I closed my eyes and gently pressed two fingers on my eyelid to stop it from twitching.
Christmas was getting closer, and my brain would not stop reminding me of all I needed to do, gifts I needed to buy, plans, and decisions I needed to make. Then there was laundry to wash, groceries to buy, appointments to schedule, calls to return, and my daughter’s birthday party to plan.
Why doesn’t everything just do itself this time of the year so I can handle the extra stuff that comes with the holidays? I wondered.
As I walked around my house in what felt like circles, trying to make progress, my chest started tightening, and my head started aching. I thought about all the times I had resented December and dreaded Christmas. I didn’t want that to happen again, and I knew I was the only person who could stop it. So I sat down and made a list of my nonstop thoughts, ideas, desires, along with our family’s Christmas traditions and expectations I assumed others had of me. I looked at the list and took a deep breath — no wonder I was overwhelmed and eye-twitchy.
But what happened next caught me by surprise. An idea I’d never had before popped into my thoughts: You don’t have to do it all.
And, of course, I questioned it. How can I not do all of these things? I’ve always done them!
But then, another thought came to me: You don’t have to do what you’ve always done. You could just do what matters most to you and the ones you love.
It sounded like something someone older and wiser would say, and I knew it was not my own thoughts, but God’s heart whispering to mine. His grace-filled perspective began to shift something in me. I didn’t have to do it all. I was an adult, and I had a choice in the matter.
Now, I’m sure this would be an obvious option to some people. For me, it was the first time I’d even considered changing how our family celebrated Christmas and possibly eliminating some of our traditions. But when a sense of relief washed over my soul and calm came in my chest, I knew it was wisdom my heart desperately needed to hear.
That year, I made another list of traditions that mattered most to me. And I sat down with my husband, J.J., and our kids to find out what mattered most to them. I put up fewer Christmas decorations, cut back on the most time-consuming and stressful traditions, bought teachers gift cards instead of gifts, and did almost all of my shopping online.
I also took J.J.’s advice and gave our sons and their wives each a tradition to plan so I wasn’t the only one in charge of food, games, and activities. It’s a glorious thing when your kids become young adults. (Just hold on, mamas of young kids, your time is coming!)
December is a lot. And the past two years have compounded the weight of concerns we carry and loads we bear. But it’s not only during the holidays that we fall into a mindset of believing we have to do it all. Every season of the year and every stage of life comes with expectations, obligations, and preparations that can leave us frazzled and disconnected from what matters most.
When that disconnect starts happening, it’s important for us to remember that God wants us to ask Him for help. He promised in Hebrews 13:5-6, “‘Never will I leave you. . .’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper.'”
We can’t do this on our own. We need God’s wisdom to discern what to let go of and His courage to actually let go of some things and leave room to enjoy what matters most. We need His strength to accomplish the tasks on our list and His direction to know what to delegate and what to eliminate.
We also need to get better at saying no more often — at Christmas and throughout the year. This is a hard one for me because I want to be there for people, I don’t want to disappoint anyone, and for some reason I think I should be able to be and do it all.
The truth is, no one can be and do it all. We are going to disappoint someone. But we won’t be as likely to disappoint the ones who matter most — and ourselves — if we say more nos and save up more yeses.
And on those days when we feel completely overwhelmed, let’s remember something my friend and author Emily P. Freeman often recommends: “Let’s do the next right thing in love.”
Sometimes the next right thing will be to wash a load of laundry, make a grocery list, take a nap, spend time with someone we love, or get ready for work. Whatever it is, let’s focus on that one thing until it’s done, and then move on to our next right thing. And if all our next right things still feel like too much, let that be our signal that it is time to bow out of some commitments so we can come up with a load we can live with and love — one that eases all the eye twitches and chest pains, amen!
Sweet friend, Jesus doesn’t want or expect you to do it all. I pray you feel His permission and encouragement in the coming weeks as you remember this truth: You really don’t have to do it all — not at Christmas or at any other time of year.