Letting Go of Holiday Expectations

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! At least, that’s what the songs tell us, but maybe for you, it’s not. Maybe it’s a time when you are reminded of all of your inadequacies as you scroll through stunning photos on Instagram. Maybe  your heart is breaking in two as the grief over losing a loved one threatens to overwhelm you. You thought that you had worked through it, but then you pass an older gentleman at the grocery store who smiles at you and the ache over missing your Daddy returns full force. Maybe money is tight this year and as friends talk about the big ticket items they scored on Black Friday, you are left feeling sad as you consider the Dollar Store items that will most likely be under your tree. Or maybe you long for a family of your own, but your finger remains bare, a reminder that you will once again be alone as you welcome a new year.

The holiday season can be an amazing time, but it can also be an awful time. What I have learned through the years is that my experience of this time is not based on the circumstances as much as it is determined by my expectations.

I started learning this lesson late in my high school years. My sisters were both in college at the time and I could sense that Christmas would never be the same as it had always been. I was having a hard time letting go. One of our family traditions was to go to a Christmas tree farm and pick out a tree, but this particular year, we were unable to find a time when we could do this. So my Dad decided that he would pick out the tree. I felt deeply sorrowful over this seeming loss of my childhood, but was trying to be mature about it. But then! My mom and I returned home from the event we were attending to find the ugliest tree I have ever seen leaning against the front porch. We were both upset as we stepped out of the car. How could my Dad do this to us?!! And then, my laughing Daddy walked around the side of the house carrying the real Christmas tree. Turns out, the other one was for my Mom’s wreath making.

It’s a funny story now, but it was a time when I was confronted with expectations and how tricky they can be. My feelings surprised me and I realized that I was holding tightly to an ideal instead of being willing to accept the changes in our family.

The next time I came head to head with unmet expectations was my Freshman year of college. My parents had moved to a new town the summer before I entered my Freshman year, so it didn’t feel like coming home. My bedroom was unfamiliar and my childhood friends were no longer close by. As I opened the gifts in my stocking, it began to sink in. Christmas would never be the same. I pulled out a potato peeler and other kitchen utensils and felt like my heart would sink. I wasn’t dating anyone and I hated cooking, so how did these gifts make sense? Then I opened a package containing a pink blouse and another that was a book for storing window clings. For a girl who was most comfortable in flannel shirts and sweatshirts and who had no intention of ever putting window clings on windows, these gifts were painful. As I opened each one, I felt a growing sense that my parents did not know me any longer or they were trying to fit me into a mold that I had no desire to fill.

And so at the age of 19 on Christmas morning, I found myself trying to hold back tears. I was deeply disappointed, not quite ready to close the book on childhood expectations.

That Christmas was pivotal for me. In order to embrace the holidays and focus on the things that were important, I would need to let go of my expectations and instead be grateful and content despite the circumstances.

Letting go of expectations has been a recurring theme in my life ever since. The past few months have been a particularly stretching time for me. My husband has been working since the beginning of June to finish our basement. At the end of this project, we plan to use the basement as our family room and convert our current family room to a homeschool room. The process has been tough on our family. We have not been able to travel or make many memories together, because the basement is full of seemingly endless projects. Our bikes have been unusable, because they all need air in the tires and have been covered in sawdust, because our garage is also my husband’s shop. Our storage room is filled to the brim with desks and shelves and a fooseball table and tables- all awaiting their future homes, but this makes it difficult to get to the boxes of books and seasonal decorations. Every time I need something in storage, I have to go through a challenging obstacle course. In addition to the difficulty of finding anything, every surface is covered in a fine dust from the drywall installation. I have to wash everything I find in storage AND wipe off my clothes that will inevitably be covered in dust as well.

Every day, I am met with a new challenge and what I have learned is that if I hold tightly to how I want things to be, I am disappointed constantly. But when I am willing to embrace each moment and be grateful for it instead of longing for what isn’t, I find that I am able to be joyful for the blessings. There will always be difficulty, but this perspective has changed everything for me.

As adults, we know that the pictures that others share on social media are not the complete story, but it can be easy to believe that everyone else has a perfect little life, while ours is far from it. Grief creeps up in at the strangest moments, but if we can be thankful for the ways our lives have been enriched by knowing our loved ones, we don’t have to be overwhelmed by the loss. We can be grateful for their love and live to share that same love with the ones entrusted to us. When we can’t afford all of the things, it’s a good reminder that stuff is not what brings happiness. Playing games together, putting together a puzzle, looking at Christmas lights, making paper chains, stringing popcorn, making homemade gifts- THESE are the kinds of memories that make a lasting impression on a child. The new Lego set will be forgotten in a few months, but making Christmas cookies with Grandma will be a treasured memory that costs nothing. If you long for a family of your own, let your focus be on the ones God has brought into your life and seek to love them well. The truth is that God loves you more than you can imagine and He knows what is best for you. Are you willing to trust His timing and His plan?

This holiday season, seek to let go of expectations and instead embrace the challenges and the joys, finding the blessings that await you!