TWO EARLY CHRISTMAS GIFTS TO COMBAT STRESS (Article)
One of my best friends went to Harvard. Our freshman year, we came back for Christmas break and exchanged stories from our different colleges. He told me that their semester hadn’t ended. He had to study for finals and work on projects during the break. How horrible! I thought. That would be so stressful, wouldn’t it? How could a person enjoy the holidays with pressure like that?
Now, as a husband, parent, and pastor, I would welcome the seeming simplicity of finals or projects as my primary pressing duty during the busy Christmas season. The complexity of life’s responsibilities these days seem to demand much more. What about you? Do you feel the heightened clamor of this time of year? Are you under extra stress? Is there something keeping you up at night?
Perhaps the holidays raise the strain of where, when, and who you will be spending your time with. Maybe your extended circle has conflicts, and you wonder how you are going to interact.
THE STRESSORS ARE ABUNDANT
Finances are tight, and you struggle to know how you will pay for gifts. A large year-end goal at work is making you nervous. On top of all of these things, this year, COVID-19 raises new challenges you’ve never faced. Do you quarantine so that you can spend time with those you love? What if they get sick after you put all that effort into staying healthy? What if local laws and ordinances hinder your gatherings? Maybe all your plans are becoming upended.
Stress is part of the fabric of life, but right now, you’re feeling it more than ever.
As we approach the celebration of Jesus’s birth, one of the most wonderful times of the year, how do we cope with such anxiety? God has given us two gifts to open early to help handle the stress of the season.
THE GIFT OF PRAYER
The first gift that comes to mind is prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God. One of my favorite verses on prayer is:
“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”1 Peter 5:7
Casting our cares is a way to pray. This casting, or throwing, of our worries and concerns on God, is like the shot putter heaving a sixteen-pound iron ball as far as he can or someone shooting a basket outside her range. This invitation is not handing over a list of demands and dreams to a divine Santa Clause or genie in a bottle. Casting our cares is part of a conversation with the living and mighty God. It is taking time to unburden our hearts before the Lord, to be honest with him about what troubles us, and to release our grip on the things that grip us. It is turning back to the one who controls all things and sharing what is bothering us.
God knows what we are anxious about and longing for before we can put it to words. He knows everything. If that is the case, then why does God want us to pray? The reason why is because he wants a relationship with us. He wants us to consciously transfer the weight of our cares to him. He can handle what we can’t.
Have you ever reached out to a friend, only to have them ignore your text or your call? Don’t do that with God. He’s reaching out to you and wants you to tell him what is going on. Why? The apostle Peter explained why: “because he cares for you.” So, pour out your concerns to him.
Prayer reminds us that we are not alone. God is in control and on the throne. Talk to him about what weighs you down and burdens you. Open this gift and use it this season to help you with your stress.
THE GIFT OF MEDITATION
A second gift God gives us is the gift of meditation—not the Eastern mind-emptying type, but a Bible-saturated, mind-filling focused kind (see Psalm 1 and Joshua 1:8). This Biblical meditation focuses our mind on God and what he has written in Scripture and what that means for us today. This gift adjusts our perspective in light of our trials. Let’s try it.
Consider a relevant Christmas verse:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16
God cared that much for the world. He sent Jesus to save it.
Do you believe that? If you do, then that means, in the whirlwind of life, with all its stresses, God not only cares about you, as we read in 1 Peter, but he loves you. The Creator of the universe loves you. The one who hung Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, in the sky, who formed Mount Everest, who invented the oceans and all that is in them. The one who gives power to your beating heart and breathing lungs, loves you. God loves you. Before you ever thought of him, spoke, moved, or existed, he loved you. How does that feel? God loves you.
Keep chewing on this verse. Not only does God love you, but he also “gave his only Son” for you. Where is there tension in your life? Perhaps, you feel like you don’t have the ability to get everything done or make it another day at work or in your relationships. Thinking about your to-do list could overwhelm you. Compare all of that difficulty to what God did 2000 years ago. God, the Father “gave his only Son” for you. If God went that far to love you, will he not continue to care for and help you in your trials? Scripture resounds with a loud, Yes! (see Romans 8:28, 31–32 and 1 Corinthians 10:13). God loves you more than you can fathom.
We can meditate on this verse further. It teaches that those who believe “should not perish but have eternal life.” How long is eternal life? When does it end? The answer: it lasts forever and never ends. How long will your trials last? When will your challenges be complete? In the grand scheme of things, they are temporary. A hundred years from now, your problems will be a faded memory. Just consider your stress from last Christmas, or a Christmas ten years ago, or a quarter-century ago. It is hard to remember what was so pressing back then. The apostle Paul made the comparison between the affliction we face now and the future glory of eternity and described our afflictions as “light momentary” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Let’s meditate further on this concept of eternity. What will eternal life be like? The Bible teaches that we will be saved forever through faith in Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. There will be no more sickness, sin, or sadness (Revelation 21:4). We will never be lonely again or in need of anything anymore. There will be no more social awkwardness or emptiness. Stress will cease to exist. Instead, we will be in an ever-increasing state of joy and sweet communion with God and his people because of the truth of John 3:16. The good in store for God’s people is incomprehensible, in a wonderful way.
Meditation of this sort will give you a deeper understanding of how the Lord meets you in the middle of all that presses on you. From this one verse alone, we’ve been comforted that God loves us. He demonstrated that love for you by giving his one and only Son. Through belief in that gift, you can obtain something unimaginable: eternal life. What a fantastic promise to carry you through all of the heartaches and trials you face today!
OPEN THEM EARLY AND ENJOY THEM OFTEN
Whether you have the stress of a final exam or the results from a doctor visit to deal with, prayer and this meditation are two gifts we don’t want to forget this season. Open them early and enjoy them often, God cares about you. He loves you. He wants to have a relationship with you so much that he sent his only Son, Jesus. That is why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.
* This is an article I wrote at New Growth Press. You can read it here.