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What to do When All is NOT Calm

A man and a woman put ornaments on a Christmas tree with their child.

Celebrating the holidays with family can be a joyful time, but sometimes we experience unmet expectations, irritation, and bitterness in spite of the holiday season. So, how do we find that happy place where “all is calm, all is bright”? In today's blog, Dr. Chris Grace shares three steps you can take to make the most of the holiday seasons in every circumstance.

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”

George Burns

 “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.”

Joseph Mohr


For many people, the above quote by George Burns about happiness and family is so true—there is something to be said about distance. But I think most of the time he was only half right: Loving, caring, close-knit families are awesome. Holiday celebrations with family that you have not seen in a while, or having children and young adults back home from far away, can lead to exciting days and bright nights. But I am guessing most of us have experienced the pain and disappointment when not everything goes as silent, holy, calm, or bright as we wished. 

Some of our most distressing holiday moments involve unmet expectations, including things like strong feelings and beliefs about the “correct” way to celebrate. Family members often have different views on traditions and celebrations, and what constitutes “calm and bright.” Some like to play and shop, some like to read and sleep, and others just want to watch football. Fortunately, almost everyone loves to eat, and hates cleaning up—except our friend Lori Ann, who enjoys washing dishes—we love when she visits us!

Such expectations and beliefs often arouse strong feelings in us because they are what we are used to, and what feels comfortable and right. Thus, when your adult or teenage children treat your home like a personal way station—just a place to sleep before they are up and out, running around with friends all day—irritation and bitterness can start to erode the joy of the season.

Or maybe it is that family member who never commits, or does not show common courtesy, like letting everyone know about their schedule, or if or when they will arrive for dinner. 

Younger adults often feel exasperated by parents or family who pressure them to always be around the house. They feel the expectation to always check-in and feel pressured by when asked where they are going, who they are going with, and when they will be home. It is often not a joyous moment when they want to be with friends all day or stay out late, or when they want to be treated like an adult, but push against many of the usual adult responsibilities.

So how do families find that happy place where “all is calm, all is bright” during the upcoming holidays? Here are three steps you can take to make the most of the holiday season.

  1. Talk over your expectations. For our family, simply talking about our hopes and anticipations has prevented a lot of heartaches. It has helped us navigate our differing expectations of what that “perfect” holiday experience would be. For example, my wife actually looks forward to entertaining, decorating the house, and listening to worshipful holiday music. For her, pine scents, sparkling lights and the aroma of homemade cookies signal the arrival of the yuletide season.  I mostly look forward to the NFL and NCAA bowl games. Nothing spreads more joy than a major bowl upset or the Broncos finally beating the Patriots. Just recalling a past game, a special play, or some unresolved drama can bring a tear of joy to my eye.  
  2. Ease off the pressure to be perfect. Do not put so much weight into trying to make these precious few days or weeks into the Instagram perfect holiday. Don’t set yourself up to be hurt when they are instead filled with doses of stress and simmering annoyances.  Instead, understand that even happy families have points of disagreement and unmet expectations, but they also accept that as part of being a “normal” family. They’ve learned how to hold expectations loosely, change them when necessary, and take the pressure off of themselves and each other by not demanding everything be “just so.”  
  3. Stock up on God’s grace. My friend Dr. Tim Muehlhoff says a good Christmas holiday actually begins weeks before December 25 by investing in your own personal relationship with God. Whether you call it a sabbath or extended prayer time, getting your own heart and soul in the best position to hear from God is the most essential thing you can do to prepare for the holiday rush. Share with each other what you are grateful for and how you can support one another in some tangible ways. Stocking up on grace and expressing gratitude will go a long way to help you find that place of peace and calm that God so desires for each of us during this bright, holy season of joy.

As your togetherness time increases during this holiday season, may you experience the joy of a caring, close-knit family, and a grace-filled season, where all truly is calm and bright.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!