Are you feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed about the holidays? Read about my struggle with holiday anxiety, and how I’m refocusing my heart in preparation for Christ, his divine interruption, and the advent of grace.
I recently heard some words come out of my mouth that left a bad taste in my mouth — because if the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart — then what does “I hate the holidays” say about the state of my heart? And yes, I really did utter those words as I sat in the passenger seat of my mom’s car yesterday, arms crossed, hands tightly clenched, feeling grumpy about this time of year — a season that often seems buried by wrapping paper, expensive gifts, and traffic. I love a chance to spend more time with my family — but often, the first sign of Christmas lights launches me into a huff that alternates between anxiety and irritation.
This has been a long time tradition I’ve practiced in seclusion; it’s my annual panic parade featuring social anxiety and sweaty armpits.
I remember one Christmas shopping excursion in particular when I, at the age of 8, accompanied my poor mama to the mall which was flooded with people. My mom circled around the parking lot for 20 minutes, looking for (fighting for) the limited spaces. When she finally found an opening, we entered the busy mall. The noise, the flashes of red and green, the ornaments, the garlands, the Chipmunks shrill voices singing over the loudspeaker — talk about sensory overload. I felt like I was about to hurl. My mom led me out of the mall, forgoing her list to compassionately usher me out of the crowd.
As I’ve aged, I’ve become a little less sensitive to the hustle and bustle. That’s not to say I’ve lost my tendencies to burrow in the winter — but over the years, my panic has mingled with cynicism over the commercialism of Christmas, contorting into another kind of dread.
I’d become so accustomed to my bad attitude that I didn’t even realize the extent to which it had grown. This year, however, the Holy Spirit kept nudging me to see that — while I’d been fixating on how everybody else was “corrupting “ Christmas — I failed to see the giant, rotting log in my own eye.
Disrupted Routines and Anxiety
There’s a lot of ways that the joy of Christmas is drained out of the holidays. Sometimes, the season is sometimes a painful reminder of loved ones who have passed.
Maybe you’re like me and struggle with anxiety and depression during the holidays. I often stress over the way in which the holidays disrupt my familiar, routine. Large crowds feel suffocating, and get nervous when I anticipate the large groups that gather for festivities. Traveling, financial strain, different foods I don’t normally eat: it all feels entirely out of my control. And for many people who suffer from anxiety, a lack of control is a major source of stress.
I know my griping may come off as ungrateful and selfish and, well, it is. I’m aware that I’m extremely fortunate to have spent 22 Christmases in a warm house, with a full stomach, surrounded by a loving family. I guess what I’m trying to say is that recently, I’ve realized I’ve been so engrossed in my own anxiety that I’ve missed opportunities to love and serve others. More importantly, in pursuing comfort, I’ve completely glossed over the birth of Jesus.
And I think it’s a little ironic that my own idol of comfort was exactly what made the arrival of Jesus so unbelievably controversial.
During Jesus’s life, His words didn’t sit well with many of those listening. He threatened to change the status quo. He challenged the Roman authorities and Jewish hierarchies.
Jesus’s words were the stuff of miracles, of resurrection, of healing. His teachings condemned idols of money and power and challenged self-seeking legalism. He made people uncomfortable. He didn’t come to bring peace but a sword — a sword that divides and uproots and interrupts the familiar.
Jesus was ruffling feathers before He could even speak. Even before Jesus’s ministry began, the prophecies that predicted His arrival made news of his birth downright scandalous. People were rattled when they heard that the King of Jews had arrived.
“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:3)
During this first week of advent, I’m reminded that following Christ isn’t a comfortable or painless road. Taking up my cross defies my human heart that is proud, stingy, and self-involved. I’m reminded that I absolutely need Christ to interrupt me and save me from the path of sin and self-destruction.
The Holy Spirit is urging me to remember that the coming of Jesus was the most beautiful interruption this weary world has ever experienced.
During this first week of advent, I’m asking God to interrupt me with flooding reminders of that night that Love Came Down. That night a Savior arrived — a Savior who came not only to abide with us but to die for us.
We’re compelled to pause and ponder because this birth, this baby, this Savior — He changed everything.
How could that not stop me in my tracks?
During this advent season, I’m taking my eyes off anxiety and refocusing them on this radical King whose love turned our world on its head and turns my heart inside out.
I’m asking him to keep stirring my soul and interrupting my familiar way of living to pause and contemplate the birth of Jesus — the divine interruption — the advent of grace.
Like Mary, I’m treasuring up these things and pondering them in my heart. (Luke 2:1-20)
I looked up the word “interrupt” and grinned when I saw the word origin. Interrupt is derived from the Latin verb “interrumpere:” “inter,” meaning between, and “rumpere,” meaning broken.
Jesus interrupts. He became flesh to dwell in between Heaven and earth. He came in between and then he broke. He broke our down our walls, our chains, our ideas about salvation and structure — and then He willingly became broken in order to break us of our sin.
Join Me this Advent
Over the next few weeks, as we celebrate this divine interruption, I’ll be sharing scripture and contemplating Christ on my blog and social media. If you’d like to journey with me as I prepare my heart for advent, you can find me at the links below: