Growing up in a large household of seven children, I remember how my mother used to say that all she wanted for Christmas was “peace and quiet.” We couldn’t understand why anyone would ask for something so silly. As an adult, I can now see how important peace must have been to her. At times, I have received and even sent out Christmas cards expressing a wish for “peace on earth.” And in one of my favorite movies, “Miss Congeniality,” Sandra Bullock and numerous other pageant contestants state that all they really want is “world peace.” But what exactly is peace and how do we attain it?
Webster’s defines peace as 1) a state of tranquility or quiet, 2) freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions, 3) harmony in personal relations …. The Biblical Encyclopedia (King James version) explains peace in the following manner: In the Old Testament, the word implies “welfare,” and is external. The New Testament sense is that of “heart-peace” and is more internal.
I think the pre-Thanksgiving/Christmas season is the perfect time to focus on restoring ourselves, both externally and internally—renewing both body and spirit—by finding what brings us peace and tranquility. As most of us tend to overdo it and expect way too much of ourselves (and others) during the holidays, we often lose sight of the things that truly matter and make this time of year special—family, friends, and, of course, the celebration of the coming of our Savior.
If your holiday season is becoming one of dread and exhaustion rather than one of joy and fulfillment, decide what “must do” things you can change or cut out that will allow you to relax and enjoy the days ahead. If you’re dreading mailing out all of those Christmas cards or need to cut the cost from your budget, skip them this year; make a decision to pare down your list and send cards out next year. Or do like my mother now does and send e-cards. However, if you love making and/or sending cards, keep that on your schedule, but get rid of something else.
If just the thought of getting all those decorations out and up is wearing you out, don’t do it. Sometimes simple really can be beautiful and soothing. Also, if you are not a gourmet cook, forget about spending hours in the kitchen attempting to make an impressive presentation of fancy dishes for your guests. Serve something simple and ask everyone attending to contribute. Take a load off your own shoulders; you are probably expecting more from yourself than anyone else is.
Another holiday hint for tranquility—go easy on the gift giving. There’s no need to TOP last year. Shopping for gifts shouldn’t be a competition or a source of financial and physical stress. Yes, it is better to give than to receive, but not to a point where it shatters your budget or makes you miserable. It’s time to rethink the idea of gift giving to make it more thoughtful and joyful. In my family, there are simply too many of us to buy something for everyone, so we have a rotating list. Each year, I have a different sibling or aunt or uncle to buy for. I know ahead of time whose name I have, so I can take some time in the months before Christmas to pick out or make something special and meaningful for them. We do something similar with my husband’s family. Also, remember, gifts of your time are invaluable. In years past, when we lived in Florida, my husband and I gave my mother and grandmother gift certificates that we created on the computer, offering our services for painting or putting up shelves. By doing this, we also got the added bonus of spending more time with them.
Speaking of time, how much of it do you give God during the holidays? If you don’t already, try spending a little more time in his Word. [I have to admit, this is something I need to work on.] As a family, pick a night to gather together to read Matthew 1:18—2:12 on the birth of Christ and the visit of the magi. Talk about ways you can give a gift of yourself to Jesus in honor of the real reason for the season. Everything we do, think, and experience year-round—work, prayer, joys, sorrows—can be offered up to God as an act of worship; this becomes our gift to Him. And by putting our lives in His hands, we gain a sense of assurance that our Heavenly Father is in control, which leads to a real, deep, and lasting peace.
How can we let this sense of peace permeate our everyday lives? First, let’s look at external factors. Stress! We often let ourselves become more stressed than usual at this time of year. There are some stresses, like the loss of a job, a house, or a loved one, that we have no control over, but there are others that can be prevented.
Some keys to prevention are getting enough sleep, maintaining a proper diet, avoiding excess caffeine and other stimulants, and taking time out to relax. [Sure, we all know this, but how many of us actually do all these things?] Some people find that activities like jogging, aerobic exercise, or yoga are helpful in lowering their stress levels; others find the thought of exercise itself stressful. But it is important for our mental and physical health that we discover some form of movement to help us “get the juices flowing.” You can try walking, riding a bike, playing tennis, even gardening. Personally, I have a hard time getting myself to the gym (even when it is just down my own stairs), but I do enjoy taking a brisk walk with my dog around the neighborhood. It gets my heart rate up and allows me a chance to breathe in some fresh air. Plus, my dog reminds me that it is also important to stop and “smell the roses.” Find something fun that will help you get up, get out, and release some tension. Less tension leads to a feeling of peace and well-being.
Once you’ve got those muscles flexing and stretching, it’s time to work on “clearing your head.” According to a Roper Starch Worldwide study, the number one de-stressor around the world is listening to music, followed by watching TV, then taking a bath or shower. Other stress busters include laughing, playing with children or pets, spending time in nature, keeping a daily journal, spending time with a hobby, and doing something rewarding, like volunteer work. I believe that one of the strongest combatants of stress can be prayer.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Prayer is more than asking God for things we want. It’s about being in His presence; it’s about talking to Him like a loving Father… like a best friend. And when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed in life, it’s important to lean on friends, not to ask them to solve your problems, but to gain a little emotional support from their presence. God is always present for us; we just need to be more intentional about being present for Him.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he says: “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4–7, NIV).
In a chaotic and constantly changing world, when our days are filled with stress and our minds are filled with all the things we have to do, how can anyone have genuine peace? True peace can only come from placing your life and future into the hands of a loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God who is greater than you and greater than your circumstances. God does not promise that things will never go wrong for you or that you will never have overly full or stressful days. But what He does promise is, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV). You will never have to face anything alone. When you find yourself going through difficult times, God promises to be there with you and help you through them, if you just call on Him. That’s true comfort and peace.