The Christmas season is a time of anticipation. For weeks we are planning and preparing, dreaming and decorating, buying and baking. We can’t wait for the big day and are so excited when it finally arrives. The first gift is opened, then the next, then another, until all have been distributed and remnants of meticulously wrapped packages lay strewn across the floor.
Maybe the scene is repeated at Grandma’s or the in-laws’ and gifts are hauled back and forth and ham and pies and cookies are consumed and then it’s evening and you stumble into bed and you lay awake and wonder if the letdown you feel is normal. All that anticipation should’ve resulted in something a little more satisfying, you think.
Maybe it’s not normal and I’m the only one who experiences the letdown, but I doubt it. And it’s not just because in Northeast Ohio there’s not much to look forward to in the months after Christmas but snow and slush and dashed hopes in the NFL. No, I think the letdown is partly because, despite all the poignant family togetherness we may experience and that Madison Avenue uses to sell us on the perfect gift, the focus at Christmas is still on purchasing and presenting the ones on our list with those material gifts, and the pleasure in doing so does not measure up to the joy we anticipated. Or maybe simply because the joy does not last.
Perhaps it’s the stark return to reality more than anything. I remember as a child loving Christmas Day not only for the giving and receiving of gifts, but because it was literally the one day of the year when my nine siblings and I were all happy and got along. The remaining 364 were marked by one or more squabbles and complaints to Mom regarding shirked responsibilities, territory infringements and the like. I honestly don’t know how my mother kept her sanity. The joy of Christmas quickly gives way to the sober realities of the everyday. There is still work to be done, personal and global concerns to fret over, relationship issues to deal with, bills to be paid.
Is there any way to hang on to the joy? Few of us can afford to buy gifts for our loved ones every week. But if making them happy brings us joy, certainly we can find numerous ways to make them happy with little or no cost. We can come alongside and help with a task, humbly serve them when we have the opportunity, frequently express words of encouragement and affirmation, or freely offer an uncritical and attentive listening ear. Folks who regularly, or sporadically, do charity service work know the satisfaction gained from giving of oneself for the benefit of another without expecting anything in return. We need to have that selfless, servant mindset in our everyday relationships if we want to regularly experience the satisfaction reminiscent of that singular Christmas Day.
So, there’s the answer, yes? Post-Christmas letdown problem solved. Not so fast, you might be saying. Because although being selfless and focused on others might not have a monetary cost, purchasing gifts is effectively cheaper because sacrificial giving of oneself can be quite costly in time, effort, and self-gratification. We carefully guard and even hoard these “commodities.” I know I do.
So how do we learn to freely and frequently give what is often difficult to expend? I think, at least initially, it’s simply a matter of our will…deciding this is what we are going to do, even if we don’t feel like it. And then eventually the joy that we receive from blessing others will motivate us to make it a lifestyle. At least, that’s my theory, since I’m not there yet.
One thing I know for sure – it’s nearly impossible to have anything close to a selfless mindset if our lives are marked by hopelessness and a sense of being unloved. We’re too needy to be able to meet others’ needs. So, a joy-filled life must begin with a right knowledge of God as our Savior and the one whose love for those who fear him is as great as the heavens are higher than the earth, and who has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103). Only when we have truly received God’s very costly blessings and our souls are satisfied, can we successfully and consistently bless others.
My personal post-Christmas letdown solution and prescription for a truly happy new year is clear: Daily remind myself of God’s real and limitless love and provision for me, and then ask myself, how can I bless those I love today?