Around this time, on the brink of Thanksgiving and Christmas, I begin to feel the overwhelming culmination of hopes and fears amidst holiday preparation.  It’s not that I don’t like the holidays, but as I grow older, they tend to lose their childlike sparkle. It’s not about Santa; it’s about whether or not I believe that the Messiah – Emmanuel – God with us is in fact, with me. 

This year more than others, that feeling is heightened because I feel a tremendous sense of loss and poverty of spirit from a year that I declared abundance over, but instead was sprinkled with unexpected loss and heartache: losing my job, financial security, a relationship with someone I dearly love, and a yearning to buy my own home that I couldn’t fulfill. A sense of survival and holding my breath at every second pretty much sums up my year. 

Our culture tells us that the holidays are about fullness and abundance. Fullness of joy, fullness of gifts under the tree, fullness of love and magic and warm bellies and hearty laughter and love in relationships. But that’s not what Mary experienced.  There was no room in the inn for her and Joseph. She didn’t sense abundance, she felt scarcity. She prepared Him room in a barn filled with farm animals.

What if this year, we enter the holidays like Mary? From a place of scarcity and emptiness, not fullness? How do we approach holidays like that? How do we enter such a sacred time of reflection and anticipation and giving, when we feel like we have nothing left to give?  When we feel like the precious jar of oil, our most precious thing, has already been poured out at the feet of Christ? What is left to give but our hearts? 

As an unmarried, single woman, Christmas represents family time. It means dozens of beautiful family holiday cards that come in the mail. It means sleeping in my childhood twin bed upstairs in my parents’ home for a week and being reminded that I am still not there with my own family.  It means staying off social media for my own sanity so that I don’t endlessly compare. It means decorating my own little tree in my rental home. It means wiping away tears when I bake my Grandmother’s Norwegian cookies because I miss her and all that Christmas represented in her home for years. It means facing the reality that my parents are growing older and I can’t imagine the holidays without them. It means wondering if I will ever see the delight of my own child’s face when opening up a gift from under the tree.

Wherever you find yourself, however you are currently feeling about the holidays, know this: you are not alone, because Emmanuel, “God with us,” is coming. And when all is stripped away, the promised one, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, has promised us that the ‘better portion’ is simply being with him, not doing more.  In his own poverty, the Son of God, born in a humble manger, has come into the world to ensure that our own spiritual poverty – our feelings of lack, emptiness, longing and yearning – are richly filled in His glorious presence.

You can’t change all of your circumstances, but you can do three things this holiday season which I believe truly brings us nearer to true contentment, peace, and joy.

Protect Your Peace

It isn’t easy to put guard-rails up on your own peace.  To protect the boundary lines of your own joy and sanity.  Guard it with your life. Say no!  Do you have clarity of your own boundaries this Christmas season?  How can you pause and assess where you are out of balance and how you might be able to decrease your commitments, full calendar, and self-imposed expectations so that your peace may increase.  It isn’t easy defining our own boundaries around the holidays – financial, relational, mental, physical and spiritual.  But in order to guard our own centeredness and margin, we must determine what is stealing our peace, and then pro-actively work to re-order whatever we need to, to safeguard our peace and rest.

Prepare Him Room 

Around the holidays, I find myself subconsciously trying to spark joy by preparing a room in my little home – not just for the Christmas tree or to purge, but metaphorically, to prepare God room in my heart and soul.  Maybe you’re religious, maybe you’re not.  But, there is a fundamental practice that I find helpful around the holidays, which is to create spiritual soul-space.  Maybe it is cathartically getting rid of things that you no longer want to hold space for in your life – this could be physical things, but it could also be toxic relationships, activities you are robotically involved in that really don’t fulfill your sense of belonging and purpose, or even omitting social media and binge-watching from your evening ritual so that your sleep hygiene and mental space increases before you sleep.  From a Christian perspective, I find the thought of preparing Christ room in my soul opens up space for me to freshly ponder His light and presence in my life, how He is moving and shifting my desires and dreams in this season, and how I can simply wonder at who He is and what the Christmas season truly means – the Word made flesh.

Ponder His Glory and Goodness

When Mary realizes she is pregnant with the Messiah, it says in Luke that her soul ‘magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…for he who is mighty has done great things for me.’  Elizabeth her cousin says, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1: 45)

Now, you may not find yourself with a child this holiday season, but the reality is, we are all pregnant with hopes and dreams.  Equally, those hopes and dreams are in tension with fears and doubts and disappointments.  How do we keep dreaming and continue to magnify God’s ability to do the impossible in our lives?  How do we keep believing?  Not in Santa Claus, or an American holiday that sparks consumption, not even in a mystical promise that all will feel sparkly and perfect around a season that often surfaces deep pain, loneliness, and mental health issues for many.  We keep dreaming by pondering God’s goodness in our lives.  We keep dreaming by pondering His glory and ability to break-through, even in the places where we feel like we’ve run up against a brick wall. Remembrance unlocks gratitude.  Remembrance unlocks childlike faith.  Remembrance of God’s best moments in you and your best moments with God secures hope. 

Not false hope that assumes God is a juke-box or slot-machine or sitting in the North Pole ready to give us whatever we ask for – but deep, abiding hope rooted in the reality that: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” 

My prayer for you this holiday season is that you will keep dreaming even when you’d rather hold your breath, close your eyes, snap your fingers, and skip the holidays to January 2023. God fills the hungry with good things.  There is good to be had this holiday season, and as we protect our peace and prepare Him room, something magical happens – we open up the space of our souls and empty our own expectations and longings so that He might come into the home of our hearts and fill us afresh with His wonderful glory and goodness.

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Inspired by what you just read?  We invite you to not stop there but to keep the conversation going by taking a moment to journal through the following journal prompts.
  • How are you feeling as we approach the holiday season?  Are there any anxieties or fears you need to pour out before the Lord?  
  • How can you protect your peace this season?  Are there any boundaries you need to set?  Things you need to say yes or no to?  
  • How has God shown up as Emmanuel, God with us, this year?  Spend some time writing a prayer of gratitude for how you have seen Him at work this year.  
P.S.  Did you know that we sell beautiful journals perfect for capturing your thoughts as you prepare for this holiday season?  You can check out the Grit & Virtue Journal Collection here!

P.S.S.  Emily just launched a new podcast called Keep Dreaming to encourage you to keep dreaming in a world of disappointments. You can check it on Spotify now!

Emily Jansen

Emily Jansen is an author, marketing, branding communications professional, and a global citizen at heart. With roots in Maryland, Emily resides in Austin, TX today. She spent much of her early career in Washington, D.C. and formerly lived in Kenya and Korea on volunteer and professional assignments. She is passionate about empowering women to embrace their stories with charisma, courage, and confidence. She is a life-long learner, earning her B.A. in Communications from the University of Maryland and an M.S. in Marketing from Johns Hopkins University, and a student of classical piano for more than 20 years. Emily loves to write poetry, sing in her church band, teach piano, compete in triathlons, travel, cook, and be Auntie Emmy to many children. Emily sits on the board of She Saves a Nation, a non-profit that supports marginalized young women in East Africa. One day, she hopes to start her own series B corporation in fitness philanthropy.
She just launched "Keep Dreaming", a podcast to encourage you to keep dreaming in a world of disappointments. You can listen on Spotify now.

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