I’d prepared for weeks, sending out invitations, planning menus, cooking food, cleaning the house, and selecting serving dishes and decorations. I was looking forward to hosting this party, one of the first in our new house.
When the guests arrived, though, I was still in my hectic preparation mode. I couldn’t seem to shake off the hustle and bustle of the day, so I puttered around the kitchen refilling glasses and plates, heating up additional plates of food.
I stopped to visit with friends just long enough to check if they had food and drinks and then moved on to the next task on the list. I could’t slow down to enjoy the party or spend quality time with our guests.
Have you ever experienced this? Maybe you’ve been this hostess, too? Or, have been invited to someone’s home who spent the whole time running around serving and didn’t have time to enjoy their own party?
Is Holiday Stress Keeping You From Being Present in your Celebrations?
I thought I was doing my best to serve my guests and make this a great party, but I wasn’t present with my friends. I was too stressed and rushed to celebrate and find joy in the gathering.
I still fall into this trap in
I allow the holiday stress to steal my peace and joy.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I get focused on decorations, presents, and holiday events, becoming stressed about how we’ll fit it all in. In May, a particularly busy month for our family, I get frazzled trying to plan birthday parties, buy Mother’s Day gifts, manage end of season sporting event schedules, ensure the kids are caught up on final tests and projects, and plan childcare for the summer.
Do you have seasons like this? Seasons, holidays, events that keep you so harried, stressed, and distracted that you can barely enjoy it? Holiday stress that steals your peace and joy?
How to Beat the Holiday Stress – Lessons from Mary and Martha
Martha certainly experienced hostess stress as she hosted Jesus and his disciples. Let’s take a look at the familiar story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”(Luke 10:38-42 NIV)
Martha showed great hospitality to open her home to Jesus
As Jesus traveled in his ministry, he relied on the hospitality of others for food and places to stay. He visited Martha and her family often. She always had an open door for him and his entourage.
Hosting Jesus was no simple task – and wasn’t always safe, either. When you opened your home to Jesus, you were also hosting his group of disciples. Your home would also host others from the town who wanted to see and hear Jesus. The presence of Jesus could also attract his opposition, especially for Martha whose town was near Jerusalem.
Martha didn’t care about the cost or the risk, she valued the presence of Jesus and readily opened her home to him.
- How are you showing hospitality to others? Do you have a welcoming home?
- How are you showing hospitality to Jesus? How are you inviting him into your life, despite the cost and risk of doing so?
Mary wanted to be in the presence of Jesus
Martha’s sister, Mary, also loved these visits, but she just wanted to sit in Jesus’ presence and soak up his teaching. While Martha prepared the meals, saw to sleeping arrangements, and ensured all the guests were taken care of, Mary settled in at the feet of Jesus to hear him preach.
Jesus came in and started preaching. Mary, not wanting to squander this opportunity, sat down and listened closely, giving Jesus her full attention.
Mary didn’t want to just hear bits and pieces as she did housework. She wanted to fully listen and spend quality time with Jesus.
- How attentive are you to your guests? Do you give your full attention to listen and engage in authentic conversation?
- How attentive are you to Jesus? Are you sitting at his feet, listening and spending quality time with him?
Martha was distracted by all the preparations
Hosting such a crowd requires quite an effort. Martha wouldn’t want to just lay out cold cuts and a loaf of bread for make-your-own sandwich night. She’d want to make a spread of her best dishes, providing ample food and drinks for all the guests assembled in her home.
So, when Jesus arrived, she got right to work readying the house and cooking the food. While she was laboring out of love for Jesus, she became so busy with the work that she didn’t have time to actually spend with Jesus.
Martha was so worried about the logistics, preparations, and expectations that she wasn’t fully present with Jesus.
She lost sight of the meaning and value of the visit, becoming focused and stressed about the details of the event.
Good hospitality is being attentive to your guests, listening and spending time with them, not being stressed by their presence.
- When planning holiday celebrations or other events, do you get stressed and worried about all the details, decorations, and logistics? Does this cause you to be less present with your family and friends?
- What activities keep you distracted from Jesus?
Your Presence is More Important than Your Preparation
As I look back on family Christmases when I was growing up, what I remember most aren’t the decorations, dishes served, or presents received, but being together as a family.
The house was decorated and festive, the table full of food, but I remember most the warm sound of conversation and laughter. We all pitched in to prepare the food and clean the kitchen, making the chores a time of togetherness. I didn’t mind being in the kitchen, because that was where my mother and grandmothers were and it always seemed to have the best conversations – definitely the loudest laughter.
I need to learn to spend less time, stress, and energy on the preparations and planning. I need to be more present with my friends and family. I want to slow down and enjoy each season, each holiday, each moment with loved ones.
The best way I’ve found to be more present with my loved ones and enjoy each season of our lives is to first be more present with Jesus. I need to slow down and put him first, sitting at his feet.
Learning to slow down and put Jesus first will, in turn, help you learn to give more priority to the people in your life.
12 Spiritual Disciplines for Less Holiday Stress
Do the holidays bring out your stress and worry? Are you overwhelmed by how much there is to do? Trying to fit in too much in an effort to make the season memorable and special, but know it’s going to wear you out?
When your holidays – Christmas, family vacations, graduations, birthdays – begin to overwhelm you with preparations, logistics, and expectations, use these spiritual practices to refocus.
Over the next two
Set aside all the extras and focus on the one thing that matters most.
Sit at the feet of Jesus and allow him to speak into your heart.
Let go of all the extras and be attentive to the people in your life and the real meaning of your time together.
How will you be more present in your celebrations?
When you get overwhelmed and stressed thinking about all the planning, preparation, and activities ahead, think about Mary and Martha. Mary chose to slow down, accept a less-spectacular event, and overlook a few chores, so she could be fully present with Jesus. She sat at his feet and listened, soaking in every word he said.
Few things are needed, the most important of which is being present.
- Stop to consider what is the purpose of your activity? Are you working yourself into a frenzy over minor details and over-planning, unneeded things, over-the-top celebration?
- What if instead you pared it back to the essentials and focused on being present, listening and spending time with people?
Will anyone really notice one less dish served, a bit of clutter that didn’t get picked up in the room, fewer decorations, or the absence of goodie bags and extras?
Or, will they instead remember the conversations and the time spent together?
Prayer for Less Holiday Stress
O Lord Jesus, I want to sit at your feet and be in your presence. I want to lay aside all the expectations, obligations, and preparations to just be fully present with you. Teach me how to let go and rest in you, so I can be filled with you. Teach me how to slow down so I can also be fully present with my family and loved ones. When the stress and overwhelm of the season become too much, help me to cut back and focus on what really matters. Help me to be present, to listen, and to spend quality time with loved ones, focused on the meaning of the season. Show me how to do less, so I can celebrate more fully. For I want to sit at your feet first and be filled by you, so I can then be more attentive in my other relationships, showing more love and experiencing life more fully. Amen.