by Shane Fookes, MA MDiv, Registered Counseling Associate
We like to think of the holiday season as the season of love. But for many of us, it would more accurately be called the season of anxiety!
Many of us live with anxiety all year long, but something about the Christmas season brings it to a crescendo. Maybe for you it’s family expectations, or cultural expectations, or the incessant bombardment of messages promoting conflicting ideas of what the season is supposed to be about.
Sadly, many psychological and physical problems find their source in anxiety. Ailments like depression, stress, headaches, relational conflict, and outbursts of anger are grounded in anxiety. Did I just describe the reality of Christmas for you?!
Why so much anxiety? Simply put, we constantly live life with a dilemma: on the one hand, we are creatures full of passions and desires for the people, possessions, and experiences we believe necessary for a good life. On the other hand, we are weak creatures unable to completely arrange what we want no matter how hard we strive. Anxiety fills the gap between these two realities.
For example, think of what you want most this Christmas. Maybe a particular gift. Or time with your family. Perhaps the delightful squeals from your kids as they come down the stairs on Christmas morning. Or great food and conversation. Here’s the question: Can you, in your own power, make this happen? Guaranteed? I know you want to make it happen. You may even be actively striving to make it happen. But you don’t have the power to guarantee what you want happens. Thus, anxiety. I may have just provoked anxiety in you as you read this!
We simply cannot escape anxiety this Christmas season. But before you completely give up on me and find another blog to click on, I invite you to remember the angel’s words to the shepherds on that first Christmas morning:
Luke 2:8-11 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!
So maybe you haven’t had an angel appear before you to provoke your fear and anxiety, but the message is the same for whatever anxiety you face right now: you need not fear, Jesus is near. To show how Jesus can apply a balm for your anxieties this Christmas season, I want to take a look at what one of Jesus’ closest friends wrote about him. We find it tucked in a letter near the end of our Bibles called 1 John.
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
So, according to John, what removes fear? Perfect love. And that makes sense when you think about it. When you know without a doubt you are perfectly loved, fear and anxiety go out the window! Love supersedes all that we fear. And it’s not just about a problem-free life either! In the name of love, we endure pain, make great sacrifices, and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. In other words, we will do things we would otherwise fear when we know we are loved. When we know we are loved, we rest from our striving, scheming, and arranging for happiness. Because knowing we are loved is the center of happiness.
Notice where the writer roots fear: punishment.
Follow your fears and you’ll find the threat of punishment. This sense of punishment reveals a performance-based, rules-based relationship. This is the #1 alternative to a love-based relationship. A performance-based relationship says, “You better measure up, or else!” In other words, it involves fear. A love-based relationship says, “There’s nothing you can do to keep me from loving you.” Make no mistake, a loving relationship isn’t an anything-goes relationship. Rules and boundaries still apply. But it’s the motivation for the boundaries and rules that is different. They are kind and for our protection.
The big story of the Bible points to this contrast between a fear and punishment way of life and a loving way of life. All of what we call the Old Testament tells the story of a people loved by God and given kind warnings and instructions to point them toward finding satisfaction in the love of God. But these people would not put their trust in God’s love. Instead, they tried to appease God by keeping a list of religious rules. They abandoned God and looked for love in all the wrong places. But then, at just the right time, God invaded human history on that first Christmas morning to reveal his lavish love. By sending his Son, God gave us a firsthand picture of His perfect love.
No matter what happens this Christmas season, find rest in the perfect love of God. Then, from that place of heart rest, give yourself fully to the season no matter what comes.
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About the Author
Shane Fookes is a graduate of Western Seminary’s Counseling program and a Registerred Counseling Associate. He served as a pastor for 17 years and is still involved in leading churches. He writes about marriage and relationship issues, anxiety, depression, and spiritual development.