They suck me in every year. The small town, snow falling, boy-meets-girl to save the day movies – you know the ones I’m talking about. It might be a bit of a stretch for me to imagine myself in such a setting when it’s currently 97 degrees in Central Florida, but there’s something enchanting about those holiday movies.
Though they are quite simple in nature, those movies actually reveal a complex issue: they highlight parts of my heart that are deeply hurting. If I take a moment and ask myself, “What is it about them that I love so much?” What might I find? Is it a longing to be loved, pursued, and wanted by someone? Is it a flawless, spacious home, perfectly decorated and ready to host dozens of family and friends? Is it the way all problems melt under the magic of Christmas and everything is tied together in a pretty bow in under two hours? Whatever the ache may be, the movies speak to it and stir up both unrest and longing inside of me.
So what do I do if my holidays aren’t Hallmark-y? How do I navigate tricky relationships and unmet expectations and the absence of a loved one? While the answer is far more intricate than a single blog can address, here are a few things to think about as you approach the holiday season.
Set Realistic Expectations
Life is not a Hallmark movie. It is life, and it is complicated. People are broken and relationships are messy, and this time of year is no different. When heading into a family gathering, it can be helpful to make a mental note of topics to be avoided and potential ways to divert the conversation. Remind yourself that Christmas lights and hot cocoa don’t heal wounds; Jesus does. Pray before those gatherings, that the Lord would be in those conversations and protect you from harm.
Name That Feeling
It can be helpful to identify exactly what’s causing the unrest within, and to talk to someone you trust about it. This would be where I insert my shameless counseling plug, but in reality you can also do this on your own! Set aside time to process your emotions with your spouse or a trusted friend. What’s troubling you? Is it a complicated relationship with your mom or dad? Is it seeing a family member who triggers painful memories? Is it the first holiday season after the passing of a loved one? Identifying your emotions and the root causes beneath them can help you be less reactive and more responsive.
Know Your Boundaries
Feeling overwhelmed with life? Finances tighter than ever? Maybe this is the year to say “no” more than you say “yes” to all the extra holiday commitments and purchases. Figure out what is absolutely necessary to commit to and buy, and save the rest for another year.
Nervous about extended time with extended family? Spend some time processing what feels safe and what doesn’t, and give yourself permission to leave when things take a turn. While you don’t want to spend too much time traveling down the “what if” lane, it can be helpful to think through situations that might require setting a boundary.
Look for the Good
The Lord is in all of it and He covers all of it. Every broken relationship and wounded heart and single tear drop -– He sees it and He cares. Look for the ways in which God is working, and don’t be afraid to come to Him when it doesn’t seem like He’s there. He promises He will never leave us, and we can hold confidently to that truth even when it feels like the world is falling apart. Turn off the screens, slow down, take a deep breath, and be present so you don’t miss all that God is doing.