Most religious holidays were begun by various faith traditions as "holydays" set apart from every day to give life meaning and purpose. Before Scriptures were read by the masses, religious teachers and families taught faith through significant days on the calendar. Hanukkah, Ramadan and Christmas each celebrate the holy entering the world, one through lamp oil that did not give out, another through fasting to seek revelation and another through a baby in the manger revealing love.
In real life the holidays often stress the life out of life. Holiday preparation creates a busyness as businesses take advantage of holiday sales opportunities. Holiday rituals become filled with activities, relationships, parties and memories. Even the smells, sounds, sites and feelings of holidays remind us of holidays past, good or bad. As I hear people tell their holiday stories and memories, I often hear more pain than joy. One client recently exclaimed "Life is sure a tangled mess during the holidays." Over the years I have provided counseling, I have found that the pressure begins to build around mid-November and does not lessen until January.
The season of the year captures and intensifies crucial life needs and longings. For example, we long to be together with those we love while also needing to be alone in silence. We desire to party and celebrate but also need to have time in quietness. We get meaning out of giving to others with a generous spirit and also find goodness in the gifts we receive from others. It is a time to grieve our loved ones not here any longer and give thanks for the gift of their lives to us. The intensity of this process can be overwhelming during the holidays.
The opportunity of "holydays" prompts us to pause and to do what we read in our first grade reader- Stop, Look and Listen. In the every days we live blindly, unaware, unintentional and unresponsive. Much like the silver ball in a pinball machine, we are propelled into the every day's bouncing from one event to another often reactively. The spiritual challenge is to live reflectively and intentionally today, to use our hearts and our heads to give meaning to what is happening to us and in us so that we may discover more meaning and purpose for living.
Perhaps you could make a shopping list for yourself this season, such as:
- stop several times each day, look around and take a deep breath
- find some time to be quiet each day
- make a Gratitude list
- plan small acts of loving kindness
- listen to the sounds around you
- relish the delight of children
- name your griefs and give thanks
- find ways to forgive
I wish you the HopeLoveJoyPeace of the Holydays!
Michael Hester, PhD.