I’m feeling it, I admit. The stress. The stress of Christmas time.
It’s not supposed to be like this, I know, and usually the fun and excitement of this time of year overrides any kind of stress for me. Then, why is this year different? Because I think I might actually, finally, be a grown-up.
And I don’t like it.
Rightly and naturally, with increased maturity comes increased responsibility—or, perhaps, with increased responsibility comes increased maturity. I have not had many responsibilities in my life. Let’s blame my genetic, progressive disease for that. I was supposed to die as a child (oops) and, so, neither my parents nor I saw any need for me to be trained in the ways of adulthood. The fact that I am not physically able to do much adds to the reason that I was never given chores or tasks to accomplish for others.
That changed when computer technology improved, especially the many uses of the internet, and I was able to do more practical things. Slowly, I began taking on the responsibility of doing the tasks that I can, like ordering Christmas presents online. Now, I’m keeping an eye on deadlines, reminding my family members to do what I can’t, and helping my parents choose what they should give, which used to be the other way around. It’s like I’m the adult now, and no longer the child. Yes, I know—it’s taken me far too long to get to this point, but here I am, along with the rest of you adults.
Stressful, isn’t it?
The pressure of responsibilities is a stress upon the mind, the body, the heart, and even the soul. Sometimes, we think that we need to be responsible for everything going on around us, but we don’t. God has given us particular gifts with which to fulfill particular missions. God is not asking more of us than we can give, nor expecting more of us than we can fulfill. Often times, stress is felt when we simply try to do too many things, produce too many accomplishments, or procure much more than what we really need.
So what do we need? What is my particular mission and yours?
Well, I’m pretty sure that preparations for celebrating Christ’s Mass should not take us away Christ Himself. That would be… well, rather stupid. Talk about counterproductive! And counter productivity is a major cause for stress. If the focus of Christmas is Christ—and the very focus of your life and my life is Christ—then actually focusing on Christ should put everything else in perspective. With our eyes, minds, and hearts clearly focused on the receiving and giving of God’s love, faithfully trusting God to show us how to do that, we can accept that we aren’t able to do everything that we want and breathe more easily, cutting down on stress.
We don’t need to make the unwrapping of Christmas presents a perfect event of perfect happiness, because such an event not only can never be perfect but should never be perfect. Fearfully wonderful, life here on earth is supposed to be a proper mess. Material things, no matter how lovely, useful, fun, or exciting cannot and will not bring us true joy. Not ever. They are limited. There is a certain loveliness in limitations—we ourselves are limited and lovely—but we are made for limitless joy, for endless love. We are made for the experience of God’s eternal, loving presence, for union with the divine: for Christ.
That’s the reason that our childhood experience with Christmas changes. As we grow, the sense of overwhelming delight for the Christmas presents we receive dwindles because we are learning to turn our focus away from perishable things to the things eternal. We need to recognize the everlasting, durable goodness of self-giving love, honesty, compassion, and purity of heart to be fulfilled as human beings. If mere things are the only avenues of pleasure for us, then we will live lives of misery. And we don’t want that. As stressful as it is to be a responsible adult, it’s demeaning, degrading, and downright depressing to be a self-centered adult.
As adults, it’s good to foster a delightful Christmas feeling in children, so long as we remember what the true delight, the true magic of Christmas is: divinely self-giving love. It’s not about bending over backwards and stressing out in order to give over the top experiences and things. It’s about how much our Creator loves us and sharing His love with others. God Almighty, the Creator of all, loves us human beings so much that He descended to become one of us. Christ is the divine manifestation of self-giving love and that’s why we celebrate His coming into the world.
By remembering and truly celebrating this great gift from God, we are able to receive His love in grateful trust. Reminding myself that I’m not supposed to produce a perfect celebration or perfect reactions to perfect material gifts, I no longer feel stressful pressure as I concentrate on giving the gifts that are truly important—the gift of myself, the gift of love.
And so, I will gladly do the things that my parents ask me to do for them, that anyone asks me to do for them that is within my ability—but only if those things can keep me, and them, focused on Christ, focused on eternal love and all the heavenly things that truly matter. We say that Christmas is a time for gathering with loved ones, so let us never leave out the most beloved: Christ. Let us seek Him out where He is most in need in our fellow human beings, and let us invite His loving, merciful presence into our hearts and into our lives so that we may know true joy, the joy of Christ, both as children and adults.
With this in mind, it seems most appropriate to pray the Collect prayer of the second Sunday of Advent every day of the Advent season—and every day of my life:
Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company.
© 2018 Christina Chase
Photo by Daniil Silantev “
Photo by Greg Weaver “
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.