How to Avoid the 4 Joy-Stealing Traps of the Holidays!

John ThurmanBy John Thurman14 Minutes

Can you believe it? Christmas is almost here. And in the next few days, millions of people will be headed home for the holidays.

While television and movies portray the holiday season as a beautiful, magical time, the beginning of the season can dredge up unpleasant thoughts and memories for many. The truth is, the holidays can be a time of great joy and a time of painful reflection.

With that in mind, I wanted to warn you about 4 joy-stealing traps to avoid, particularly around the holidays. Why? So you can become more resilient as a person and a couple.

Joy-Stealing Trap #1 Bitterness

Remember The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? Dr. Seuss was writing about bitterness. Holding on to anger and resentment is not only dangerous to your health, but it can also harm you spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.

Bob and his two tweenage (9 and 12) sons were preparing to celebrate their first Christmas after his wife had abandoned him and the boys for another man. “I had heard about anger and resentment in a DivorceCare™ Class at church but had no idea or understanding of how powerful these emotions were until the ‘Holiday play’ at my nine-year-old’s school. At that moment, while watching my youngest son, by myself, I felt a pain and a level of anger that really shocked me.”

Part of the recovery from any loss is coming to terms with bitterness, unprocessed or wrongly processed anger, pain, and disappointment. The problem for many people is that they refuse to let it go. The roots of bitterness usually relate to old anger, often a wave of righteous anger, that failed to get processed. Carrying around these feelings can literally destroy you from the inside out. It can and usually does lead to some type of emotional and physical manifestation, including depression and maladaptive anger.

Insight from Scripture

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life (Ephesians 4:26-27 The Message).

[Jesus said,] “… forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us” (Matthew 6:12 NLT).

Forgiveness is a powerful tool. Forgiveness does not mean that you approve of what happened to you or that what happened to you was okay. Forgiveness means that I, as an individual, can learn to release my hurts to the Lord and let Him take care of them. When I forgive those who have sinned against me, I leave the consequences of the offense for Jesus to deal with.

Joy-Stealing Trap #2 Perfectionism

Sally was a hardcore perfectionist who loved God and had a home that would make Martha Stewart proud. She had struggled for years with her need to be perfect. The fact that her mom was a professional perfectionist all her life hadn’t helped.

Perfectionism means you are constantly trying to achieve a self-induced standard you have a slim chance of hitting. And that standard is usually linked to a parent or family of origin that struggled with the same issues. Some of you know exactly what I am talking about. Remember the eighth grade, when you brought home a report card with five As and a B, and one of your parents overlooked the As but shared their disappointment over the B? That is a perfectionist family.

Perfectionism is kind of like walking by the chocolate shop at the mall and only having a free sample of their fine chocolate. Perfectionism leaves you consistently unfulfilled. The pressure of perfectionism leaves you feeling like a life-long loser, ensuring that you will never enjoy the life God has given you to live right now. You feel there is this standard you will never be able to meet, and the truth is, you won’t. But Jesus already has.

Check your self-talk—the mind chatter that seems to run on automatic. Those thoughts can consistently build you up or tear you down. There are specific strategies you can learn to help you more effectively manage them. If you are stuck on perfectionism, captured by the power of perfectionist thinking—you always or often feel like you’re not good enough, your house isn’t clean enough, your project isn’t correct enough—the following passage of Scripture can help you learn to check your self-talk and manage it more realistically based on biblical thinking.

Insight from Scripture

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT).

Could it be that the root of perfectionism is fear? Learn to push back that voice of fear.

As you learn to manage your perfectionism more effectively, you will find yourself beginning to feel less stressed, more focused, and able to enjoy the celebration of the Lord’s birth.

Joy-Stealing Trap #3 Shame

You are either living your life with a balance of grace and appropriate guilt, or you are living a life out of balance with some grace and a lot of blame, shame, or inappropriate guilt. Unfortunately, our culture has adopted the “find someone else to blame” method of coping, and, though you may feel like you are justified in blaming others for things in your life, the truth is, there is only one person who can make you feel guilt or shame. You. These feelings are usually rooted in old family relationships, which is one of the significant reasons the holiday season puts the issue so close at hand.

Walking around with feelings of shame and guilt about who you are and what you have done in your life will only slow you down and steal the joy of the holidays. When you are consumed by shame and guilt, you cannot and will not live a life characterized by the joy of purposefulness.

Barbara grew up in the Southwest. Her dad was a pastor, and her mom taught school. As the firstborn of four children, Barbara tended to be driven by rules and competition. She stopped going to church in her early teens and began to experience sex, drugs, and party life. She had heard all the talks about how bad premarital sex was, but she had to admit it felt good to be pursued and to feel like someone loved her. Within two to three years, she came to a place where she decided it was in her best interest to slow down the sex, stop drugs, and rethink her partying pattern, and she rededicated herself to the Lord.

However, she struggled to forgive herself and seemed to carry around a fifty-pound sack of shame most of the time. What Barbara needed to do was accept God’s forgiveness and forgive herself.

Look in the mirror and forgive yourself. Remember the story of Jesus and the rich man. Love your neighbor as yourself. You need to do an internal, reality-based gut check.

Insight from Scripture

“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be like wool. Isaiah 1:18 (AMP)

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9 (NLT)

Joy-Stealing Trap #4 Anxiety

If you feel like a cat running through a room of rocking chairs, then you are probably having an up close and personal season of stress and anxiety. If you are stressed up and tweaked out about everything from your relationships to finances to health, the holiday season will inevitably add to your stress and anxiety. Mix into the soup the sometimes unrealistic hopes for the perfect holiday with tender family time, award-winning decorations, and meals a Food Channel chef would envy, and you are heading for a major crash.

Anxiety and stress are usually expressed physically. They can manifest with heart palpitations, racing thoughts, feeling insecure and hopeless. Stress can also make you feel numb or completely overwhelmed. Because Christmas and New Year’s usually cause us to review the past and look toward the future, the holiday season can be a time of stress, anxiety, and hopelessness when we don’t like what we see.

Modern research validates the ancient truths of Scripture. With that in mind, here are a couple of short, poignant examples.

Insight from Scripture

For as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he … (Proverbs 23:7 KJV).

This next set of verses represent what I believe to be the best ways to manage anxiety.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:6-9 NLT).

As we move into the Advent Season, let Jesus Christ, the baby born in Bethlehem and the Son of God who gave his life for you and me, take up your burdens and give you a newfound hope this Christmas Season.

I hope you and your family have a peaceful, blessed, hope-filled Advent Season!