As we kick off the month of December, I am reminded of this favorite blog of mine from a couple of years ago. I am thankful we are not struggling as intensely with sickness this year as we were in 2016, but as I evaluate the calendar and holiday plans this month I still find myself asking the crucial question, does it bring joy? I hope you can find some relief from the expectations of the season by asking yourself the same question.
These last two months have been a crazy season of sickness for our family. One illness after another keeps taking us down, and usually a few at a time. Things seemed to be looking up until a week ago. Andrew (4) came down with a cough. Then Matthew (6) spiked a fever. Next Chris and I were also fighting the boys’ colds. This round took all of us down at once! As you can imagine joy levels dropped. Grumpiness levels rose.
The boys have both been home from school at least a week. Then to top it off, Chris came down with the stomach flu last night. It feels like the perfect storm. And when is this happening? In mid-January when life slows down for the winter? No, right in the height of the Christmas preparation season! To make it even more stressful, this is also the birthday season in our house, with Chris and Andrew celebrating their big days next week.
Something you should know about me is I am a bit of a perfectionist. I try to cook healthy, homemade meals and snacks for my family. I also like to make a big deal of Christmas and birthdays. This season for me is filled with shopping, wrapping, party planning, hosting, baking and creating handmade gifts for all of my family. It is usually a stretch to include my long holiday To-Do list on top of my already full life as a Mom, wife, and director for the ministry, but add prolonged sickness and you have a recipe for STRESS. Even as I write this, I feel the tension levels increase in my stomach and shoulders thinking about all the many things that are still yet undone.
This afternoon during a rare moment of quiet when all three of my sick guys were sleeping, I took a few moments to talk with Jesus about all that has been going on. I started by focusing on some things that I am thankful for and the ways I am grateful for Jesus’ care in our lives. Starting with some appreciation helps calm my restless thoughts and allow me to take some deep breaths. I asked Jesus what He wanted me to know during all this crazy sickness. A thought popped into my head that brought me peace “You can’t do it all, and I don’t expect you to.” I felt the tension drain from my shoulders and stomach.
The next thing that came to my mind is what my husband frequently asks me “does it increase joy levels?” I realized this needs to be the question I ask myself about every task before I add it to my To-Do list. Baking multiple cakes from scratch and elaborately decorating them and the house to celebrate my special guy’s birthdays is a good thing to do, and something I am usually excited about. But in this season of sickness and reduced capacity, I know it will create additional stress, and I am likely to start snapping at my husband and kids. While they would enjoy the results of a delicious, healthy and beautifully decorated cake, will it increase their joy levels if I get grumpy in the process? If ordering a cake frees up time for me to relax and be the emotionally present and joyful mother I desire to be, isn’t that better for my family than something I make from scratch? After all, the Christmas season is about celebrating the joy of Jesus’ birth.
If all the things I do to make the season “perfect” actually steal the joy, is it worth it? So what if this year we go out to dinner instead of making a special birthday meal at home? And if the neighbors receive a Christmas card without homemade goodies, is that the end of the world? I need to give myself grace. I need to adjust my expectations to my capacity given the current circumstances. Keeping joy levels high in our home is a priority, even if it means ordering take out. Or tonight, it means we are having cereal for dinner (and in Chris’ case, saltines and Sprite).
I encourage you to slow down and evaluate the things you add to your calendar and your To-Do list this season with the question “does it bring joy?” and let the answer influence your decisions.