As much as we all love Christmas, let’s be honest – there’s a lot of extra work to do at home around this time of year. In addition to the usual meals to fix, laundry to fold, and bathrooms to clean, we have houses to decorate, cookies to bake, cards to address, and gifts to be bought. It’s enough to wear out the saints!
For those of us who are still saints-in-the-making, this is about the time when we start to forget those good intentions to attend the parish Advent reflections and spend more time in prayer. Instead, we’re spending most of our time cruising through the parking lot at the local mall looking for an open spot or plowing through the crowds to grab the last 50” 4K TV.
But don’t give up on those good Advent intentions just yet! Take a few pointers from the Spiritual Masters about how to handle Christmas “Crunch Time” in a more spiritual way.
For example, St. Francis de Sales tells us that we can accomplish twice as much without anxiety as we can while worrying ourselves sick.
“Be careful and attentive to all the matters God has committed to your care . . . Don’t be worried about them, for worry disturbs reasons and good judgement and prevents us from doing well the very things we are worried about. . . A job done too eagerly and hurriedly is never done well.”
Say that to the kids waiting for cookies, you might be thinking, or the spouse who’s expecting the newest tech gadget that’s sold out in every store on the planet.
True, but worrying about it won’t get the cookies baked any faster or make that hard-to-find gift any easier to find.
Instead, when anxious thoughts such as, “how am I going to get all this done?” creep into your mind, get into the habit of banishing them right away with a short prayer, “Lord, I put it all in your hands. Do with it as you will.”
God knows how many cookies you need to bake and how many gifts still need wrapping so why not rely on Him instead of yourself? This is especially true if you need a miracle to get it all done. Let’s face it, of the two of you, which one has the better track record of working miracles?
Another thing to remember if we want to hold on to the spirit of the season is to resist the temptation to ramp up the pace of our life until we’re moving faster than the speed of light just to keep up with it all.
“If only you thoroughly understood all the harm your excessively active nature can, and inevitably will, do to yourself until you have made it wholly subordinate to the guidance and dominance of grace,” writes the great spiritual director, Father J. P. de Caussade.
“This is an example of a failing that the world mistakes for a virtue and that is none the less disastrous to the advancement of the soul. . . Natural bustle and activity is the enemy of self-abandonment . . . It hinders, spoils or prevents every operation of grace and substitutes in the soul possessed by it, the impulse of its own intelligence for that of the Holy Spirit.”
Instead, we should strive to never forget that God is in charge of every aspect of our life – even the demands made upon our time in special circumstances such as the Christmas season. He really can help us get done what needs to get done without losing our minds – and our peace of soul.
“Imitate little children who with one hand hold fast to their father while with the other they gather strawberries or blackberries from the hedges,” St. Francis writes. “So too, if you gather and handle the goods of this world with one hand, you must always hold fast with the other to your heavenly Father’s hand and turn toward Him from time to time to see if your actions or occupations are pleasing to Him.”
Remember, Christmas is a religious holiday and we’re entitled to celebrate it as much spiritually as we do materially. We’re allowed to spend a few minutes enjoying Advent customs with our families after dinner, or to enjoy that Sunday evening reflection in the local church.
And doing so doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll be doing any less this year at Christmas. We just won’t be doing it in a way that causes a spike in our blood pressure.
So how do we get control of Christmas “crunch time” in a way that doesn’t threaten our spiritual sanity?
First, take St. Francis’ advice to heart: “Undertake all your affairs with a calm mind and try to dispatch them in order one after the other. If you try to do them all at once or without order, your spirits will be so overcharged and depressed they will likely sink under the burden without affecting anything.”
Second, stay in the present moment. Ruminating about all you have to do accomplishes nothing more than make your to-do list appear as tall as Mt. Everest. Instead, focus on the moment, accomplishing one thing at a time. You can plan for what needs to be done tomorrow, then forget about it until tomorrow comes. Anxious forethought is good for nothing but increasing your stress levels about things that probably won’t happen anyway.
Third, keep hold of God during your Christmas labors. Bring Him into every task. Pray the Rosary while baking cookies. Sing Christmas hymns while wrapping gifts. Never address a card without a quick, “God bless you!” before sealing the envelope. If you can’t make every Advent reflection at your parish, at least make one. In the midst of the most hectic moment of the day, stop just long enough to remind yourself, “I’m glad you’re here with me, Lord!”
This may take a little work so be prepared to be patient with yourself. As St. Francis suggests, we have to learn how to behave like the mariner who frequently looks at the stars in order to guide his ship safely into port.
“Look from time to time at God,” he advises. “Thus, God will work with you, in you, and for you . . .”
Trust Him – and it’ll be the best Christmas ever!
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