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This Holiday Season, How to Find the Blessings of De-Stressing

The pressure to prepare for upcoming celebrations has already begun. Where to turn?

Holiday de-stressing
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The holiday season approaches. Don’t panic. 

We long to be rested, enriched, joyful and closer to God during significant seasons in life, but all the pressures of our preparations and celebrations can leave us feeling exhausted, frazzled and grumpy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I pray it won’t be that way. But how? I know there is a blessing to be found in de-stressing, but how do I get there? Where do I look? 

As I often do (though not often enough), I turn to God’s word, the Bible, for direction. And I light on the familiar story Luke tells about Jesus, Martha and Mary of Bethany: 

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:38-40, NIV).

The passage depicts a special occasion, for sure. Surely there was a holiday atmosphere. And we can see how Martha approached that moment: in activity, busyness and stress (sound a little familiar?). 

But God’s word teaches me new things just about every time I read—even the most familiar parts. So, again, I see in that short account some guidance for my upcoming season that may help me to experience the blessing of de-stressing. For example: 

I don’t think we should malign Martha for her actions on that occasion. She knew what the occasion demanded. She knew her role. Someone had to be responsible, do the work, make the day perfect for the Teacher—and everyone else. Right?  

But Mary saw something different: possibility. It’s easy for us to miss something that Luke’s first readers could not have missed. In first-century Judaism, a rabbi (like Jesus) would assemble a “school” of talmidim, or students, like Peter, James and John. Those students would all be male. For a woman to sit at a rabbi’s feet with the men—and for the rabbi to allow such a thing—well, it just wasn’t done.

But while Martha was absorbed in the way things were supposed to be, Mary saw possibility. She didn’t have to adhere to traditions or expectations; she could be a disciple too.  

So it is for me, today, in this season. I’m not bound by traditions or expectations. I can do something different, something new. I don’t have to pursue perfection in these coming weeks (which never fails to stress me out); I can believe in the possibility of serenity instead. 

Another thing that strikes me is that Mary chose the presence of Jesus over productivity and people-pleasing. Sure, her choice exasperated her sister, but can you imagine huffing away in the kitchen while Jesus is in the parlor? Did Martha know that Jesus, if He had chosen, could’ve produced a meal for thousands without her efforts? 

I’m willing to believe that if Martha had paused and asked Jesus if He would mind her letting go of some preparations so she could spend time in His presence, He would have smiled and given her an honored place close to Him. And I think He’ll do that for me, too. I know He will. Because a large part of the blessing of de-stressing is the peace that comes from His gracious presence (see John 14:27). 

One more thing strikes me. After Martha complained to Jesus about Mary’s choice, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha… you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42, NIV).

Everything Martha stressed about that day in Bethany—floors she swept, bread she baked, Febreze she sprayed—was dirty or gone or stinky again within hours. Just like many of the things I do, especially as the holiday season approaches. And yes, some of it is important. But in this season, I want my priorities to be things that will never be taken away from me. 

That, for me, will be the blessing of de-stressing, like the “one necessary thing” that Mary focused on when she sat at the feet of Jesus that never-to-be-forgotten day in Bethany.

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