Peace on Earth Starts With Peace in Your Heart
Peace was what this Christmas idea was all about in the first place. Ironically, the simplicity and joy of a child’s birth has evolved into a feeding frenzy of commercialized pinball, with shoppers hustling and bustling from one end of town to the other, all in search of the Perfect Gift.
Store shelves have long since sold out of Peace . . . it’s the “Cabbage Patch Kids – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – Tickle Me Elmo” problem that surfaces every year about this time.
The Good News is that the season does provide us all a chance to trot out our stress management skills and give them a good workout. Moreover, there’s a lot of joy and excitement to be found in family parties, in surprising others, and in seeing, smelling, and hearing the nostalgic magic that defines modern-day Christmas.
The bad news, though, is that the emotional currency of Christmas has become counterfeited, and peace in one’s heart (let alone on earth) is much harder to come by. For many the refrain is more accurately intoned: ♪Stress on earth, Good luck in staying out of debt. ♬
Now I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade . . . I’m as ardent a supporter of the wonders and magic of Christmas as the next Santa. What concern me are the myriad expectations – and ensuing stress – attached to this holiday of holidays.
It can be hard to find joy in the faces of many holiday shoppers . . . with stores staying open till all hours there’s seldom a Silent Night to be found, “God bless you every one” is certainly not uppermost in my mind as I creep through the herd of holiday traffic, and you’ll be hard pressed to find Good Tidings on the Barbie isle on any Saturday afternoon in December. It’s not that we intend to be rude or overly driven, but dadgumit, we’ve got a job to do!
Where’s the Peace, though?
Peace can be equally elusive on the homefront. We all love the sweet smells of mom’s cooking at Christmastime, and it’s certainly evidence of a giving heart. But sacrifice to excess becomes slavery, and mounting tension can easily chase away peace in a home when it’s get-the-product-out-at-all-costs time. In this case, I’m not sure the delivery of homemade gifts provides as much a sense of peace as it does one of relief.
And Relief on Earth isn’t quite what we’re after.
I don’t know if a gift of love justifies sacrificing peace to make it – especially if the peace you’re sacrificing affects those you love most (still, I’m sure there are many who glide about their kitchens stress-free). When your giving list includes10, 20, or 30 people, and the project involves endless time at the stove or kitchen table, it’s easy to get caught up in the making and backing and forget about the giving of living.
There’s a lot to be said for spending time playing in the snow with your nine-year old. Or shoveling the walks of an elderly neighbor. Or visiting someone who you sense has few friends (Christmastime is often the loneliest time of the year, even for some who outwardly appear to have things together). These gifts of the heart will last much longer than the plate of divinity or cookies.
Put simply, expressions of love and friendship are what the season is all about, but you don’t have to be everything to everyone. Tireless toiling often breeds more stress than peace. Striking a balance in giving to others is the key.
I’m all in favor of little gifts for neighbors and loved ones, but not at the expense of peace. Not if it creates undue pressure and stress. Some of the best gifts my family and I’ve received from friends over the years involve ideas that seem time-efficient: a bunch of hangers or a roll of toilet paper with a creative little note attached, Christmas stories printed out on decorative stationery, or simply a brief visit from caring neighbors.
It seems the peace of the season is found heart-to-heart and not in a store, nor bent over at a 90-degree angle, in worshipful pose to the oven. It’s found in development and nurturance of relationships, worldly and otherwise.
I must admit I’m as apt to get lost on the Aisle 14 of life as the next guy, but I’m feeling a more frequent longing for the real gift of Christmas: peace. If the saying “Wise Men Still Worship Him” is true, I’d say it’s time we return to a simpler celebration of the season. There’s simply no better way to reduce stress than to be at peace.
Steven M. Gentry, PhD is a Child & Family Psychologist and the Executive Director of
Psychological Assessment and Treatment Specialists in American Fork, Utah.