I was recently reading an article stating that 45% of people in the United States would prefer to skip out on the holidays rather than deal with the stress of it all.

Seems crazy, right?

But if we think about it, it’s not all that surprising. From family struggles to financial stress to managing expectations, the most wonderful time of the year can sometimes feel a little less wonderful than we want it to.

With that in mind… What if I told you that you could change the dynamics of your upcoming holiday gatherings singlehandedly?

Seriously.

All too often, if we’re not intentional, we can actually be part of what makes holidays stressful for those we love. We can become stress-creators rather than peace-bringers.

Flipping that around comes down to two things: expectations and attitude.

Intentional Expectations

Even beyond the holidays, our expectations hurt us more than they help us. This is how we see the Perfection Infection show up, which is when we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves and of others, and when we unfairly compare ourselves and others.

When we are stuck in the idealistic world of unrealistic expectations around the holidays, we are spending every moment comparing what’s real to what’s imagined. It’s a recipe for frustration, discontentment, and a whole lot of stress.

Instead of unrealistic expectations, here are some healthy expectations to hold this holiday season:

Expect people to be who they are. Uncle George is going to be Uncle George. (Of course, replace “George” with whoever popped in your mind.) So often we anticipate people will be on their “best behavior” because of the holidays, but that’s not a realistic expectation. It is likely someone will be grumpy, someone will say something offensive, someone will be late, and the list goes on.

Expect it to be challenging to get everyone together. I actually shared about this in a blog a few years ago. Particularly if you are an empty nester (or will be soon), it’s important to expect it to be difficult to get everyone together. In fact, we can give everyone the freedom to know that whatever decision they make is okay! As your children start dating, move away, get married, or have kids, priorities are adjusted, and that’s normal. This year like last year, it’s possible that COVID-19 will also add an extra level of complication to our family’s decisions about the holidays.

Expect that something won’t go right. Oh boy… the potential list here is endless. You can do yourself a huge favor and expect this from the beginning! From something getting burnt to family members getting frustrated with each other, it is very likely that something won’t go right this holiday. That’s real life! When that happens, just say aloud, “Of course….” because, after all, you expected that something wouldn’t go right!

Expect to be offended, and have a plan for how you’ll untangle that inside of yourself. A lot of times when we feel offended around holidays, we make it about us. They didn’t show up so they must not like us. Nobody really touched the dessert I made; it must be terrible. No one has said “Thank you,” so they must not care. You get the idea… The first step to untangling that offense within ourselves is to recognize it’s very likely not actually about us. People have preferences, struggles they’re dealing with, stressors, things on their mind, and 99% of that is completely separate from us. Your holidays will go much smoother if you don’t make things about you.

Expect to need to ask for help. If we don’t ask for help, we can’t be upset when we don’t receive it. We have a list going in our head, but others likely won’t see what needs to be done. Don’t hold the expectation that people will just jump right into what’s in your head, but do expect to make your needs known.

Intentional Attitude

Philippians 1:27 tells us, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…” Whatever happens. Our circumstances, disappointing or not, don’t change the attitude God calls us to.

In addition to acknowledging our expectations, it’s important that we acknowledge the attitude we approach the holidays with this year. Here are a few healthy attitudes to intentionally hold:

Attitude of serving. Let’s be looking for opportunities to serve this holiday season. Whether that means baking a family favorite or taking the time away from baking to extend a listening ear, taking an attitude of service allows us to meaningfully connect with those we love.

Attitude of loving. Sometimes people can be hard to love. I talked about this on this podcast episode. But how we approach each person this holiday matters deeply. Curious what an attitude of love looks like? Romans 12:9-21 is my favorite breakdown of the type of love God calls us to.

Attitude of compassion. There are many struggles and internal wounds that appear more evident at holiday gatherings. Instead of meeting these struggles with frustration or shame, let’s meet them with compassion. Let’s have compassion for other people’s brokenness.

Attitude of grace. Like I wrote about in relation to our expectations, it is very likely that something will go wrong or someone won’t be able to be there. When this happens, this is a great opportunity to be a peace-bringer instead of a stress-creator by extending grace.

Attitude of joy. Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Whether it’s reflecting on all the blessings God has given us or celebrating the joy of Christ sent to Earth, we are called to be people marked by joy.

So how are you going to show up for the holidays? If you show up with realistic expectations and a God-honoring attitude, no matter what happens, you’re going to experience the holidays in a much more positive way!

What stood out for you? How do you plan to show up for the holidays?

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