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Article for December 18, 2011.

A story can be considered a “classic” when it captures something that is universal in the human experience. Dr. Seuss’s story, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is a classic because it has captured something that is true for all of us around this time of year. The subtext of that story has to do with how the Christmas Season often surfaces a challenging set of circumstances that brings out a little bit of that Dr. Seuss villain in all of us.

Enclosed, you will find an incomplete list of some of the challenges that many are facing this time of year. Look through this list, and place a checkmark next to any that apply. If you are able to identify with some of the items in this inventory, then read on and select at least one “Grinch Busting” strategy to reclaim your Advent-Christmas Season as a time for a further sharing of peace on Earth for you and your family.

Grinch Risk Factors

(Singing these to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” optional)

  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Excited, irritable children.
  • Towering expectations that you must make Christmas the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
  • For the economically challenged, temptations to quantify your love in the cruel language of credit card debt.
  • For romantically unattached adults who wish they were attached…loneliness.
  • For anyone who is mourning the loss of someone…grief and loneliness
  • For those recently divorced…grief, loneliness, anxiety, and perhaps guilt.
  • For dual-income households during this extended vacation…child-care worries.
  • For anyone with compulsive disorders or addictions…the Siren call for relapse.
  • For anyone with mood difficulties…vulnerability for depression or anxiety.
  • For anyone who survived a difficult childhood…painful holiday memories.
  • For anyone with troublesome family members or in-laws…obligatory visits.

My intention here is not to needlessly whine, or cast a shadow over anyone’s Christmas. It is to simply and honestly name (and in the process normalize) some common experiences during the Christmas Season. In naming them, my hope is to begin to outline a set of responses that could restore our openness to the grace of this Season. Here are some suggestions.

Grinch Busting Strategies

  • Parent yourself first. Make every attempt to get as much sleep as possible. Schedule time for exercise. Formulate a “Holiday Plan” that includes self-care.
  • For young children, try your best to approximate their normal schedule: enforce bedtimes, naptimes, and meal times.
  • Sit down with your family and discuss the financial side of Christmas. Do not apologize for taking a fiscally moderate approach! Discuss your values as a family. What are some fun/free things you can do as a family? Ask for your children’s creativity on this.
  • Christmas-time invites loneliness. Be pro-active. Schedule time with someone(s) who love(s) you well. If you are still experiencing a sense of emptiness, consider turning your loneliness into solitude through meditation, journaling, and scriptural prayer. This week, you could ask Mary to be your prayer partner by stepping into this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 1: 26-38) and dialoguing with her just after the angel left her with a whole lifetime full of challenges.
  • Are you suffering acute grief? Is this your first Christmas without your loved one? Concretely map out an hour-by-hour schedule for Christmas Eve, day, and night. Know what you will be doing every single hour of each of those days. Post your schedule on the refrigerator. When feeling overwhelmed by grief, use your schedule to focus on the here-and-now. Schedule healing events (For example, pre-arrange a visit with one of our bereavement team on Christmas Day. Call the rectory this week for more information).
  • Are you trying to rebuild your life after a divorce or separation? Attempt to negotiate a good Christmas plan with your co-parent as far ahead of time as possible. Fortify yourself with a favorite short prayer that you can silently breath in and out while negotiating. Do not take the bait and get hooked into a useless holiday argument. Know ahead of time where you would be willing to compromise and demonstrate your flexibility early in the conversation.
  • Are you vulnerable to depression, anxiety, or to the siren call of relapsing into addictive patterns during the Christmas Season? Even if you have not attended counseling in years, give yourself the gift of a pre-emptive appointment (my number 314. 503.8080). An ounce of preventative counseling or increased contact with a sponsor could be a priceless Christmas present you can give yourself.

Every one of the Christmas stories contained in the Bible indicate that God’s ways are not our ways. This year, can you make a special effort to sample from the vast Catholic smorgasbord of spiritual exercises? In this way, you can bring your holiday expectations in alignment with the One who threw the very first Christmas party.


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