I closed my eyes and gently pressed two fingers on my right eyelid to stop it from twitching.
The holidays were getting closer, and my brain would not stop reminding me of all I needed to do, gifts I needed to buy, plans and decisions I needed make. Then there was laundry to wash, groceries to buy, appointments to schedule, calls to return, and my daughter’s birthday party to plan.
Why doesn’t everything just do itself this time of the year so I can handle the extra stuff that comes with the holidays? I wondered.
Hurrying around my house trying to make progress on my list, my chest started to feel like a huge hand was squeezing the air out of it.
I had been in this anxious place before leading up to the holidays, and I didn’t want to be here again. But I was the only one who could stop it, so I stood still in the middle of my dining room and took a few deep breaths.
I pulled out a piece of paper and sat down to make a list of my unending thoughts, ideas, desires, and expectations. Looking over my long list, I took another deep breath. No wonder I felt overwhelmed.
Out of nowhere, this statement interrupted my thoughts: You don’t HAVE to do it all.
Immediately, my internal dialogue argued, How can I NOT do some of these things? I’ve always . . .
You don’t have to do what you’ve always done. You could just do what matters most to you and the ones you love.
It sounded like something someone older and wiser would say, and I knew it was straight from God’s heart — a gift of grace and truth I desperately needed.
It wasn’t easy, but I decided not to do it all. I put up fewer Christmas decorations, bought teachers gift cards instead of gifts, and did all our shopping online. And with the help of my husband and kids, we created a shortened version of our Christmas traditions.
The one I struggled with most was hanging lights on the outside of our home. It takes so much time, and our kids don’t care anymore, but I love the warm glow of white Christmas lights when I come home on winter nights.
So late one December afternoon, I decided to pull out our aluminum ladder, stretch tangled light strands across our yard, test to see which ones still worked and hang white lights around our front door and windows.
An hour later the sun set and the sky darkened, creating a perfect backdrop for my lights. I wanted to see how things looked so I walked out to our front sidewalk. As I stood there enjoying the lights, the happiest childhood memory of my dad’s house covered with hundreds of bright Christmas lights showed up like a movie trailer in my mind.
With that memory came the biggest smile and an overwhelming sense of delight in my heart, which caught me by surprise.
My childhood had been marked with sadness, fear, and anxiety caused by father’s extreme mood swings and traumatic memories that accompanied his undiagnosed mental illness. There were good times too, but his unpredictable nature felt emotionally unsafe at times, leaving my heart wounded and confused.
I had forgotten how much my dad loved Christmas lights and never connected my love for them back to him. Maybe it’s because putting up Christmas lights had just been another exhausting task on my list in the past.
But because I wasn’t in a hurry that night, I lingered long in that moment and savored the wonderful memory of my dad.
More Christmas memories of my dad came as I hung more lights in the cold that night: him driving us around looking at Christmas lights, him pretending to see Santa and Rudolph, bags of groceries and Butterball turkeys we delivered to families in need, along with gifts for their kids filling the trunk of his car.
I think the best part of not doing it all is being able to be fully present in what we do.
Doing less allowed me to experience more. Instead of hurrying to finish the lights and tackle another task, I had time enjoy and receive a very unexpected gift. I was able to take a deep breath of grace and know that, despite his brokenness, Christmas brought out the best of my dad.
And that may be the reason I never do it all again. Because not doing it all brought out the best of me last Christmas, and that’s a tradition I definitely want to keep.
Sweet friend, if you need permission and encouragement to NOT do it all this year, let this be my early Christmas gift to you: You really don’t have to do it all. And here’s a calming Christmas prayer to help.
Doing less allows us to experience more. -@reneeswope: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Kelly Schmidt says
I too was completely overwhelmed with the “tasks” of Christmas, will working full time and raising a busy family of 4 sons. That ended when I asked my family to respond to the following. It wouldn’t be Christmas without 1, 2, 3. What an eye opener! It wasn’t the perfectly wrapped gifts, the days of baking cookies and candies. No, it was spending time with family, church on Christmas Eve and a one special treat like Grandma Dot’s fudge. What I thought was important and necessary wasn’t important at all. This changed everything!
Renee Swope says
Isn’t it amazing what we find out when we ask – what really matters? It really does change everything. I only wish I’d asked sooner :)!
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Oh the dreaded eye twitch. It’s a tangible reminder that we are on stress overload – kind of like a warning light on your car’s dashboard. I’ve been adopting the “do less and experience more” approach for awhile now and I have to say that I am better able to enjoy the Christmas season. Granted my kids are grown and I don’t have the pressure of wrapping gifts from Santa in secret, in only “Santa paper”. I’ve traded in traditions. Now, instead of doing holiday baking (none of us really needs an overload of cookies), I now make it a priority to Ann Voskamp’s book, “The Greatest Gift” each advent season. My husband now joins me and each day we hang an ornament, together, on our Jesse tree. I find this prepares my heart and helps to keep it focused when the Christmas madness bangs on the door. I don’t decorate every inch of my house in Christmas, but have taken it from Christmas on steroids, to a gentle reminder of Christmas spirit. Jesus certainly didn’t say to do all this trimming, decorating, shopping, baking, for Him. He simply said to come and open our heart to receive Him. Doing less of what the world calls me to do and more of what Jesus calls me to has certainly reduced the eye twitching. Love the remembrance stories of your dad. Great call to encourage us to be fully present in the fewer things we do.
Renee Swope says
Love what you shared Bev, and I especially love the tradition you and your husband have of hanging an ornament together on your Jesse Tree each day! Amen to less stress, less stuff and no more eye twitches. 🙂
Julie Garmon says
Love this post!
Renee Swope says
Thanks Julie!! It helped my heart to write it, as we head into the holidays. Glad it encouraged you too!
Beth K. Vogt says
Renee, Your post is a breath of grace to me and, I’m certain, to many others. Thank you for the reminder that doing less often allows us to experience more. I’m going to remember that as I move through November and December.
Renee Swope says
Oh Beth, I’m so glad it encouraged you. It was good for my heart, too, to reflect back on last year and remember all that God did, (again) to help me slow down and savor more of Him and all He had for me!! 🙂 Praying that same peace and enjoyment for you too this Christmas!
Yesssssss! I have also been loosening the reigns on holiday “traditions”. Everything changes around us: family dynamics, time demands, resources and income etc etc, – so why NOT change some of the traditions, too?! Maybe it has something to do with getting older and getting wiser, and realizing that these things don’t matter as much to those were doing them for as they once did. Being together is the ultimate gift, even if it means rearranging the days (which we’ve done several times to accommodate jobs and traveling schedules). I’m also trying out the 4 gifts rule – something you want, something you need, something for fun and something to read (which I’ve changed to “eat” for the non-readers!). Some things I do just for me, and I’ll relax and enjoy them even more!!
Renee Swope says
I’ve never heard of the 4-gifts rule but that sounds like a great guide! Maybe I’ll try that this year 🙂 Thanks for your encouragement and reminders that seasons change and it makes sense that we do too.
Jenni DeWitt says
Yes! I’m a do-it-all girl too. My wake-up call came last November when I literally made three birthday cakes each for both my boys whose birthdays are 4 days apart (family party, school party and actual birthday party cakes). Totally insane! By the time it got to their birthdays neither of them even took a bite of their birthday cake. Not. One. Bite. They were over it!
So in December I made up my mind I wouldn’t repeat the craziness at Christmas time. I asked each of them what was the most important, special tradition for them at the holidays. It was a real eye-opener. They didn’t choose what I expected them to. We made those special traditions happen (including the most special to me – easy to forget ourselves as moms!) and let the rest go unless we felt like doing it and had the time and energy. It was one of the most relaxing, prayerful holiday seasons I’ve had in a long time! Definitely worth trying if you are a do-it-all sisters like me! ; )
Renee Swope says
Jenni, I loved reading about your decision to not-do-it-all and how much more you enjoyed it!! It’s so easy to assume all the things we put so much effort into are what matter to our kids — but they prefer the simple, memory-making, being together most! I love that you had such a relaxing, prayerful holiday too!
love your write up ! from a top perfectionist who does everything ! I realized years ago those that have to keep so busy literally have no time for real life..tea with a friend in need..etc.
thank goodness for slowing down.
Renee Swope says
I agree!! Slowing down and doing less has been the best decision in my life – at the holidays and all the weeks in between. I’m done with letting hurry and perfectionism steal my joy. Here’s to the best Christmas ever!
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Christmas the real meaning can go out of it. I am the only saved along with my Husband. Some people don’t seem to think about Jesus. Why he come as baby born in a Manager. Who went on die on Calvary for us. Especially if not saved. People are more interested in buying gift for friends and family. Shops about making money. Partying drinking. Not the real meaning of Christmas what it all about. Some people go way to far. Get into money det over it. Stop think of why we have Christmas the real meaning. Why Jesus came as baby. Why God Choose him to be humbly born as baby in manger. If God want he could have had a fancier nicer place for Jesus to born. But he choose a stable with animals. To show us that Jesus is an ordinary but special baby like us he need no fancy place to be born. God didn’t choose a rich person or person with a big Castle to be his Mum. He choose Mary. Someone simple. So we do not need to go big over Christmas or get into money debt. We can do things simply be simply like Jesus was. Plus tell the story of the first Christmas. That is of Jesus Birth and before that of Mary being told she was to become the mother of Jesus. Then about Jesus then being born in that manger in a stable and coming the best present for us. We can tell that wonderful story. To people especially the unsaved if we get a chance and of how Jesus went then on to Calvary for us so we could when leave earth if saved could go Heaven to be with Him. As Jesus is the real reason for the season. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little
Renee Swope says
Amen Dawn, thank you for sharing and encouraging us all!
Beth Williams says
I know everyone, especially parents, want to make the “perfect” Christmas for all. What we really do is rush around to events, church socials, buying gifts, etc & wearing ourselves out. I feel we as a society have forgotten the TRUE meaning of Christmas. Each of the wise men brought just 1 gift for Jesus. That’s all that is necessary. For my family we put up a “Charlie Brown” tree. Small, with some ornaments & lights. The first year of marriage we went all out buying gifts for each other. Now we may just get 1 simple item to say I love you. No outside decorations or lights. Only do a few things if time permits. My main focus is to be fully present with him enjoying a nice meal & some alone time. For me it is more about family, devotions & really knowing that it is Jesus Birthday. The Oak Ridge Boys have a song out “Happy Birthday Jesus.” It talks about the ‘Real” gift being Jesus Christ. Big Fish have a song out “It’s Called Christmas with a capital C.” It talks about what society calls this time of year. The point is that we need to say Merry Christmas & deal with it! My favorite thing to do is listen to Christmas music of all types. Get the real meaning into my heart!! It’s time to stop the insanity of rushing around & stop take a breath of grace & mercy. Remind ourselves of the true meaning of Christmas.
Renee Swope says
Yes and amen!! Thanks for your encouragement to us all, Beth. 🙂
As a child and on into young adulthood, Christmas always meant decorations and looking forward for family gatherings. When I started working as an RN, my holidays included working…and so every other year for nearly 30 years I worked Christmas or Christmas Eve. But in 1996, the holiday became associated with the day they told my dad he had cancer. Mom and I forever after struggled with Christmas. (As Daddy said, “that was a little hard to swallow with my pumpkin pie”. They literally came in with the news while he was eating his lunch in the hospital ON Christmas Day.) Had it not been for my two young daughters, I am not sure we would have continued even celebrating the holiday. Daddy made it a year, and we had a good last Christmas with him ; then he went to his heavenly home on New Year’s Eve morning.
Last year my mother passed away in September before our oldest daughter got married December 30. And my daughter’s mother in law passed away the day before the wedding. (Yes I know this sounds like an overly dramatic novel. Welcome to my life.)
All this to say that I refuse to stress over the holidays anymore. Most of the shopping is done online. Work is busy as usual because illness doesn’t care what the day is on the calendar. Through it all I keep praying that somehow the point of the holiday is not lost. Because when you are surrounded by mostly catastrophic events, it’s difficult to know what normal is “supposed” to be.
Thank you for sharing. This has reminded me to be thankful for the memories and little moments when God is whispering “I love you.”
Renee Swope says
Sweet Shauna, that is A LOT!! Im so sorry you and your family have had to walk through so much loss – and around such special days like Christmas and your daughter’s wedding. Wow, I can’t imagine how hard all that has been – in the midst of life that doesn’t slow down for tragedy. Im praying for you right now, for layers of healing, permission to grieve still, and unexpected gifts of joy and memories of the past to fill in those gaps that ache with love and longing for your parents. I pray this Christmas will be filled with new beauty and hope along with good news and fun times together with your family!!
Patricia Raybon says
Oh, I needed this, Renee! Thank you!