The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Poison That Destroys It AND A Powerful Antidote)
I want to tell you a true story.
It was Christmas Day 2003.
I felt lonely and depressed.
I was in my early twenties and newly engaged. I had imagined my first Christmas as a woman betrothed to her beloved as perhaps one filled romantic sleigh rides through winter wonderlands and maybe a surprise gift from Nordstrom’s department store. Instead, my fiancé, Brian, was spending the holidays with his family 1400 miles away. And I was wallowing in feeling bummed. I left the warmth of my parent’s house early and I purposefully went home to a messy, cold, apartment. I took down all my Christmas decorations. I stomped my little tree out to the dumpster (the little tree that was incidentally my actual gift from Brian that year). I spent most of the evening crying about all the holiday traditions other people were enjoying and wishing my life looked like something else. Not only was I feeling miserable, I was also frustrated with Brian for actually enjoying his Christmas instead of spending more time talking me out of my pity party.
The truth was, I had a great life: I was young. I had my own apartment. I had a family who loved me. I had a gracious man who wanted to spend his life with me. I was healthy. I had a job. I was halfway through graduate school.
I had so much to be thankful for and so much to enjoy.
And all I remember about that Christmas is feeling totally miserable.
Honest Confession, friends: I’ve spent some holiday seasons on some real emotional rollercoasters.
I mean, cry-on-the-floor woe-is-me I-hate-my-life kind-of comparison rollercoasters.
Comparison is a poison. And its potency and lasting side effects seem especially strong during the month of December.
At least it’s been that way for me.
The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are theoretically my favorite weeks of the year.
I replay images in my head of Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas,” evenings strolling in the crunchy snow with steaming hot chocolates and my handsome man, candlelit churches filled with the off-key joy-filled voices of precious rosy-cheeked children, the mouth-watering goodness of peppermint mochas and powdered sugar snowball cookies…
Aww… I love all the things.
But what happens when the images of sugar plums dancing in your head doesn’t quite match what’s actually going on?
What if the Burl Ives music just reminds you of what you don’t have?
What if the dream steals the joy of reality?
I want a trip to California. He buys me socks.
I want snow for Christmas Eve. We have a drizzle rain instead.
I want a perfect holiday picture. My kid decides to cut his bangs with craft scissors.
I want. I want. I want.
I don’t get. I don’t get. I don’t get.
Disappointment pierces my heart then flies through the atmosphere like shards of broken glass.
Whoever’s too close gets some collateral damage thanks to my breakdown over those dashed dreams.
I don’t know that much about spiritual warfare and demons. But if a demon wanted to derail a healthy person and tempt them into feeling miserable and stagnant, I can only imagine comparison would be an easy tactic to use. Have you ever read “The ScrewTape Letters?” It’s a fictional story where an older demon shares strategies with a younger demon on how to wound a Christian. I can’t remember but I wonder if the author, C.S. Lewis, thought comparison was a theme worth mentioning when he wrote that book over 75 years ago.
Lewis wrote before the golden age of television, perfectly curated social media feeds, and celebrity-centered culture.
But since coveting is on the list of “Thou shalt Nots” listed in the Ten Commandments, I don’t think the temptation to compare and long for something else comes as a surprise to God.
No matter my circumstances or the temptations all around me,
I want to live a life of abundance and joy.
I don’t want to live a life characterized by longing and disappointment.
So what do you do if you struggle with this problem?
A few years ago, something clicked. I’m not saying I’m a saint in this area. I mean, let’s be honest: I still struggle.
But friends, I seriously think God has shown me an antidote to this poisonous trap I find myself in sometimes.
And I believe in it so much, I HAVE to share it with you.
The secret to a holiday season FULL of joy and contentment is…
Love God. Love People.
Seriously. That’s it.
Jesus said all the laws and the messages from the Old Testament prophets could be summed up in that. (Matthew 22:36-40).
Comparison is me looking at myself, looking at my circumstances and looking at the world around me. Comparison is all about me. And it turns out, I make a pretty lousy thing to be focused on all the time.
But if I start looking at the Maker of the Universe, seeking him, desiring him, choosing him (even before I feel it) and asking for his eyes to see the world around me?
Watch out. Suddenly I’m a girl on fire. And I didn’t even stop to look in the mirror.
It turns out Jesus was right when he said he came to bring fullness of life. His word is truth. And the fruits of his Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
I want some of that.
Our world says to get love, joy, peace, etc. we need to focus on ourselves. The world talks a lot about self-care. Self-empowerment. Self-improvement. Self-dreams. Maybe some of that isn’t all bad. But we’ve gotten to the point where we’re pretty much obsessed with ourselves.
That’s not what the word of God says we should be focusing on at all.
If I choose to follow what Jesus said, seek him first and trust him, I believe I can have a joy-filled Christmas season. And so can you.
How might this look in real life?
Well, it might look like worshipping Christ and asking him to point you to someone hurting. It might look like delivering Christmas baskets to some people who need some extra joy this season. It might look like calling that long lost friend who’s been on your mind lately. It may mean, spending an hour in prayer and the Bible before doing any social media scroll. It means first things first.
A few years ago, someone gave me some true advice. He said, “If your number one job is to help people you’ll never run out of work.”
But to add to that, if our number once job is to love God and love the people around us we’ll never run out of work and we’ll never run out of joy to sustain that work. And when we fix our eyes on him everything else has a funny way of falling into place.
Suddenly, the sulking isn’t happening as often. In its place is encouragement for others. Instead of racing to get from point A to point B, we’re pausing to love on the people in our path. We’re telling cherished ones to have great times without us (and actually meaning it- most of the time). Disappointment, fear, failure, and comparison lose their grip. We’re no longer looking at ourselves so much. We’re looking at him, the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
I know it’s hard. The noise of this world is constant. The distractions are everywhere.
The struggle is real.
But I promise you this: Jesus Christ can be trusted. His words are truth.
And I believe the healing antidote to comparison and misery is simply trusting what he says is for real.
Come along with me and let’s celebrate the most wonderful time of year by following after Christ. Maybe there will still be sugar plums and Burl Ives songs, but if Jesus is first? Seriously, those little dreams are no longer toxic, in small quantities, they are just icing on the cake.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and will all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:36-39
A Final Note:
Friends, I’m trying to grow my email list. It’s my once-a-month-ish way of letting people know what I’m working on. It’s a means for staying connected and spreading a message about loving God and loving people that I believe is worth sharing. And from everything I’ve heard, a good way to start an email list is to create something of value to give away. I thought about what I’ve personally wanted to do to drown out emotional comparison toxins this Christmas and I decided to create something.
So my sweet friend, Bree helped me and we created a Joy-Full Christmas Calendar. This calendar is full of practical ideas of how to seek God and share love this December. It’s a project in being intentional. You can get the free printable calendar by signing up to receive my email newsletter. I’ll send out a link to the calendar in my December newsletter later this week.
Over the next month, I thought it would be fun to post pictures of this project on Instagram with the hashtag #joyfullchristmas. I’d love to see your pics/stories too. I want to commit to sharing #joyfullchristmas ideas from this Saturday to Monday, December 31st. Feel free to find me on Instagram @Janell_M_Wood and look for fun ways to spread joy this holiday season.