Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year’s. Don’t those words call up images and smells immediately? Cinnamon and pumpkin, lights and gifts. We call them “The Holidays” because that’s enough. Yes, we have other holidays such as Independence Day and Labor Day, but really, when it comes down to it, the weeks that span Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are the ultimate in celebration. I think it’s appropriate that this should even be considered the pinnacle of the year. Taking time to think about thankfulness for the year’s abundance, the gift of Immanuel, and the fresh beginning of a new year is appropriate.

But is that what we really celebrate on those holidays? Do we spend more time meditating on the gifts God gave during the year or which dishes to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner and how to decorate the table? Do we spend as much time thinking on the miracle of God coming to live among us as we do stressing about buying presents and managing to make it to all the parties and family gatherings? Do we think about the opportunity of a New Year and what God would have for us or do we just make some New Year resolutions that we hope will make us thinner, richer, and happier?

Walking Through the Holidays With Jesus

I am not a Grinch. I absolutely love planning meals, choosing table decorations, picking out presents, and attending parties. And, I must admit, I enjoy making New Year’s resolutions. There is value in these very practical and domestic elements that make a celebration. However, it’s appropriate to pause and consider how much we let those concerns take over our minds, pushing out any chance to grow deeper in intimacy with God as we walk through the holidays with Him.

Of course, that is easier said than done. I don’t think any of us intend to go through the season so busy we never take the time to properly pay attention to the meaning of the holiday and to use it as a time to deepen our relationship with God. The problem is that we don’t plan for Jesus to be the center of our holidays as much as we plan for all the other parts that go with celebrating. I think that if we want to discipline ourselves in order to turn our attention toward something, we have to be intentional about it — just as we would if we were disciplining ourselves to exercise or eat healthy. There needs to be a plan and diligent follow-through. If we can do this, I know there are rich rewards that will come from our choice to focus our attention on God.

You might think that the first step is to write a to-do list of all the things you want to do to re-focus during the season. This might not be the best place to start. I love a to-do list as much as anyone, but if we want to be less busy and instead be more mindful and present with God, the first thing to do is take some time to be quiet before God, praying for Him to show you what His plans are for you during the holiday season. listening to Him with intentional silence, and reading Scripture. Perhaps you can read through the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 and look for ways that you can take this lesson into your days. Maybe a read through the laws governing important celebrations in the Old Testament in Leviticus will help you gain insight into God’s purpose for celebration. Journal your thoughts and what God teaches you because there is nothing like writing something down to cement it in your mind and heart.

After taking the time to ask God what he has for you, then it might be a good idea to write down some ideas for how to practically move your attention from tasks to Jesus. It could be setting aside your quiet time during November, December, and January to intentionally focus on giving thanks, celebrating advent, and renewal and fresh starts. If you have children, planning activities to teach them about the meaning of the holiday will enrich their lives as much as yours. In addition to an advent calendar of winter activities, you can fill it with meditations on scriptures and activities or conversation starters that will help your family focus on the true meaning of the season.

The Proof Is In The Heart

I also think it’s important to not just do these activities, but to mark them and make them special by giving them attention. Put them on the family calendar. Gather supplies for a craft the day before. Plan each evening around your discussion starters. I don’t mean you should begin to worry about photographing projects so they will be popular on Pinterest. That would probably undermine the point. But I do think taking the time to take pictures, writing about it in a journal or blog, and most of all, verbally recounting it all as memories for your family will cement this new focus in your hearts.

We all know what the real reason for the season is — so, this year let’s make it a priority to diligently pursue a path that will lead us to where we want to go — to a more intimate relationship with God. This doesn’t have to be in spite of or instead of the holidays, but rather, because of the holidays. I hope that as you intentionally pursue a quiet time with God by asking Him what He has for you, by planning activities that will allow you and your family to focus your attention on the meaning for the celebration, and by marking the importance of your journey with pictures and stories that you will find a depth of joy in what can often be a stressful time of year.