spirit became the protein that has sustained me through this Christmas season. I can think of no other explanation for it.
So I keep praying.
Some days, I pray for all of us in a fairly general way. Other days, I home in on certain traits for certain people—it’s pretty easy to tell when someone needs to be more loving or kind, for example, and we can all use more patience from time to time.
Next week, I’ll tell you about the new word I’ve chosen for 2016. Today, though, I want to share a simple secret to a less stressful holiday.
If you want your next Christmas season—yes, the one that begins 11 months from now—to be more peace-filled, pray for the fruit of the Spirit to grow in your heart every day.