Christmas In Focus
by Donita K. Paul
Christmas. Cora had been trying to catch it for four years. She scurried down the sidewalk, thankful that streetlights and brightly-lit storefronts counteracted the gloom of early nightfall. Somewhere, sometime, she’d get a hold of how to celebrate Christmas. Maybe tonight.
With snowflakes sticking to her black coat, Christmas lights blinking around shop windows, and incessant bells jingling, Cora should have felt some holiday cheer.
And she did.
Just not much.
—Opening scene from Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball, WaterBrook, 2010
Christmas is filled with expectations: warm cider, snow on the hillside, glowing candles, a soothing pine scent from a sparkling tree, perfect gifts, jolly songs, and “I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play.” But in reality, rich food rumbles up a tummyache and tumbles people off their diet. Your father thinks your perfect gift was a misappropriation of scant financial resources. Your spouse insists the family has to go to Aunt Theomeade’s Christmas Eve party. And if Rudolph leads those snarky reindeer through the fog one more time in the store, on the radio, or in the elevator between floors,… Well, you’re going to take out a hunting license on red-nosed critters.
But Christmas is worth reclaiming. The holiday does not have to be fraught with frustration. We can conquer plastic snowmen, even in our materialistic society. It’s a matter of focus.
Here are some tips to help you stay focused during this Christmas:
1. As the young people say, the first one is a no-brainer. Focus on Jesus Christ. “And we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (KJV). I took captive an obligation. What started out as a fun tradition became an onerous chore. I incarcerated the “duty” of making 100 dozen holiday cookies to the deepest, darkest dungeon in my imaginary prison.
Your turn: Think of one superfluous thing that you can take captive and cast out. If you are particularly over-stressed, do more than one.
Remember: Plan ahead. Right after Thanksgiving, identify your emotions connected with particular Christmas traditions. If the emotions aren’t healthy, put on your soldier outfit and take those “must-dos” captive. Making these decisions ahead of time puts you on sound footing for the fray.
Focus out instead of in. Go caroling at a seniors’ home. Volunteer to do art at a low-income preschool. Wrap presents for a fundraiser. Dog sit for someone going out of town. By focusing on activities that give others pleasure, we fill our cup instead of emptying it. Don’t get carried away and do so many giving projects that you wear yourself out. Balance!
2. Keep your focus on balance. You want your checkbook to balance and not end up in the red. So do what the whole country is doing and tighten your budget
Remember: Plan ahead. Make lists. If it’s good enough for Santa… No impulse buying. Think before you swipe that credit card through that machine.
Also balance your food intake. Think like a strict parent. Eat healthy vegetables, then have one cup of eggnog, but don’t eat twenty rum balls with it.
Also balance the number of disagreeable things you do with a plentiful amount of enjoyable activities. If you don’t do any of the obligations that annoy you, you’ll develop a load of guilt. That can put on more weight than the rum balls.
3. Focus on choosing the right things. God gives us free will. Choose whether you’re going to have cheese sauce or pecan pie. Choose which social activities will sponsor tidings of comfort and joy, and politely decline the others. Choose to visit one horrendous, obnoxious relative and don’t feel guilty about any of the others. Be truly kind and interested in the one you visit. Try to find one thing that he or she has done that softens the shell of selfishness you’ve pictured this person wearing.
Choose to reach out to people. Write letters and put them in pretty Christmas cards. What a lost art this is! When you enter a gathering, choose to talk to someone else who looks lost or uncomfortable.
Remember: It’s not all about you. You can’t avoid people the way you avoid a restaurant that made your stomach queasy. You can’t trash people’s feelings (even the feelings of curmudgeons and braggarts) like you throw out garbage. Make the best of it. But don’t burden yourself with more than you can handle. It’s wiser to love one person for an hour than to subject yourself to ten blowhards for a whole evening. Can you hear yourself saying, “I’m sorry, Aunt Theomeade, but we won’t be at the family gathering this year. Can Anne and I come by for a short visit and bring you a gift?”
4. Focus and center. When a photographer snaps a picture, he concentrates on two things: Focusing and the subject in the center of the frame. It’s up to you to decide what to put in the picture and how you will react to it.
Don’t expect happiness to fall into your lap. “The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” -Benjamin Franklin. Remember to plan, balance, choose, focus, and actively chase the things that matter the most to you.
In Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball, Cora has been trying to catch Christmas for four years. She succeeds this year as she widens her circle of friends and concentrates on weeding out activities that look good but don’t add substance to her celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Like Cora, we can take deep breaths, talk to ourselves, purposely choose which direction to go, and enjoy what God brings our way.