When I was growing up it seemed Christmas started out long and slow. Lots of lights, Christmas music, happy faces, anticipation of presents, and seeing family we only saw on holidays all against the backdrop of the beautiful peaceful awe inspiring story of Christ’s birth.
Now it’s more planning work around rushed trips to family gatherings, somewhat strained conversations about who we have to get gifts for and hoping for decent ideas about what to get.
Then there is the getting part, the looking, the driving, the anxiety as the totals rise. And somewhere nearly lost in the hustle and bustle there is this little nagging thought that maybe it just isn’t worth it, maybe we are missing the point but we keep rushing forward because we don’t want to disappoint someone or miss out on something or or or or.
While the times and cultures are drastically different I suspect people haven’t changed that much. “…a woman named Martha opened her home to him (Jesus)…But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made…” (Luke 10:38&40 NIV) Sound familiar?
Now consider Christ’s response when Martha complained to Jesus that her sister Mary wasn’t being fair by letting her do all the work.
“”Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[f] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41 & 42 NIV)
It’s kind of crazy but Christmas is often both the most hurried distracted and most meaningful inspiring time of year. But we often miss the meaningful and inspired in the middle of the hurried and worried which multiples our stress.
I doubt Christ was thinking primarily about stress relief when He so clearly pointed out the difference between the good (hurrying to prepare food and hospitality for Christ Himself!) and the better or needed (taking time to be with Christ and listen to Him).
However, as it turns out, there is scientific evidence that suggests that looking for and taking time for things that are deeply meaningful and fit a sense of purpose for your life can make you healthier, live longer, and make you stronger in the face of stress.
Patrick Hill professor of psychology and associates examined questions answered by over 6000 people. 14 years after the questions were asked, he discovered that people with a sense of purpose had a 15% lower chance of death when compared to those who indicated they were more or less aimless in life.
His study considered other known contributing factors that effect life span such as age, gender, and emotional well being. It turns out a sense of purpose had a greater effect on life expectancy than any of those!
Interestingly the age at which a person found their direction or purpose didn’t change the positive effect on their risk of death. It really is never too late to start doing better!
In a separate study Anthony Burrow of Cornell University had students write for 10 minutes before being placed in a known stress triggering situation. One group wrote on the direction of their life and the other on the last movie they saw.
The movie group students responded with the expected level of stress when surrounded on a bus by people of a different ethnicity. The life direction students, however showed no signs of increased stress at all when also surrounded by people of a different ethnicity on the bus they were riding.
As Christians we have a built in purpose to connect with God and allow Christ to live in and through us to express His love and care to others. Of course God calls us to different methods and situations to be conduits for His love, care and wisdom but we are all privileged to be part of the same eternal mission.
Christmas offers a unique opportunity to rediscover for ourselves God’s amazing gift and share our awe and gratitude for what God has done for us with others.
Taking time to remember the true meaning of Christmas and the real reason we have to celebrate can help us fulfill a small part of our purpose and make the business of Christmas less stressful.
How can you keep yourself remembering what Christ has given you and look for ways to share that gift with others this Christmas? Share your ideas below!