Finding the time: An upside-down Christmas, part 3
You add another item to the grocery list. Hop online to order a couple more gifts on Amazon. Hear your phone ding with a low balance alert. Lovely. Remember that you need to order another stocking because there will be someone new at Christmas this year… where did you get the other ones? Search online and put off the purchase until after payday. Take another look at your schedule—when will you bake the cookies for the church craft sale? Or the pies for the first of three family get-togethers? Christmas itself feels like an eternity away because you still have all of your decorations in boxes in the attic. Speaking of decorating (and cleaning), you really need to have your carpet cleaned, but who has the money or time for that? Will the kids’ teachers like getting loaves of homemade bread or should you spring for Starbucks gift cards this year? You need to remind your daughter to buy a gift for her Sunshine lady. Oh, yeah—don’t forget the Sunday school teachers. And youth group helpers. Oh, and you need to email your in-laws to tell them about the Christmas play and band concert. Which reminds you, your son has outgrown his black pants. Again. Maybe you can run to Target to get another pair on your lunch hour. Wonder if you can possibly take another day off work to do some (more) shopping. Glare at the box of Christmas cards on your desk because you know you will never, ever find time to address those envelopes. Turn off the radio in a huff because you’re sick and tired of hearing about that silent night. Who gets silence this kind of year?
Oh, yeah. That reminds me. I need to pray and feel thankful.
Maybe you all don’t live with this kind of chaotic inner dialogue. Granted, I’m exaggerating (but, truly, only slightly, and only because I’ve included a couple items from years past). Sometimes I wish I could turn off my brain for a little bit because it just never stops.
In week 1, I talked about the stress of money and ways to give creatively and inexpensively. Week 2 was about grief, because losses seem to be magnified this time of year when there’s such a push to be happy happy happy and find joy and sing and celebrate. This week, we’re talking about time because it’s one of the hardest things to manage when you’re bombarded with all of the external things imposed upon you during the Christmas season. But let’s be honest—a lot of what we have imposed on us is imposed BY us. We’re the ones who want to host the perfect get-together. We’re the ones wanting to surprise people with the exact right gifts. We’re the only ones who have noticed that there are no Christmas lights shining through our windows at night. We’re the ones who have lost sight of what it’s all about because we’re too frazzled to remember.
Or, at least, that’s what happens to me. Something’s gotta give.
Give yourself the gift of grace. First and foremost, remember that the reason that Jesus was born and is celebrated isn’t so that we could stress out about all of these things. Allow yourself time to relax. Give yourself permission to let some things go. Don’t compare yourself to people online—in fact, maybe avoid Pinterest altogether this month. This season is about celebration and about the Prince of Peace. The best and more important thing we can do is give ourselves grace.
Lower your expectations. Why? Because, as Anne Lamott recently wrote on Facebook, expectations are disappointments under construction. Maybe you’re worried that your mother-in-law will notice how dirty your sink is. Or perhaps you feel intimidated by the magazine-worthy wrapping on your friend’s gifts and want yours to measure up. You may think that if you can just set the perfect stage, your bickering relatives will suddenly get along. But in the process, you may be putting too much on yourself. It might be time to decide to decorate only the tree and mantle and leave the other decorations in the attic. Or forego the icicle lights on the outside. Or have just one kind of pie and skip a party or two.
Ask for help. I have plenty of things; there’s really very little I need. But I can’t do everything all by myself. Christmas is a time when people look for ways to give, so allow yourself to embrace that. Ask for help and let someone else bring the stuffing. Teach your teenager how to make your famous sugar cream pie. Or ask your friend’s teenage son to stop by after school to carry a few boxes of decorations down from the attic. Check the “gift wrap” option when you order online, or hire a teenager from church to wrap your gifts one afternoon while you’re putting up the tree.
Be practical. Take a few minutes to make a plan. It will save you time in the long run. Group similar tasks. If you’re giving three different people books for Christmas, order then all at once. Buy all clothing in the same shopping session. Figure out where you’re likely to buy the gifts on your list and, when you’re on one side of town, take advantage of that to get everything there in one trip, instead of driving all over the place for one or two things at a time. If you’re baking, buy lots of ingredients and set aside one block of time to get it done. If a friend also likes to bake, split tasks—she can make a double batch of chocolate covered peanuts and you can make a double batch of peppermint bark, and you can give away twice as many types of goodies in half the time. Maybe you want to invest a little extra time to get your address list typed in online so every year from this year forward you can print off address labels instead of hand writing them. Perhaps you should look at your boxes of leftover decorations, once you’re done, and throw out (or donate) any items you didn’t actually use this year. Then you’ll have fewer boxes to store away and less to sort through next year when it’s time to put the decorations back up.
Use your Sharpie to cross items off your calendar. In my book (which I know you haven’t read yet because it doesn’t come out until May), I write about my friend Karin. When her schedule became too complicated, she went through and evaluated her priorities. If something didn’t fit with her family’s plans or schedule, she crossed it out. Because we don’t always have to do the things we think we have to do. This might be the month you decide to skip book club, or let your daughter swim the away meet without you cheering in the stands. If doing it will bring more stress than pleasure, and if not doing it will not bring other disastrous results, let it go. If you miss a Christmas open house or two, make a point to get together with those families another time—in 2015.
I’ll do it next year. We don’t like to put off the things that are fun, but sometimes it’s the smart thing to do. I love to get together with my book club, but we decided to wait until January to free up some time in December for other things. (That also means we can shop after-Christmas sales for those gifts.) If there is something you can postpone without it causing a hardship, do it.
One of the most valuable gifts we have to offer is our time, and often, the people we love would rather spend time with you than to unwrap the perfect gift. Forego gifts with your friends and make plans, instead, to have an uninterrupted hour together to catch up over coffee or lunch. In January.
Beg, borrow and steal. In terms of time, that is. Look closely at your deadlines—are there any that can be shifted? If you’re not sure, ask. Shop online while you eat lunch at your desk or drink your coffee or wait in school pickup lines. Have to be at the band concert an hour before it starts? Take your address book and a stack of Christmas cards and get to work. Use the time while things are baking to wrap presents. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, make extras of each meal and freeze them to have when things get hectic. When relatives are coming over, decide that pizza would be just as good as the meal you were originally planning and save yourself a trip to the grocery and three hours of prep time. Rather than have coffee with two different friends on different mornings, get together as a group and free up another morning to clean or shop.
Paring down commitments will look different for each of us. You are the one who needs to—and gets to—decide what Christmas looks like to you and to your household. Stand firm, and don’t apologize. Going overboard on Christmas does you no good if you’ve spent every available penny and ounce of energy and you head into a new year defeated, depleted and depressed. Give yourself permission to make changes, to cut a few corners. No one is going to remember the food for long, but they’ll remember your hospitality and warm hugs. And if they see you other times of the year, your friends won’t be upset if you missed singing carols at their holiday party. Their schedules are crazy, too, so they’ll get it.
When life is overwhelming, finding time to do something more seems impossible—but this is when it’s the most critical of all. Give yourself a few minutes to pray. Shoot for just five minutes a day. It can be while you drink your first cup of coffee, or after you get the kids off to school, during an afternoon break from work, or when everyone else has gone to bed and you’re the only one around. Your prayer can look different this season—maybe you don’t “talk” at all, but simply meditate on God’s peace. Think about one aspect of Him and dwell on all of the ways and places where you’ve seen Him. Or focus on just imagining Him right there with you—and then know that He’s not only in your imagination. Once you’ve taken a close look, you’ll see that some things matter more than others. And you’ll realize that God is present in the midst of all of the craziness, as well as the peace. Give yourself a fantastic and unusual thing—a Christmas that is manageable. One filled with peace and people you love.
And the God who gave it all to you.
What do you do to save time or make the most of limited time during the holidays?