Seven Steps to Staying Sane During the Holidays

Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn

For some of us, the holiday season is not always a season to be joyful. It's dark and dreary. There are lots of people around. Our routines are interrupted. And don't even get me started on bad memories! While it may be a time to remember glad tidings of great joy, very often I simply want to crawl in a hole and have someone 
wake me up when it's all over. Even if you don't struggle to this degree, the holidays have a way of bringing about the blues when you least expect it.

So what are we to do when the world wants us to be happy and joyful, and the dreads come upon us? Here are seven things to keep you going:

  1. Don't be surprised that heaven on earth doesn't seem fully baked yet. Jesus did not come into the world to make you happy, at least not "Elf" happy. He came to rescue a world broken by sin. While the work is finished in His death and resurrection, the cleanup continues until the Last Day.
  2. When I am trapped by my own thoughts and fears and doubts, it is important to get outside of my own head. Listen to the great hymns of the church. And I don't mean "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" sort of hymns. I mean the real ones–the ones that give us the riches of God's mercy in His Son. It helps. It really does. Take a look at Paul Gerhardt's magnificent Advent hymn, "O Lord, How Shall I Meet You" in the sidebar. In it you will find a picture of our Lord that shows His longing to care for YOU. It's worth your time to sing or listen to hymns such as these.
  3. Give yourself permission to recharge. When things in your life are crazier than usual, a little time alone can do a lot of good, especially for us introverts! Take a walk. Dive into a book. Do something that will allow you to have time for yourself.
  4. Pray and Meditate on God's Word. Yeah, yeah, I know that's what you would expect a pastor to say, but it is actually helpful. It's through hearing and receiving God's Word that the Holy Spirit creates and nurtures faith. Faith gets you outside yourself and puts your focus on Christ and His gifts, rather than on you and your failures or wrongly perceived successes. It's a good thing! Trust me. Maybe try the Higher Things Reflections for Advent and Christmas! You may find you really like them. And even if you don't like them right away, it is worth the discipline to hear God's Word every day.
  5. Embrace the madness. For me, I find that sometimes I have to remind myself that things really are crazy and I'm not making it up. You just have to roll with it for a time. Things will slow down again, but enjoy the ride while you're on it.
  6. Try not to eat every single thing that has sugar in it for a month. I like candy canes and cookies as much as the next pastor, but sugar does actually put you in a depressive state. The sugar high will crash. And a month of that up and down crashing will actually make you feel sluggish and depressed. I have found that if I can say I won't have any Christmas goodies until, say, after supper, that will at least keep me from the threat of slipping into a sugar coma all day long.
  7. Just like it is okay not to be "Elf" happy, in the same way it is okay not to be the Grinch. Jesus did come into our flesh and blood to save us. That is good news! No matter what is going on around you…ups or downs…this Gospel doesn't change!

Well, there you have it. It won't fix everything, but these pointers will help keep you from going completely crazy when the holly jolliness of Advent, Christmas and the New Year presses down upon you. The world's happiness may come from getting more stuff, or some vague sense of "peace on earth," but our peace comes from knowing that Jesus Christ is for us all the way. And that is very good news indeed!

Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Rocklin, California. He is the founding editor of Higher Things Magazine, where he served from 2001–2006.

O Lord, how shall I meet You,
 How welcome You aright?
Your people long to greet You, 
My hope, my heart's delight! 
O kindle, Lord most holy,
 Your lamp within my breast
To do in spirit lowly
 All that may please You best.

Your Zion strews before You 
Green boughs and fairest palms;
 And I too will adore You 
With joyous songs and psalms.
 My heart shall bloom forever
 For You with praises new
And from Your name shall never
 Withhold the honor due.

I lay in fetters, groaning;
 You came to set me free.
 I stood, my shame bemoaning;
 You came to honor me. 
A glorious crown You give me, 
A treasure safe on high
That will not fail or leave me 
As earthly riches fly.

Love caused Your incarnation;
 Love brought You down to me.
 Your thirst for my salvation 
Procured my liberty.
 Oh, love beyond all telling, 
That led You to embrace
In love, all love excelling, 
Our lost and fallen race.

Sin's debt, that fearful burden,
 Cannot His love erase;
 Your guilt the Lord will pardon
And cover by His grace 
He comes, for you procuring 
The peace of sin forgiv'n,
 His children thus securing 
Eternal life in heav'n.

He comes to judge the nations,
 A terror to His foes,
 A light of consolations
 And blessèd hope to those 
Who love the Lord's appearing.
 O glorious Sun, now come,
 Send forth Your beams so cheering,
 And guide us safely home.

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