Christmas is a time for family, friends and lots of fun memories with pageants, plays, dinners and surprise gifts. There are cozy moments by the fireplace, Christmas trees, decorations and candlelight services, along with the spirit of giving and helping others in need. All of these help brighten the season for everyone. To add the excitement and fun, Christ remains the center for Christians around this time of year because we look back and remember just how good God has been to us.
But if your life is like mine, pastors, then you probably cherish the vacations and holidays that come your way because they can feel like they flew by way too fast. I have never met a minister around the Christmas season who wasn't filled to overflowing with last-minute meetings, unexpected hospital visits and a list full of final details and responsibilities to be checked off for the holiday services just around the corner. In addition to all of the church duties and holiday festivities, we still have to squeeze in time for family and friends, and (if at all possible) down time for ourselves. Then we all know that once Christmas has passed, and the lights are shut off in the sanctuary for the final service of the year, we have the big vision-casting Sunday. Once we get that vision rolling into place for the New Year, it all starts over again with programs, building plans and ministry extensions before Easter comes and goes. Some of you might feel exhausted just reading about it all!
According to one statistic, 78 percent of pastors report having their vacation and personal time interrupted with ministry duties or expectations.
Pastors, did you read that? Almost 80 percent of you could really use some quiet, uninterrupted time off—especially around Christmas.
As Christmas approaches, some of you probably want to get through the holidays and try to enjoy it as much as possible. About three years ago I had a most memorable Christmas ever. Why? Not because of how wonderful it was; in fact, it was horrible. It was the worst Christmas I ever had as an adult. That Christmas, I put a lot of extra time and money into making sure everyone in our family would have a lot of fun and good memories. It was extra important for me to help my family feel really appreciated, mainly because we had lost several loved ones (four to be exact) in the preceding two years. So I made sure that I went over every plan and minor detail for the whole Christmas break. My kids were out of school for a whole week, and my wife and I were taking off as well, which didn't always get to happen because of ministry or business responsibilities. Everything was checked off twice—my list was finally completed.
That Christmas Eve, we went to candlelight Christmas service at my father-in-law's church, and we headed home for some good food and fun that night. But shortly after we finished eating, my son's demeanor started to change. Something was off, he just didn't feel right, and it appeared to be progressing quickly. We prayed over him, hoping he would get better quickly. After all the hard work, time, money and effort, I couldn't imagine someone being sick on Christmas Day. By the next morning my son was extremely sick. We didn't know it at the time, but he had contacted an extremely vicious stomach virus that was going around. He spent Christmas Day in his room, very sick.
Christmas Day passed, and little did I know that this was just the beginning. The next day I got hit with the same stomach virus. I was sick, sick, sick! My wife went back and forth from my son's room to my room all day taking care of us. The following day, my daughter got hit with the same nasty stomach virus. The perfect Christmas was now a disaster.
My amazing wife spent the next four to five days after Christmas literally going from room to room all day taking care of the three of us. She went above and beyond to nurse our sick bodies back to health, but it was a fight for us all. This virus was really bad in every way. Slowly, each of us started to feel better and healthy enough to take care of ourselves. For me, it was the day before New Year's Eve. What was supposed to be a perfect Christmas turned out to be the worst!
Since that Christmas, I have changed my perspective on the holiday season, and it has really helped my family around the holiday times and in more recent years. Here are two ways for ministers to enjoy the holidays.
- Holidays are special times, but they are still just another day.
I'm not trying to water down our Christian beliefs surrounding Christmas and other special holidays throughout the year. But it is important to remember that holiday seasons come and go—here today and gone tomorrow. If you keep this idea before you, there will be a much greater peace in your preparations. Don't try to make this Christmas season more than what it really is.
"There are many plans in a man's heart, nevertheless the counsel of the Lord will stand" (Prov. 19:21).
- Work hard, but have fun.
Once I started feeling better that Christmas year, I called my friend Bill Yount to share what had happened. Something he said stuck to me, and it has become the central them for all holidays thereafter. Bill said, "Don't try to create the perfect Christmas, because if you do, you will be disappointed." From that moment on, I decided to make the most out of Christmas without turning it into more than what it really is. Instead of pushing to make it bigger or better, I make it just Christmas for my family. Our focus is on finding ways we can have fun together without creating such a big master plan that if something goes wrong, all the plans go out the window.
Because Christmas comes only once a year, we sometimes want to make the perfect Christmas Day celebration for our families. This is normal, but it will only lead to disappointment if we approach the holidays this way. I still work hard to make sure we all have a good Christmas, but I have slowed my efforts down a lot during the holiday season, which has allowed me to leave room for human error and unexpected mishaps. Looking back, I have learned that perfectionism and Christmas just don't mix.
As a reminder, Christ is the reason for the season. Let's keep our focus on Him this year. Have a blessed and prosperous Christmas season and an exciting new year.
"And many more believed because of His word. They said to the woman, 'Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this Man is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world'" (John 4:41-42).
Andy Sanders has been speaking for 25 years. He has traveled extensively around the U.S. and other parts of the world. He is a prolific writer who carries both a prophetic and leadership-type message to the church. Sanders has a B.A. from Central Bible College and a master's and doctorate in Christian education from Freedom Seminary, graduating with honors. He is married to Cathy, and their family resides in Syracuse, New York.
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