The "most wonderful time of the year" can quickly become the "most stressful time of the year." Budget talks. Extended family pressures. Running from one activity to the next. Not to mention the exhaustion we feel as we make Christmas "magical" for all of the people in our care. We can miss each other as a couple amid all of the tinsel and wrapping paper. The intensity of orchestrating Christmas leaves little room for relaxed alone time.
On top of that, the holiday season often amplifies low-lying conflict or highlights differences we didn't know existed. Who knew when and with whom we open Christmas presents could instigate what feels like World War III? It's enough to make husband and wife say, "See you at on New Year's" and then go about the busyness of the season.
I am convinced there is a better way to spend the Christmas season as a couple, a way that connects and reminds us that we are celebrating Immanuel, meaning "God with us." For centuries Christians have been using the liturgical season of Advent as a time of collectively preparing for the Christ child's arrival. It is a time when congregations and families reflect on the fact that Jesus wasn't always with us and that we continue to wait for His arrival today. We can use these themes of Advent — hope, love, joy and peace — to help us intentionally seek out our spouse during this busy time of year.
Christmas is an annual marker. For better or worse, it's a time when we tend to reflect on Christmases past. It's a time when grief and disappointments are heightened. It's a time when we may especially need some hope.
We celebrate Christmas every year because our hearts need to remember the "Hope of the world" (Matthew 12:21) on a regular basis. Choose to find hope as a couple. Look for where God met you individually and as a family in the last year. Talk through your hopes for the coming year. Confess places where you need the Holy Spirit's intervention and pray that for each other. Take this opportunity to encourage each other.
As you run around in the busyness of Christmas, don't forget to love your spouse in the way he or she appreciates most. This usually means some intentionality. Love can be words, it can be touch and it can be action. Remember, a kind word and tone of voice always communicate love.
Whether it is taking half an hour to give her your full attention, telling him how much you appreciate his ability to manage details or shopping for the gift that best expresses your affection, matching your efforts with your spouse's love language will make sure he or she doesn't get lost in the Christmas shuffle.
It can be difficult to find joy in a season of extra stress. From money pressures to feeling the tension of where and how much time to spend with extended family, we can experience heightened tensions this time of year. God wants us to experience joy and not just in the easy times, but in the stressful ones as well. Jesus asks us to "abide" in Him so that His "joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11).
The expectation of Advent reminds us of the Good News that God so loved the world He came as a baby. Joy springs from gratitude. Remembering as a couple what we are grateful for, both the temporal and eternal, will increase our joy. Rather than fixating on how we wish things could or should be different than they are, we can make a mental (or written) list of God's faithfulness in our lives. Remember to thank God for who He is, what He has done and what He will do for the two of you in the coming year.
In a world of noise, a culture of political conflict and a season of exhaustion, peace can feel elusive. Perhaps peace is not meant to be the absence of conflict, pain or grief, but rather the reassurance that God reigns over all circumstances. When we Christians feel anchored in who we are through Christ, we can better manage the busyness of the season. Peace is knowing that God's love is unstoppable.
As you strive for peace in your home, and more specifically in your marriage, remember your spouse is made in God's image. This person in front of you was knit together by the One we celebrate this time of year. What if you treated your spouse as if he or she were the person Christ came to save over 2,000 years ago? Would your demeanor be different? Would there be more peace in your interactions? When you feel anchored in Christ, you can extend grace more easily. And that will certainly bring increased peace in your marriage.
To celebrate Advent together is to take to heart the themes of hope, love, joy and peace by allowing them to affect your heart. You want to offer your spouse the best version of you while celebrating Christ's birth and anticipating His return. Christmas will be more meaningful and memorable if you sit in the miracle of the season together.Alexandra Kuykendall is the author of four books including Loving My Actual Christmas: An experiment in relishing the season.
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