Twenty guiding principles for a values-driven holiday season.

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As the holidays are quickly approaching, you have an opportunity now to be intentional about the way you'll spend them.

If you're not careful, November and December can hit you in a blaze of busyness and stress, leaving you wondering where the time went come January 1. This season moves quickly, and as family begins to arrive, turkeys are fried, gifts are bought, and the lights go up on your house, it's important to be proactive about the principles you'll hold fast to over the next two months.

Instead of figuring it out as you go, today is a chance to define how you'll create an environment where your values flourish. You can contribute to a culture built on a love for God, connection with others, peaceful moments of solitude, and a deep appreciation for the things that matter most.

But you have to clarify your convictions for this to be possible.

As you formulate your plan, here are 20 guiding principles to consider.

Overarching things to keep in mind

  • Celebrate what matters. It's incredibly easy to highlight the unimportant during the holidays without giving a nod to the valuable. Choose to have eyes that see what's important and define it. Recognize what God is doing, cherish the people in your life, and celebrate the deeper things.
  • Carve out times for stillness and rest. You will be drawn to a frenetic pace. Resist it. Block off time on your calendar to simply be with your family, friends, or yourself. If you've gone an entire day without feeling like you've taken a breath, spend a few moments in silence before bed. Don't buy the lie that you have to always be going. Take a step off the treadmill every once in a while.
  • Don't be a Grinch. You might not care for certain people in your family, hate Black Friday, think people who say "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas" should be in prison, or have a strong conviction sweet potatoes should be made with marshmallows on top (me)--but don't let those beliefs turn you into Debbie Downer. Instead of spending time focusing on your disagreements, seek points of connection with others.
  • Be selfless. You aren't the center of this story. Seek the good of others through serving them in the ways they liked to be served.

Thanksgiving

  • Spend time being thankful. This may seem obvious, but in the craziness of a Thanksgiving meal, it's easy to forget to spend time being thankful together. Spend time going around the room sharing something you're thankful for, and consider writing those things down. Gratitude in community is an incredible glue. Be the leader at your table facilitating this time. You should also spend a quiet moment alone reflecting on how you've been blessed and record it somewhere.
  • Leave your phone on your charger. When you're with family, especially family with tricky dynamics, it can be tempting to escape the room by running to your Instagram feed. Resist the urge, and give yourself a natural accountability partner by just leaving your phone on the charger. Especially during the Thanksgiving meal, keep electronics away from the table to make room for the type of conversations that take tech-free time to develop.
  • Be present with the people around your table. Even without technology, it's easy to think toward what's next. You might be tempted to hurry through your pumpkin pie and finish quickly so you can get back to the game on TV. Slow down and quietly look around the room at each person in attendance. Consider one thing you appreciate about each of them. To really understand how to value the people at your table, listen to what Sarah Harmeyer has to say on the podcast about hosting a meal.
  • Truly take time off from work. Thanksgiving is often a two-day holiday for many. You work hard Monday through Wednesday and then are tossed right into Thanksgiving Day. Don't let your work follow you into Thursday. Put up your out-of-office message, delete email from your phone if you have to, and be all in with those you love.
  • Be active together. Grab the football, do a road race, or take a walk. Doing something active on a day filled with eating is another great way to build deeper relationships and stay fit.

Christmas

  • Spend within your means. This is a big one. Don't let the thrill of gifts give you a spending hangover lasting well into 2018. Hopefully you've saved for the purchase of Christmas presents. If not, choose to make gifts and go small. Spending within your means will help make this a season of accumulating joy rather than unwise credit card debt. When in doubt...
  • Remember the greatest gift you can give someone is love. The stress of gift giving can make us all a little snappy. Choose now to operate from a place of love. Leave a desire to impress at the door and choose instead to deeply care for those in your life.
  • Be generous to people outside your family. Don't just think of people sharing your last name this time of year. Give generously to your favorite charity, share a gift with your neighbors, or consider anonymously blessing a family you know. Every time we flex our generosity muscle, we're opening our hands and acknowledging we're not the owners of our stuff.
  • Don't let comparison steal your joy. You will pull out your phone on Christmas morning. You will open Facebook. And you will see people's gifts. You might start to feel a pit in your stomach whispering, "I wish my Christmas looked like that." Quiet that evil voice with a loud and resounding, "I'm so happy for them!" Don't let comparison rob you of your Christmas. Instead, be happy for others and choose contentment. Even Paul, who authored most of the Bible's New Testament, said contentment is something we have to learn.  
  • Intentionally reflect on Christ's birth. Don't let the season slip by without spending dedicated time considering the impact of Jesus' entry into the world. This isn't about fighting a culture war to take back the meaning of Christmas. This is about celebrating in amazement the truth that God Himself came to the world as a baby to rescue us. Have a conversation with someone about this. Spend quiet time in prayer thanking God. Let this truth wash over you and refresh your soul.
  • Start or continue a family tradition. Christmas is a great time to continue or begin an annual ritual with your family. Traditions help bind us together. My family hosts an annual Jingle Bell Jog on the morning of Christmas Eve each year. We invite friends to run as far as they want and then host a big breakfast. Traditions don't have to be complicated. In fact, it's the simple ones that often last and get remembered.

New Year's

  • Don't wait until New Year's Day to start what you know you need to do right now. Jesse Mecham recently shared in his podcast about starting now what you know needs to happen. You might be tempted to wait until January 1 to start exercising. But why not start right now?
  • Root your goals in values. You'll be tempted to come up with goals without asking yourself the true purpose behind each of them. Instead of setting goals for the sake of accomplishment or ambition, start with your values. For instance, don't aim to run an ultramarathon if you've never run more than a 5K. Remind yourself of the purpose of exercise. I exercise for mental and physical health, giving me greater well-being, satisfaction in life, and capacity & clarity to love my family & friends. Ask yourself, "What do I value?" Then, move on to, "What do I want to accomplish this year?"
  • Share your goals with someone else. Don't keep your goals private. Share them with your spouse and/or close friends. Invite them to keep you accountable. Community is a fuel we all need to keep the engine running toward our objectives all year long.
  • Reflect on the last year. Don't move on to 2018 without looking back on 2017. The last year may be markedly difficult for you. It may have been the best year of your life. Consider what you've learned or are learning through hardship and victory. Celebrate the wins. Record the ways you've seen God move in and through you. When you remember, you give yourself greater opportunity for learning, thanksgiving, and prayer.
  • Rebuke shame. In thinking about 2017, you might find failed goals and ways you didn't follow through. If this creates shame, know this feeling isn't from God. Rebuke the shame, dwell in forgiveness, and remember you're on a journey with many turns. Rest in God's arms and look forward to another opportunity in 2018.

You have now have an opportunity to be proactive with the holidays this year. Choose to live Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, and all the time in between with a values-driven perspective.

Photo from Joel Carter - Creative Commons