This was the picture I posted on Facebook: My two kids, ages 10 months and 2 ½ were sitting by the Christmas tree with the lights glowing, in matching candy cane pajamas, of course. There was a fire in the fireplace and my snowlgobe collection was displayed on the mantle. My son had our advent Bible book open and my daughter was sweetly holding a nativity ornament. I captioned the picture: Celebrating the true reason for the season. Thank you Jesus for these sweet little blessings!
What social media didn’t see was the frustration and tears – mine and their’s – that went into getting a photo where my son wasn’t laying down, moaning about how he was tired or just wanted to go and play and my daughter wasn’t chewing on and drooling all over the cardboard baby Jesus. I had yelled, bribed, begged, cajoled. My camera roll was filled with a hundred pictures but not one of them was what I envisioned or wanted to remember this “precious moment”.
Finally I stuck a mini candy cane in both of their mouths and told them Mommy needed a time out. I went to my room and threw my pregnant self onto my bed, face-down. After re-grouping and reminding myself that I was the adult in the home, I washed my face and went back out and apologized to my toddlers. They sat still for one miraculous moment and I snapped the picture.
I so enjoyed the holidays and wanted my kids to remember this time as being fun, peaceful, and special. I knew that the problem wasn’t just our circumstances – I could blame our busy schedule or lack of naps or too much sugar. But those things weren’t truly stealing our peace – it was my unrealistic search for perfection, my longing to be thought of as a competent and put-together mom, and honestly a lack of rest in my soul.
As moms we are often the thermostat that sets the temperate and tone for our homes. The atmosphere often reflects the state of our heart. How does your home feel during the holidays?
True Life-Giving REST
Now if you know me, I’m a word nerd. I like to read, talk, write (obviously), and I love diagramming sentences. Now lucky for you you’re reading this online instead of sitting in my living room, so I won’t be pulling out my homeschool whiteboard for you. But I did look up rest in the dictionary and this is what I found.
Rest is: freedom from activity or labor; a peace of mind or spirit; sleep; death.
Well sleep is pretty self-explanatory and harping on death would really suck the joy out of this blog post, so we’re going to focus on the first two definitions: freedom from activity or labor and a peace of mind or spirit. I would argue that true rest is not just ceasing activity – it has to do with the state of our mind and spirit. We’re going to look at how we can intentionally fight for rest during the busy holiday seasons coming up, but I hope these practices and rhythms will carry you into the New Year and beyond.
The antonyms of rest are restlessness, strain, toil, drudge, grind.
We live in a culture that prizes busyness, that wears “hot mess mom” like a badge of honor. We’re told that life with little ones is messy and hard and chaotic and that’s just the way it is.
But what if it didn’t have to be that way?
What if we could intentionally take charge of our minds, our schedule, and our homes and make it peaceful and life-giving. We are not called to hustle and struggle through each day – instead we were created to work hard, love our families well, and glorify God in all that we say and do. But you can’t thrive when you’re constantly running, driving, bargaining, and yelling. You need to build in a habit of rest.
So how do we rest? I’m just going to end this blog post here so we can all go and take a nap. Is that the kind of rest we want and need? That may help – for a day. Too often we equate rest with a short break, a nap, or a shower by yourself. I know, some of you can’t remember the last time you went to the bathroom without seeing little fingers under the door. No, we’re not talking about I’m-shutting-off-my-alarm-clock-I-can’t-wait-to-sleep-in-on-a-Saturday morning kind of rest. Not just the leave-the-dishes-in-the-sink-to-soak and veg-on-the-couch-binging-Netflix kind of rest. True, lasting, life-giving rest for your soul. You can have that, but it’s only found in one place: Jesus.
Matthew 11:28-30 is one of my favorite passages. Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Come to me. That’s it. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not always. Jesus sees you. He hears your deepest thoughts and He understands your darkest aches. And what is His answer? Come to me.
Now verse 29 begs the question, “What is a yoke?”
A yoke is a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals, joining them together so they can combine their strength to pull a load that generally would have been too difficult for one animal to pull by itself.
Jesus invites you to partner with Him, to get in the yoke beside Him. He has accomplished the life-changing work on the cross. It is finished! We are never called to bear our burdens alone. But we must make the choice. Animals aren’t yoked up by accident or happenstance. It is a deliberate joining together. Stay connected to the source of strength and peace, and you will find rest for your souls. Do you want that? Rest.
Corrie ten Boom said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.”
Psalm 91:1-2 says, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
I want to focus on the word dwell. To dwell implies living somewhere with permanence. We don’t just pop in and say hello to the Lord a couple times a year or even just on Sundays. Going to church every week isn’t enough. In order to experience true rest, joy, and peace, we must dwell with the Lord. Jesus talks about this idea in John 15 when He says He is the vine and we are the branches. We must abide or remain in Him if we are to produce fruit and enjoy the peace that passes understanding. When we dwell with the Lord, He flows out of us and it impacts every area of our lives.
As we enter a busy holiday season, it can be so tempting to fill our days to the brim and neglect to spend time with the Lord. But when we’re busy, overwhelmed, stretched, and struggling, that’s exactly when we need the Lord the most. So next time you find yourself with 15 minutes to yourself – maybe it’s before your kids wake up, or after you put them down for a nap, or maybe it’s when they’re playing nicely and you don’t want to remind them you’re alive so you slide on your belly across the kitchen to your bedroom. Oh, am I the only one who has done that?
When you have a little bit of downtime, what do you do? Do you open your Bible? Do you journal a prayer? Or do you just pull out your phone? Many young moms have told me that they don’t have time to read their Bible or pray. I challenge you to take out your phone, click on settings, and scroll down to Screen Time. You may be amazed at how much time is spent looking at your phone in a single day. We all have the same amount of time – 24 hours a day. The truth is that we spend our time on what matters to us. What do you prioritize? A research group, Edison Research, conducted a study on media use in moms and found that moms, on average, spend 4 hours and 16 minutes on their phone every day. That’s roughly 1500 hours a year. Now I’m not here to knock smart phones or social media. I am active on social media and generally enjoy it – with proper limits and boundaries in place. I do know that I can get sucked in and waste so much time and look up from my screen without feeling rested or refreshed.
So what does bring true rest?
Dr. Kristin Kellen from SEBTS says, “Our salvation and our rest is in a PERSON, not a circumstance.” Who is that person? Yourself? Your husband? Your children? (definitely not!) It’s in Jesus!
Be still before the Lord. Give him your time. Spend time and energy digging into His Word. It may be hard at first. It may feel like one more thing on your to-do list. But ladies, I’m here to tell you that when you prioritize time with Jesus it reorients your to-do list and makes life so much lighter. Rest is not freedom from work – it’s spending time and energy working on what truly matters, for eternity. If you can, get up before your children. It makes a world of difference if I can wake up and happen to my day rather than hit snooze or be woke up by little fingers manually prying open my eyelids and let my day happen to me. Like any habit, it gets easier the more you do it. It becomes like muscle memory. I’m up every day at 6:00am and I do a Bible study, pray, get dressed, sometimes go for a quick walk around my neighborhood, and start getting breakfast ready before my kids come downstairs at 7:00am. My days run so much smoother if I’ve prioritized this. What do I read? I am doing a Bible reading plan through my church where we are on a schedule to read the Bible in three years – it’s roughly 5 chapters a week. Very doable. I also love to do women’s Bible studies to get me in the Word and hold me accountable. Reading one verse on Instagram isn’t going to build your Bible literacy and nourish your soul. You can be a Bible student. You just have to be willing to invest the time. The Lord is so faithful to meet you and encourage your heart. It’s like when you start eating more fruit and vegetables – at first it feels like a bigger effort to chop and prepare them and way less appealing than your kid’s leftover Halloween candy, but the more you do it, the more you are satisfied by them and artificial food just doesn’t fulfill the cravings anymore.
Now if you have a baby or your kids wake up really early or you’re just not a morning person, don’t feel defeated. While I do firmly believe in the power of waking up early, I recognize that it is not for every one in every season. Maybe you need to listen to the Bible on audio while everyone eats breakfast. Maybe you do your Bible reading at nap time for a mid-day reset. I did this for many months when I had a colicky baby and there was no way I was sacrificing sleep in the morning. But the thing about naptime – ah that prized, magical time – it’s limited. So many things that can beg for your time and attention. I urge you to sit down and prioritize your quiet time as soon as your kids go down, before you straighten up or do the dishes or pull out your phone. Give the Lord the first fruits of your time. Or maybe you end the day with the Lord. Light some candles, hop in a bubble bath, listen to worship music, and pour out your heart to Him. Read your Bible and journal to Him before bed.
As we head into the holidays, it can be easy to get out of routine or just say, “I’ll start having a quiet time on January 1st.” Ladies – any single day is a good day to start a new good habit. You can set a resolution today. Don’t wait until the new year or next week or a new month – or you may never do it.
Practical Ideas for the Holidays
So now we’re going to get practical about choosing rest during the upcoming weeks as we look forward to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.
First, you need to set the intention: I want you to close your eyes and think: In January, how do you want to look back on the holidays and feel?
- Cluttered, in home and mind.
- Entitled and ungrateful?
- Calm and peaceful?
- Closer as a family?
- Reminded of God’s good gifts?
- Organized and energized for a new year?
We need to be intentional about making that happen. We’ve talked about prioritizing peace in our hearts – now let’s talk about our space and our calendar.
First of all, let’s talk about physical space. Science shows that mess and clutter seriously raises stress levels. The holidays bring a lot of things and events that throw our lives off schedule and can knock us off of our routine. And you know what, that’s okay. These times of gathering with family, making memories, cooking good food – these are supposed to feel different from everyday life. My suggestion is not to just close the door, turn off the radio, and keep going with life as if the holidays aren’t happening.
But you can still keep your home under control during the holiday seasons. Now we all have different thresholds for what “under control” looks like. That is up to you and your family. When I say “under control” I want my home to be somewhat picked up, liveable, and not crawling with insects or rodents. The key is simplicity. Keep up with the daily tasks to cut down on chaos/overwhelm.
In my home, these are my daily tasks that I carry on with, even in November and December:
- dishes done
- kitchen swept
- toys in playroom
- laundry done and put away
- we do two 5 minute tidies each day – it’s amazing with how much better your living space can look and feel with just 5 minutes of effort.
Some other house things I do before and during the holidays to create a more restful home:
Purge toys before Christmas: You know new toys are inevitably going to be coming in, so it’s a great time to look with a critical eye on what needs to go. You have a limited amount of space in your home – stuffing it to the brim does not bring rest. I could do a whole talk on the magic of decluttering your home, but for today here are some basic tips: 1. Go through a room and just look for trash. Then pick an area and remove anything easy – Dana White from “A Slob Comes Clean” calls this “duh-clutter” – junky items or things that belong somewhere else in the house. Think about what you want your kids to have – not necessarily just what they play with. I had a friend say once, “I absolutely hate this toy or this bin – the kids just dump it out, play with it for a few minutes, and then walk away. I’d get rid of it, but they do sometimes play with it.” You know what I told her? My kids play with boxes, toilet paper rolls, and empty bottles in our recycling bin, but we don’t keep those. You have permission and authority to get rid of anything that isn’t serving you or your family. Now I will caution you that decluttering for other people – especially your husband – is not advised. Focus on decluttering your things or neutral things first. Depending of the ages of your kids you can involve them or do it without them.
Focus on visible spaces: Now this is not the time for a major deep clean. You don’t need to tackle massive decluttering or organization projects that no one will see – save your energy. I saw a funny meme once where a woman was going over everything she needed to do before company arrived and her husband was leaf-blowing the attic. Focus on visible space – when planning/cleaning for guests start with where they will enter and then focus your energy on where they will sit and spend most of their time. And definitely clean the toilets. Children can be trained to help with lots of these things.
Don’t clean too early: If you’re having a party on Saturday, don’t spend hours deep cleaning your kitchen on Tuesday, because it’s bound to get messy again before Saturday and you’ll get bitter that people in your home continue to eat and drop crumbs, day after day. Set aside time on Friday to clean – and then be really intentional about planning low-mess meals and activities after you’ve done the hard work.
Plan one-pot meals and snack dinners: If we’ve got a lot going on and I’m starting to feel my peace flying out the window, then I take a deep breath and think about how I can make this easier. Lighter. I plan some quick and easy crock pot or one-pot meals that don’t require a lot of prep work or clean up. We eat off of paper plates. Did you know you can freeze PB&J sandwiches? I will make up a whole loaf of bread and stick them in my freezer. Pull the sandwiches we’ll eat out after breakfast and they’re thawed by lunch. We also do snack dinners where I just put a bunch of different items – cheese cubes, ham rolled up, crackers, fruit, carrots, hummus, pretzel sticks, etc. in a muffin tin or plastic party platter and let the kids go at it. My favorite thing it just to set it in the middle of the table and we all eat with our fingers. We get napkins but that’s it – no plates, no utensils. The kids think it’s a party and it’s actually just intentionally making life easier for myself.
Plan ahead: If you’re going to be doing a lot of cooking or baking over the holidays, are there things you can make ahead of time? Planning and organization bring rest and peace. I like to take some time in November to look through my pantry and take inventory of my baking supplies. We have some things we bake each year and nothing is worse than being halfway through a recipe when you realize you’re completely out of baking soda so you have to turn off the preheating oven, throw the kids in the car, and get it before you can continue. And by then the kids have lost interest and are whining so you have to beg, bargain, and whisper yell to create that sweet family baking memory.
Are you in charge of making the stuffing for Thanksgiving? Rather than running to the grocery store at 10pm on the night before Thanksgiving, a little planning could save you time and mental stress when you buy it ahead of time. All of these things bring an atmosphere of rest to your home, which affects your mind, and your children’s hearts.
Now let’s move on to another area that can use some decluttering: our calendar.
Now I want to drive this point home: Rest is not simply ceasing all activity. I’m not here to tell you to become a hermit. Instead we feel at rest when we’re intentional about the activities we chose to do. We shape our calendar around the memories and experiences we want for our children. This holiday, I encourage you to take a few minutes and plan a few, meaningful traditions/activities. Think about the most important events or things you want to do and put them on the calendar first. Remember, you don’t – and shouldn’t – do everything! Let’s focus on quality over quantity. We want to focus on events and activities that create lasting memories (and not memories of a stressed-out, yelling mom), emphasize the true meaning of the holidays, and are fun! Too often we have really high unrealistic expectations. We need to lower the bar and remember what really matters. Have a family meeting and ask your kids what is one thing they want to do this holiday – they may surprise you with the simplicity of their ideas. The truth is that the thing your kids want most is YOU. Pick activities, decide to be truly present with your family, and let the rest go.
I have provided you with a calendar of November and December for you to see at a glance. The goal is NOT to fill up every box. Put the most important things on the calendar first and then you’ll have room leftover for down days and maybe even the mental space for spontaneous Christmas music dance parties in the living room.
There are so many traditions you can choose – I could ask 100 women and they would come up with 100 different answers of what is important to them during the holidays.
Here are some of my family’s favorite traditions:
- Each kid fills out a Gratitude to God journal every day in November. It’s a really simple booklet with a one sentence prompt: One person I want to thank God for is… One toy/one meal/one family memory, etc. Then on Thanksgiving we read through the booklets and look at their drawings. It’s such a sweet keepsake to look at year after year.
- To focus on giving and not just receiving we fill boxes of gifts and practical items to send overseas through Operation Christmas Child.
- On Thanksgiving we host my husband’s family and it’s a day of watching the parade in pajamas, feasting, and games. I cover our table with a roll of brown butcher paper that I got from the dollar tree. Before we set the table, everyone can write and draw things they’re thankful for all over the table. This year we’ve invited another family to join us so we’ll have a full house. I’m cooking many of the side dishes and desserts the day before and I’ve opted for festive paper plates instead of using real dishes.
- On Thanksgiving night the kids open their first present – Christmas pajamas! I know some families do this on Christmas Eve, but I want my kids to wear them all December.
- The day after Thanksgiving I take my oldest daughter on a Black Friday shopping trip with my mom, aunt, and cousins. She looks forward to this big girl shopping day all year long – and has been sleeping with her sequin unicorn purse so she’s ready any time!
- Then we bring down all of the Christmas decorations, listen to Christmas music, light a fire in the fireplace, and watch The Star to bring on the Christmas cheer and remember what Christmas is about.
- Each year we do an advent activity that counts down to Christmas and builds anticipation as we wait for Jesus to be born! Some years we do something every day – this year we’re opting for a once-a-week activity to simplify things. I’ve chosen the free advent calendar from Lifeway Kids which includes a reading and family activity each Sunday.
- Other advent ideas: Last year we read the Jesus Storybook Bible. They have an advent calendar where you read one Bible story each day in December and end with the Christmas story on Christmas morning. They have printable ornaments to go with each story. Another idea is the Jesse Tree, which is goes through the genealogy of Christ as you count down to the coming of baby Jesus.
- Other things we do to keep Christ in the center of Christmas: We read countless books that talk about the Christmas story or the themes of Christmas. We re-enact the story with our Little People nativity.
- We bake a Happy Birthday Jesus cake on Christmas Eve and eat that for breakfast on Christmas morning.
- On Christmas morning my husband reads the Christmas story from Luke 2 before we open our presents.
Other festive traditions we have:
- We pick one night to go look at Christmas lights – but we don’t tell the kids when it’s coming. We put them to bed as normal and then go come back in 5 minutes later and say, “just kidding!” We pile in the car in pajamas with hot chocolate and listen to Christmas music while driving around town looking at the light displays. Sometimes I research and map it out – and other times we just drive around. My husband drives and I flip a coin – if it’s heads, we turn right, if it’s tails, we turn left.
- This year we went on Amazon and my kids each chose one gift they would love to get for Christmas. We bought the presents and then donated them to kids at the Baptist Children’s Home.
- Christmas Fridays: Every Friday we get together with my family (Grandma, Aunt, and Cousins) and bake something delicious, do a Christmas craft, and watch a Christmas movie.
- We buy our kids a new Christmas ornament each year that represents something they’re interested in from that year. I attach a little tag and write the year on it. When they move out they will have a good ornament collection started for their own tree.
- Every year in the week between Christmas and New Years my husband and I get a baby-sitter and go on a special date to reminisce over the past year and dream and plan for the coming year. It’s a fun time to get dressed up, talk about God’s goodness to our family, and connect as a couple without cutting anyone else’s food or picking up broken crayons off the floor.
Rest Brings Freedom
Too often we think the holidays just have to be over-busy, stressful, and chaotic. But we are in charge of so many aspects of the holiday season! You and your husband get to decide what works the best for your family in this season of life.
You have the freedom:
- To say no: You don’t have to accept every invitation. Once you have your priorities set, you can honestly tell people that you just can’t fit their party or their Christmas caroling event in this year. My party threshold is very different from my introverted husband’s. Three events in one weekend is way too much for him. So we discuss and decide which one is the priority and then say no to the others. Or he keeps the kids home and I go if it’s something that I really want to attend.
- To do things for your family and no one else: You can and should enjoy sweet memories that don’t have to be picture-perfect or Instagram-worthy. The world doesn’t have to be invited into your living room for every tradition. Put your phone in another room. Just embrace the imperfection and be present.
- To change your mind: Not everything becomes a yearly tradition. Just because you did something once doesn’t mean you have to do it again. Also, just because you didn’t do something one year doesn’t mean you can’t bring it back. For many years we did the unwrapping 25 books every day in December to count down to Christmas. My husband works in a library, as a teacher I have an extensive children’s book collection – i.e. we love books! But the tradition just didn’t work for our family – my kids were constantly fighting over whose turn it was, they didn’t want to read the one they unwrapped, they got tired of unwrapping gifts (which made Christmas a little less special), etc. So last year I stopped the tradition. Now I put all of the books in a big basket on our fireplace hearth and just randomly pick one and yell “Christmas story time!” and we snuggle on the couch to read it. No fighting, no fuss, no staying-up-past-midnight wrapping all of these books. Just sweet time as a family – and isn’t that what it’s all about?
- To set expectations: After years and years of traveling across the country for holidays, we decided that we will be at home on Christmas morning. It is important to my husband and I that my kiddos wake up in their beds and we spend a quiet morning, just the 5 of us.
- To set a budget – and stick to it! Rest comes when you plan ahead of time how much (roughly) you will be spending at Christmas. Remember: Spending is not a competition. Nor is it a measure of love. Are there things you can do to limit your spending so you don’t regret your credit card statement in January? Can you shop ahead of time and snag deals? Can you do a name-draw for your extended family instead of everyone buying something for everyone?
Sometimes we get so stressed out about what or just the sheer amount of things that others give our children. My advice is to let go of some control. Let others be generous. Let them exercise their love language and lavish your kids with gifts. You don’t have to keep everything forever. Don’t let this ruin your Christmas or embitter you.
Whatever you chose to do or not do this holiday season, I pray that you would set the intention for resting in your heart, your home, and your calendar. Let’s prioritize the things that truly matter, long into eternity.
Father, I thank you for each mom reading this post and her desire to love and serve her family well. As we enter the holidays, I pray that we would not get too busy or stressed or overwhelmed that we lose sight of the specialness of this season. You are the Creator of all good things and we are so grateful for how you lavishly love us. Help us to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in our own hearts so that we can model it for our children. Thank you for sending your son Jesus to this world on the ultimate rescue mission, that the broken relationship caused by sin might be repaired. Help us to remember the true reason of the season that we might create and maintain an atmosphere of peace, rest, and joy in our homes this year. We love you, Lord. Amen.
Questions to ask yourself and/or discuss with a group:
- What were the holidays like for you as a child? What was the atmosphere like in your home? How do you want your home to feel similar/different?
- What area do you most need to prioritize rest: your heart, your home, or your calendar?
- What is one way you can practically and intentionally rest in the Lord in the coming weeks?
- Rest brings freedom. Is there an area you need to exercise your authority and freedom to create a more restful experience this season?
- What is your favorite family holiday tradition?