The Christmas season is upon us again. It’s time to celebrate and reflect on the incredible reality of the birth of Christ. It’s also time to gather with people we care about for festive events. Christmas can be a time of amazing beauty and joy, but it can also be a time of struggle, stress and conflict. Let’s face it, this season is busy. I try hard to slow things down, and that helps. But the speed of life is still pretty close to the sped of light. And here in can lie the problem. We can get stressed out, we can get angry at people we love, and people we don’t even know, but we can also struggle with sadness at this time of year. Events that happened in the past can bubble back up and invade our hearts with pain. What can we do about it? Just grin and bear it until the season is over? No, as Christians, we can do something very important in this very Christian season, and all year long. We can habituate ourselves, through three simple steps, to move from struggle, stress and conflict to joy. Those steps: Relax, Release, Rejoice. Here’s how it goes.
When we’re stressed out or struggling with something hard, anxiety or anger or both can take over. The first step is to change out focus. That is, to change our focus from the difficult circumstances to God. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Being still means slowing down and stopping our minds and hearts. When we remind ourselves to be still and know that God is God, it immediately shifts our attention from that which is troubling us to the One who has solved all our troubles through Christ. At that point we enter his presence with awe and humility. We’re ready to be changed.
Once God has our attention, we are ready to reflect on the relationship between our struggles and the God of the universe. This contemplation leads to knowledge and knowledge in personal relationship leads to intimacy. And what do we know about God? The essence of our knowledge is the Godness of God. God is holy. God is all powerful. God is love. The really humbling thing we are gripped with is that we have a relationship with this God through Jesus.
The second step is to release our struggles to our Heavenly Father. 1Peter 5:7 reads, “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” We are to cast, throw, turn loose, give up to God all our cares. We can do this because he really does care about us. What happens to you matters to God. Think about all God has done to show he cares. The cross of Jesus is a huge way he shows us his love. We need to ask ourselves, “What am I really struggling with?” It’s time to be honest. He can and will take care of our situation if we give it to him and be satisfied with his resolution. Most likely we won’t like the way he works things out. But it’s not really about that. It’s about his plan and his glory. We have the grace of walking with him through difficult things and being transformed by the experience.
Now we are ready for the joy! In Philippians 4:4 we find these beautiful and challenging words, “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will sat it again, rejoice.” God is commanding us to experience pure joy, which can range from exhilaration to deep contentment to peace in the face of pain. There are many things that bring us joy, and rightly so, but this joy we need is in the Lord. He is the object and source of this joy. We are rejoicing in him because of him, but the joy also comes from him.
It doesn’t stop there. We are told to rejoice always. All of us experience joy at times, but none of us rejoices all the time. We can have it though, anytime we are willing to relax and be still knowing that God is God, release our struggles to him and trust him to empower us with his great joy. Meditate on Jesus, his birth, his life, his death and resurrection for you. This is the glory of Christmas. That will put your heart in a place of joy.
So, try it this season, and all year long. When things get hard just relax, release and rejoice.