The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?!?

November 25th, 2013

Thanksgiving is three days away. This annual celebration of turkey and football is the unofficial beginning of the holiday season—six weeks of shopping, baking, traveling, decorating, and spending time with loved ones. Just reading about it can be stressful. With so much going on, it’s no wonder that so many people, including teens, become frustrated with their family members during the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Most studies related to holiday stress indicate concerns about money and time (or lack thereof) are the source of much tension and frustration during late November and December. Adults may assume that young people have little to worry about and can simply enjoy holiday festivities. But youth are caught in the middle, between magical childhood memories and a desire to be more grown up. Also, they may be confused about where they fit in. Old traditions may seem too childish but, nonetheless, they may long for those exciting, carefree holidays when they were the center of attention.

All of the seasonal extras make it difficult to keep up with our normal routines— another cause of stress. Varied or less sleep, changes in eating habits, and changes in schedule also increase stress levels. Then, add in time spent with relatives who may have different habits, opinions, or values. The result: We tend to take out our frustrations on our nearest and dearest—our family—and the inevitable family conflicts only add more stress.

No Room at the Inn

We encounter examples of family tension throughout Scripture. Twin brothers Jacob and Esau were at odds even before their birth; Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and told his father he was dead; Ruth and Naomi’s husbands died and they had to move in order to survive famine; Jonathan took a stand against his father to remain loyal to his best friend, David; and sisters Mary and Martha clashed over the proper way to serve Jesus. The Bible tells us about parents who played favorites and children who disobeyed parents and fought with siblings. But Scripture also tells us how God’s love transformed even the most strained and stressful family relationships: Jacob and Esau embraced after Jacob had betrayed Esau and Esau had vowed to kill Jacob; Joseph forgave his brothers and invited them to live with him in Egypt; and Jesus told the story of a father who welcomed home a runaway son who had squandered his father’s money.

Good Christian Friends, Rejoice!

As followers of Jesus, we have another family—our brothers and sisters in Christ. Even this family is not perfect. While our relationships with fellow church members are not without stress, we can rely on our family of faith for love and support when there is tension in the home or around the Thanksgiving dinner table. Our brothers and sisters in Christ remind us that we are children of God and of what God expects and desires for us.

A stress-free Thanksgiving or Christmas probably isn’t a possibility, for us or for our youth. But while we can’t eliminate holiday stress entirely, we can ensure that God is at the center of all of our relationships and activities. Jesus reminds us that the goal is to “love each other just as” he has loved us (John 15:12). This instruction applies both to the families who will be gathering with us during the holiday season and to the family that we claim through Jesus Christ.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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