It’s over. The whole holiday season. I know that as a mama and a wife, it was largely my job to work the magic and the social calendar for my family. I also know that I had a two-month-old baby this season, which automatically forfeited any ambitious holiday schemes that may have been brewing.
Over the years, I feel like I have done it all:
Some years I dove head-long into holiday extravagance. I baked cookies and treats. I attended all the parties. I bought way more presents than I could afford. I knitted homemade gifts. I was a Christmas machine of holiday cheer.
Some years I crumbled under the weight of Christmas. I cried when I burned the cookies. Anxiety fueled my holiday shopping. Finding the time to wrap gifts was harder than untangling Christmas lights. And by the time Christmas day arrived, I felt wrung out: just trying to endure the hours left until I could go to sleep and forget the crushing pressure of expectation. Expectation from who? Mostly, myself. But…isn’t that the worst kind?
This year, I knew I was licked before I even started.
So I took stock of the situation, talked with my husband, and together, we simply decided to do very little. That’s all I could afford with my time and energy. It had to be enough. Because it just was. It was the reality of life at this time.
Sounds so very picturesque, right? So very Little-House-On-The-Prairie. So very, “We were poor, but we were happy, because we had each other.”
And yes, there was that. Without tons of plans, we had time to just be home… together. I was tired, or nursing, or cooking, my husband was tired and sore from working overtime during the holidays, the kids were battling rounds of childhood illnesses, but we were together. And without the cymbals crashing about holiday plans, I found that we were free to just exist in the state in which we found ourselves. The pressure to deny our exhaustion, our sickness, or our simple hibernatory tendencies in the middle of winter, was lifted more this year than any year I can remember.
And yet by the time New Year’s Day came around, with nothing fancier than a family trip to the beach and an early bedtime, I was a wretch. Anxiety gripped my stomach and sent me snapping and thrashing at my children. There was an old familiar feeling rising within me that always came up around this time.
It was disappointment.
With whom? I didn’t understand it. I feel like this was the holiday season that I had done the best – that I had faced straight on, and let myself off of the hook for all but the basics. But the thrashing anger I was exhibiting covered a sinking feeling of disappointment. Suddenly I felt like a kid again, riding my bike in slow circles in the hazy orange light of Christmas afternoon, stunned that Christmas morning was all over. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
I realized that we all have that kid inside of us. To deny the disappointment of the holidays is to just bend my heart in another crazy direction: like anger.
One way I’ve found to process the disappointment is to forgive. It could be something as obvious as forgiving someone who didn’t come through for you. Or it could be as mysterious as forgiving yourself. For what? What feels the most real to you? For not giving the kids more special memories? For burning yourself out? For being so easily hurt during the holidays? For feeling sad when you ought to feel joyful? What are you on your own case about? Then that’s what you need to forgive yourself for. Only then can you come onto your own side, love yourself, and accept the love offered you by both God and your loved ones. We are not bad for feeling disappointed. I found that I was being so snappy with my kids because I didn’t like the hard feelings that were coming up for me from when I was a kid. Why did they come up? I don’t know. But when I acknowledged them, and forgave myself instead of condemning myself for feeling them, an escape valve opened up in my heart. Suddenly my eyes softened toward my own children again. Thank the Lord!
Holiday disappointment is REAL. For whatever reason. The giant lead-up of anticipation from Halloween-on feels fantastic. Or annoying. But whatever it is, it’s very very big. But the ending is too unceremonious. Too abrupt. Like a carnival that just packs up and leaves town. I’ve heard of families having their own kinds of “wrap up” traditions and ceremonies to ease out of the holiday season. But the whole bell curve of ceremonies, visits, and productions feels like too much, too unrealistic. Thus, I feel the inevitable resentment toward the entire holiday tide: rising us all up, then dropping us into disappointment.
But, this is MY life, right? I get to choose. So do you. So…what are we going to do about it?
The fix-it-girl in me says: “Let’s go back to the toolbox.” Where are the tools for disappointment? Here’s the Measuring Tape of Communication. Here’s the Box of Feeling Words. Here’s the Life Manual of the Bible. There is the Wrench Set of the Steps of Grief: Disbelief, Bargaining, Anger, Sadness, and Acceptance. And here, bolted to the front of the 4×4, is the Winch of Forgiveness. It has the strongest cords to pull out a heart stuck in the mud of disappointment.
So then, let’s use our tools to build our lives this year of 2017. The holidays may leave me disappointed, but I’ve got some solid reasons to get through it: I’ve got blogs to write, a husband to love, girls to teach and play with, a baby to snuggle, and a future to build with the Lord and my family.