Ah, it’s Christmastime. That magical time of the year filled with wonder, joy and hope. It is also often filled with anxiety, stress, unhappiness and frustration. It’s a season for all seasons.
“The Elusive Christmas Chill” that I’m referring to has nothing to do with the weather. (We are sitting at a lovely 76° today) I am talking about that “chill” feeling when everything is peaceful and you can just go with the flow. Elusive, yes. Especially at Christmastime.
There have been years where the holidays have been anything but peaceful. One Christmas, back in my younger days, I was required to work up to and including Christmas Eve. I hadn’t shopped yet. I knew I wanted to get my wife a replacement for the diamond that got lost from her engagement ring, but I hadn’t found time to go to a jeweler.
Thankfully, I knew a guy who brokered diamonds and was willing to help me out. We met in a dark, empty parking lot on Christmas Eve, where I exchanged cash for a diamond. The whole thing felt like some kind of illicit drug deal, as I waited for sirens and flashing lights. It all worked out okay – but it was a stressful holiday.
This Christmas I am in a much more peaceful and “chill” place than I usually am – perhaps ever. More on that later.
My quest for peace became a greater focus for me after my 60th birthday back in September. My EC and I had the luxury of taking a trip to the Carolinas and spending some time relaxing in the Outer Banks, and enjoying the beauty the Blue Ridge mountains.
It was peaceful. It was good for my soul. But c’mon, how hard is it really, to find some peace when you are on vacation? Especially at the beach or enjoying God’s handiwork in nature – sans kiddos? Not hard at all. It’s finding peace in the day-to-day grind of our lives that is the real challenge. And it’s something I have never really excelled at. I feel blessed that I don’t struggle with anxiety issues like so many, but I do deal poorly with stress, which I often internalize. I’m a low simmer kind of guy.
When I came back from my birthday vacation, I was aware of how good it felt to feel that peace and serenity. I resigned myself to the fact that it would soon fade away after a few days back in real life. It’s like the day after General Conference when you can feel the spiritual bounty slipping away, like sand through your fingers, as real life reengages.
I decided to see what I could do to not let that happen. Much to my surprise, I have managed to retain a sense of that peace, even three months later. (Yes, my wife has noticed.) During that time I have made searching for peace more of a priority in my life. To those of you who follow my blog closely, you already know some of the pieces to that puzzle, as I have written about some of them over the past few months.
These are just some of the things I have been focusing on, and have been able to try to do. Remeber, I am not you. You are not me. Some of these might be good suggestions for you, while others might seems impossible or super lame. That’s ok! If there is anything “lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy” roll with it and see if it blesses your life. Or not!
First, there are a few changes I’ve already made earlier this year that have helped me chill out a lot:
- I check the news once a day for a few minutes to keep abreast of what is happening, but I don’t follow the news as obsessively as I did before.
- My social media time has been cut by about 75%.
- I text less, talk more.
- I rarely engage with opposing opinions, because nobody is going to change, rather we’ll just dig in deeper. Contention, and Twitter, are of the Devil.
There are a few Christmas specific things that, remarkably, we have been able to do that we usually don’t get done before December begins:
- We decided to have my EC tackle the Christmas shopping early in November – with the supply chain issues, we thought it wise. Turns out, Chrissie nailed it , and we have no more shopping to do. Huzzah!
- With the help of my kids who were here for Thanksgiving, we managed to put up all our Christmas decorations Thanksgiving weekend. (Post-Thanksgiving Day, of course.)
- I have worked harder and smarter at my job with the specific intention of easing the workload the weeks before Christmas, which have been historically manic.
- We passed out/mailed our Christmas cards and treats to friends and neighbors already.
- I released my Christmas novella in time for holiday reading.
For the most part, these things just took a little extra effort and organization, but the payoff has been great. December is shaping up to be a much easier, more relaxing month than ever before. However, these haven’t been the most important things that have made the greater impact on my quest for peace.
Although many of these ideas are a work in progress, here are a few things that I have been focusing on since my birthday. Again, they have all been addressed in recent blog posts, because I write what impacts me.
- I’m working towards accepting that opposition doesn’t need to be dreaded or resented, but needs to be understood. “Yet the winds and storms of life are not usually appreciated – they are usually dreaded. Often we will do most anything possible to avoid the winds and the pressures of life. Yet the irony remains: How we respond to those very winds and pressures make us who we are, and determine where we will end up.” (Lift 9/18/21)
- I gleaned from General Conference the importance of incremental improvement. Several of the Brethren addressed this idea, which kinda sunk in this time around. “Little by little, one step at a time, baby steps, poco a poco, line upon line, incremental change. Call it what you will, but it is how the Lord and his servants have asked us to progress.” I don’t have to do everything all at once. I just need to make slow, steady improvement the right direction. (link 10/10/2021)
- It goes along with incremental improvement to acknowledge that the mantra “I am enough,” is a blatantly false teaching. I am surely not enough, and that is ok. If I add a line to that mantra, it all comes together: I am enough – in Christ. That right there is hope. (Link 10/17/21)
- A much better mantra comes from Joseph Smith’s struggles at Liberty Jail. “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God; and for his arm to be revealed.” Section 123:17 That is the big secret – to spend our time, effort, and emotion on things that we can actually impact – things we can fix, change, or do – and let go of the things we can’t. (Link 10/24/21) I have found that part to be extremely effective as I search for peace.
- As for the things that are outside my control, learning how to accept them, rather than being apathetic towards them has helped me. There are some tough things out there that I must accept, because I have zero power over them. What I have come to realize is that while apathy may be a reflex, it can also be a bridge to acceptance if I use that time to just chill out, distancing myself from the passion, where I can then look at things with new eyes. There are things that have frustrated me for a long time that I am just getting to where I can accept them, and now they don’t irritate me. That is a much nicer place to be. I can honestly say that as I have been working on this, I am happier. (Link 10/31/21)
- This one is easy: Spend more time in nature and appreciate the beauty and grandeur that God has created for us to enjoy. (Link 11/14/21)
- Working on finding gratitude for all things can be a long, difficult struggle. But, every time I succeed, I trade one negative feeling for a positive one. Finding gratitude in the now requires perspective and faith. Anyone who has climbed a mountain knows that one of the most satisfying parts is being able to look back and see where you came from. It’s the same in life. We look at the dominos of our past, and keep trudging forward because we know that the summit awaits us. (Link 11/21/21)
Those are seven things I have written about which were written to help my personal growth. If you’ve ever wondered where I come up with my ideas, this is a great example of how my brain works, and how my blog helps me learn and grow. (And as I look at that summary, I wonder if this should have been a book.)
By reading, learning, praying, pondering and writing about these things, I have created a more peaceful place for myself. Not that the world around me has changed – it’s still as nuts as ever – but the world in my heart and mind, and my relationships with others has chilled out a lot. It has only been three months since this has been a focus for me, but I have learned a lot. I have also learned how much I yet lack when it comes to searching for peace.
The final, and most important piece, of the puzzle is that Christmastime is an easy time to focus more on the Savior “The Prince of Peace” and striving to attain the companionship of the Holy Ghost who has the role of bringing peace to our hearts. These two relationships are crucial in our search for peace.
I have often said that “if we think about Jesus more during December, then we’re doing it wrong the other eleven months of the year.” While this is true, it is inevitable that there are more opportunities provided where we can focus on the Savior and be exposed to the Spirit during this season. We should take advantage of as many of those moments as we can. If listening to the Messiah, or watching A Charlie Brown Christmas helps you feel the Spirit, have at it! The Spirit brings peace, and does the heavy lifting in softening our hearts.
I have no idea how the rest of the month will play out, but I do know that today – right now – my life is peaceful. I’m feeling the best kind of Christmas chill, and I want to hang onto it.
Have a Merry Christmas! Better yet, Have a Peaceful Christmas!