“I don’t enjoy the holidays anymore.”

The weight of an ever-increasing to-do list triggered a desperate prayer for help. I always enjoyed the holiday season, with its bright lights, joyful music and endless dreams of a Pinterest-perfect celebration. But another year of ministry obligations seemed to rob me of the excitement I once had. At least that’s what I told myself.

True, being in full-time ministry changed what the holidays looked like. Rather than simply volunteering in one area or another, we were leading teams and organizing several events. Besides the “normal” holiday activities, we were responsible for dreaming, creating, entertaining, feeding, encouraging, and ministering. Showing up early and leaving late for every event. The pull between ministry and family created a constant ache in the back of my neck as I strained to keep it all balanced.

“God, will You revive my joy during this holiday season?”

That whisper to heaven brought a gentle reminder from Psalm 16, provoking introspection.

  • REMEMBER: Why do we celebrate in the first place? In the busyness, I easily lose perspective. Psalm 16:2 reads, “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you, I have no good thing”. There is nothing to celebrate without Him, is there? It’s not about accomplishments or expectations. It’s not even about pleasing people. The reason to rejoice comes from a loving God with whom I can have a relationship. Stated simply, He is a generous God who loves me and does wonderful things. How I need that reminder!
  • REALIGN: Just like the lines on the back of the wrapping paper keep us cutting straight, I want to “keep my eyes always on the Lord” (Psalm 16:8) and allow Him to course correct as he “counsels me” (Psalm 16:7). Keeping Him in the forefront and my ears attentive helps me to know when I have wandered off.
  • ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES: and push back the pressures. Oh, friend! Easier said than done. Unavoidably, there are things we must do during the holiday season. But I knew it was more than that. I had given space to unnecessary pressures, a flood of details, activities and expectations that didn’t contribute to what I wanted most.  Psalm 16:6 reminds me that the boundary lines God has given are to be pleasant, enjoyable. To reestablish those boundaries, I had to ask – what was essential for obedience and necessary for a healthy balance?
  • CELEBRATE INTENTIONALLY: Psalm 16:7 starts with the words “I will”. Direction deliberately decided. The only way I was going to enjoy the holidays was to make the choice. Intentionality is critical for my heart to be in a place of gladness, especially when celebrating. My direction was obedience and a healthy balance, and after seeking ways to celebrate intentionally, I landed on two thoughts.

First, it’s all about Jesus. Don’t get lost in the simplicity of that. Amidst the holiday pressures, it’s easy to forget. How many of my to-do’s are truly centered on him?

Second, His time was spent giving. Notice, he wasn’t a real-life Santa Claus. His mission was focusing on a specific person with a specific need. He didn’t do it all.

As I prayed, asking God to reveal what this looks like for my family, He gave me two traditions that put this into practice. Can I share them with you?

  1. The Sparkle Box is based on the children’s book written by Jill Hardie, centered on the gift we give Jesus for His birthday. The idea is simple, yet impactful. Following the theme of the book, we beautifully wrap a box and cut a slit into the top. Throughout the season, every time we see someone in the family giving in some way, we write it down and slip the paper inside the box. On Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, we open Jesus’ gift and read the slips of paper, typically ending with a prayer, thanking God for the opportunity to celebrate Jesus’ birth and then offering these gifts to Him.
  2. The Giving Jar is one of sacrifice and love for others. Each family member asks God to show us a someone in the community (typically non-church member) that needs to be shown love. It may be someone who has served us or is simply a stranger. Then, we take a canning jar and empty toilet paper tube. Placing the toilet paper tube in the center of the jar, we pour chocolate candies around the outer edge, making it appear like a jar of candy. Then, we ask God what needs to go inside for that special person. Many times, it is money that we have been saving. Sometimes it is a lengthy note of encouragement and appreciation. After sealing it up, we decide on a delivery day and surprise them. I get a little teary when I listen to one of my children thank the grocery clerk for serving him, explain why she is getting his “giving jar” and that Jesus gave us the gift of His life.

These traditions help me to not only aim for what’s important, but gift me with wonderful memories. Memories that flood my heart with joy, helping me to celebrate wholeheartedly.

And do you know what joyous celebration does? It changes perspective.

Angela Malloy is a pastor’s wife, serving with her husband Patrick, at Living Stones Church in South Bend, Indiana. She is a homeschooling and chauffeur mom to four sweethearts. While regularly satisfying her cravings for blueberry coffee, you will often find her nose in a good book, singing around the house or indulging in a slight label-maker obsession. Her desire is to walk beside other imperfect women, as they strengthen their relationship with God and with each other.