less stress

A few years ago I was in full holiday shopping mode, heading to a store that was notorious for being overcrowded at Christmas.

As I entered the store, my heart sunk. The line snaked down the aisle, with one of those retractable belt barriers that corrals crowds like horses.

This was my punishment: standing in Dante’s fourth level of hell—the Christmas checkout line.

Let me put it plainly: shopping stresses me out. I don’t even like venturing into stores outside of the Christmas season, much less when they resemble a crowded day at Disney. The mass of people, long lines and overstimulation of stuff makes my brain reel.

Standing in line, I felt exactly zero feelings of peace and joy. Instead I was filled with frustration—at the person standing three inches behind me, at the clerks ringing up people too slowly and at myself, because I was my most complaining, uncharitable self at that moment.

I knew something had to change—that if I held up a magnifying mirror to my heart, I wouldn’t like what I saw.

My frantic pace during November and December was the opposite of everything I wanted at Christmas: less worry, less hurry, more Jesus, more joy.

I was not going to stand in an endless Christmas line again and feel such big ugly feelings. After all, it was just a line.

What had happened to gratitude and simplicity? How had I gotten so swept away by a consumer-driven culture that emphasized buying stuff over cultivating my heart?

How could I simplify and plan for a November and December that would help me spend my time well?


The Closet Cleanout: Reorganizing the Holidays

When I clean out an unorganized closet and throw out all the stuff I no longer wear, I suddenly find the stuff I really like: the snuggly cardigans, the pair of jeans that fit like a glove, the t-shirts that go with anything. I like my clothes better, I can find what I need quicker, and everything is in order.

Having less actually means having more. How had I failed to apply this mindset to the holidays?

November and December’s grueling schedule had become my cluttered, overstuffed closet in need of a thorough cleaning. Shelves were bursting with stuff, drawers were overflowing, and the good things—the ones that really mattered—were buried too deep to find.

I needed to clean up things—and I don’t mean reorganizing either. Reorganizing means we plan harder, organize better and make it all fit.

I have been making it all fit since the beginning of adulthood. This wasn’t working anymore. I found that my people-pleasing, over scheduled lifestyle wasn’t reaping the eternal treasures and fruit-bearing that the Bible talks about.

I had to define what mattered and what didn’t–the essentials of what can stay and what can go that I used in closet organizing.

So I began writing down the things that I wanted, which I call:

The Three Essentials

1. Focusing on Jesus

2. Spending time with family and friends

3. Cultivating my own heart so that I can love well

Then I tackled my next challenge—listing all the things on my November and December to-do list and cutting out things. I won’t tell you this was easy. As soon as I told Sam one of the things I was cutting, he protested.

I’m warning you now: Your family and friends won’t like the things you take off the list. People hold on dearly to their traditions and they will be sad to see some things modified or eliminated.

But as author Shauna Niequist says about her stressed out life, “How many moments of connection I missed—too busy, too tired, too frantic and strung out on the drug of efficiency. Now I know there’s another way. You don’t have to damage your body and your soul and the people you love most in order to get done what you think you have to get done. You don’t have to live like this.”

This mindset, especially during the holidays, is controversial. I have already gotten push back on my choices. Like pulling off a band-aid, this hurts.

But my hope is that when I say yes intentionally, I will be nurturing things of eternal value, rather than what the world says is valuable.

So here it goes. The big chop. All the pieces of Christmas left on the cutting room floor.

Things I modified for this year: fewer gifts, less decorating, less present wrapping, no Christmas cards, no Christmas baking (unless it is special mother-daughter time) and several parties.

The things I chose to cut out or simplify will not be the same as yours. You might find baking to be the best way to serve your neighbors or connect with friends.

But the reality is this: You will need to cut out things you like in order to keep the things you love.

During this season of busyness I have to choose my yes wisely, prioritizing time with Jesus and my family first.

My goals for simplicity and gratitude will grow when I spend more time in prayer and in His Word, moments when I can create space for the divine to enter into the everyday.

My hope is this: The Word will be open and absorbed into my days.

Advent devotionals will grace our shelves, earmarked and well worn.

Spending time serving and being Christ to others, will take a higher priority.

The Jesse tree, a simple branch with handmade felt ornaments, will serve as our family devotional focus.

We will decorate less: a tree, our fireplace mantel, the Jesse Tree and advent wreath. A few other special things–like a candlelit pyramid from Germany and our Joy sign, will also stay. Many things will remain in boxes or be given away.

Instead of decorating my home until exhaustion, I will scale back and work at beatifying my soul instead.

This is the beginning of a soul reset, the first step in cultivating a life of connection, love and peace, rather than trying to frantically keep pace with the world.

Instead of feeling sad about what I’m giving up, I feel a sweet release, the slow emerging of a new path, one that leads to a place of longing and home.


Want to do a soul reset too?  Here is a free download of a soul reset journaling page to help you cultivate a mindset focused on Jesus.




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