Christmas dysfunction—or growth and peace. Your Choice

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If my Christmas feels out of control and produces more anxiety than joy and peace, I’m probably to blame. Nine times out of ten, when I honestly evaluate those things that cause me the greatest stress and anxiety, it’s my fault. I’ve failed to establish and maintain clear boundaries, have given other people’s behavior and opinions power over me, or both.

Most often both.

Let me explain using a parenting example. When our daughter was in high school, she went through the messy phase that seems inherent to adolescence. I’d nag, cajole, pester, and remind, and yet, dirty clothes remained on the floor, dirty dishes on counters, and piles of randomness cluttered nearly every surface.

As this problem continued, my frustration grew, until one day I realized … the situation was largely my fault. Though I’d stated my expectations, I lacked direct and clear follow-through. In getting upset, nagging, or running around tidying things up, I’d taken ownership of my daughter’s behavior.

I had three options:

  1. Communicate natural consequences and follow through.

(And if I do that, there’s no reason to get upset. I simply enforce the consequence and move on.)

  1. Remain perpetually frustrated.
  2. Determine to let the situation go.

Though this holds true year round, our lack of boundaries and unhealthy responses are felt most strongly over the quote pulled from text with Christmas wrapping and items backgroundholidays when obligation, expectation, financial strain, and reduced availability magnifies and reveals every dysfunction.

And whenever God allows something unhealthy to come under the spotlight, He’s giving us the opportunity to align ourselves and our lives more closely with truth and bring increased wholeness to what is now broken.

I think we probably know this, at least in theory, but many times, we’re afraid of what our healthy decisions might cost. We may know Great Aunt Leola’s expectation that all families, regardless of their schedule, commitments, or personal needs and desires, attend her Thursday night dinner, are unrealistic and unfair. But we fear, should we do what we feel is right for ourselves (our sanity!) and our family, we’ll lose the relationship or create uncomfortable tension.

Therefore, we determine her feelings and perceptions, regardless of how unjustified, and lack of conflict are more important than emotional and relational health. Than true peace, which, biblically speaking, means wholeness. We can’t set a boundary unless we’re willing to stand by it, regardless of how things play out and others respond. Otherwise, our boundaries are merely suggestions that will likely leave us feeling more frustrated and defeated than before.

The other morning, I spoke with a group of single moms on pursuing healing and learning to recognize what is and isn’t about them—what to take ownership for and correct and what to “shake off” in a refusal to “own” someone else’s opinions and poor behavior. The question that followed: How?

I think what they were asking is, “How can I stop getting so emotionally entangled in other people’s opinions, behaviors, and perceptions (which usually means, when evaluated at its root, how can I care less what others think about me)?

To which I responded: What gave them the right to hold that power? What did they do to warrant this, and what makes them—their opinion—more important than you and your emotional health?

That’s a question we have to ask ourselves each day, because until we’re able to say, “Nothing and no one gave them that power,” we’ll likely remain victims. Worse, we’ll teach our kids to do the same, and we’ll all suffer for it, the person with the poor behavior included.

Along these same lines, if we’re the ones attempting to override someone else’s boundaries, we must ask ourselves: Who gave me that power? Who gave me authority to force my dysfunction onto others? And what might Jesus have to say about that?

Because as the saying goes, truth without love is hurtful and abrasive, and love without truth is deadly. It kills relational intimacy, personal integrity, robs us and our families of peace, and perpetuates a cycle of dysfunction.

But truth and love combined? That’s power. The power of life, transformation, hope, and peace. True, biblical peace, not simply the momentary conflict avoidance that has killed way too many happy holidays.

Let’s talk about this! How much of your current stress is caused by lack of boundaries? What areas might God be wanting to bring wholeness to this holiday season? Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

For those in the Omaha Metro area, fun news! I’ll be leading Wholly Loved’s new Bible study, Becoming a Princess, this January at Wildewood Christian in Papillion. I hope you’ll join us each Tuesday from 6:30-8:00pm as we learn to center our identity in Christ, recognize His peace and power in our most challenging circumstances, rest from our striving, and daily live in God’s grace. I’ll share more details along with a sign up link soon!

When Mama Needs a Time Out

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Photo by stock images taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by stock images taken from freedigitalphotos.net

We’ve all done it–lashed out at those we love most. When we’re overtired, stressed, pressed for time, or simply having a pull-your-hair-out kind of day, it can be incredibly hard to maintain self-control. That’s why we need to be alert to our emotions when we first sense them rising. 

How is it our children can be playing quietly by themselves, completely oblivious to the world around them one moment, then in dire need of us when we slip off to make a phone call?

Why is that one shirt of five hundred favorites suddenly the only one our child will wear when we’re running late for the most important appointment all month?

And how, oh how, can we maintain self-control when little ones are wailing and clinging to our legs while we attempt to mop grape juice from the carpet?

There are some days our kids need a time out, and there are other days when we do. 

Doesn’t that sound lovely? A time when, regardless of what you have going on, of where you absolutely woman-71735_1280need to be, you simply press pause? You’ll be amazed what five minutes–just five!–locked in your bedroom with your Savior can do. 

“But I don’t have time!” you say. “It’s Monday, the kids have to be at school, and I need to get to work.”

To which I’d say, when it comes to our kids, we absolutely have to make the time, not just for their activities and one-on-ones, but to do what we need to do to build them up rather than tearing them down. That doesn’t mean we’ll ever reach the perfect parenting stage, but by learning to pull away when we feel our temperatures rising, we’ll greatly reduce our hurtful mess ups.

Because let’s be honest–anger, frustration, snappy comments, and eye rolls hurt. Our children see it all. They’re amazingly adept at reading body language but incredibly inept at understanding the why. When we’re stressed and running around frazzled and irritated, they don’t human-753172_1920think, “Wow, Mommy must be having a bad day.” Nope. Their world is centered around one thing–themselves. (Developmentally, that’s just where they are.) Which means, they believe they’re the cause for every sigh, huff, and scowl.

And with every scowl or smile, they’re forming their view of the world and their perception of self. They’re determining whether they’re cherished or a nuisance, a blessing or a trouble-maker. A source of joy or frustration. 

When I remember that, suddenly arriving at my appointment five minutes late doesn’t feel like the most important part of my day. And besides, if I’m running late and caught up in a mess of vomit (or traffic), getting upset won’t get me there any faster. To the contrary–it’ll probably delay me further as I’m much less efficient when I allow my emotions to take control.

I also like to think of worst case scenarios. For example, when our daughter was young, school mornings were crazy stressful, and there were many mornings the stressful turned to arguing. I hated sending my daughter off to school after a mother-daughter fight. So I began to ask myself, “What happens if she’s late?” 

She’d get written up, maybe. But if her behavior was causing our delay, then it seemed that’d be a good thing, a natural consequence for her actions. Certainly better than allowing frustration to build to arguments that created constant tension between us.

Our relationship was more important, I felt, than her avoiding a tardy slip.

But let’s pull it back a little. What if, knowing I get stressed, flustered and overwhelmed when time is short day-planner-828611_1920and pressure is high, what if I started creating margins in my day? What if I planned for the unexpected milk spill and temper tantrum? 

What if I simply slowed down so I could take a time out, pulling away to listen to praise music or to pray, when things grew stressful? 

And what if I began to pay more attention to my emotions and became aware when that first spark of frustration arose? Rather than waiting until it grew to overwhelming proportions?

And what if I learned how to speak to myself in the middle of the chaos, reminding myself that God’s still in control, even in traffic jams. What if I chose to use that moment, every moment, as frustrating or hectic as it may be, as training and an opportunity to learn–to grow in character, in perseverance, and surrender?

What might I be able to model for my kids? (Because self-control is caught as much as it’s taught.)

What if, stuck at a red light, with kids bickering in the backseat, rather than allowing my thoughts to run amuck as I thought of how late I’m going to be and how little patience I have for sibling fighting, I began to pray. And surrendered that moment and all that lay ahead to Christ.

Knowing He’s working out His plan, for me, for my kids, and for my family, even in the muck, the mundane, the manic, and the mess.

Let’s talk about this! Have you ever given yourself a time out, and if so, what were the results? How does our self talk in the middle of the gunk and frantic affect our patience level and hence our words and actions? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or on Facebook, because we can all learn from each other.