by Taylor Combs
The holidays stress me out, and not without reason.
I messed up on the first Thanksgiving after my wife and I got married. Put simply, I failed to communicate—to communicate well, to communicate thoroughly, to communicate clearly. The result of such failed communication was that my wife’s understanding and my parents’ understanding of our Thanksgiving plans were not the same. And when pressed to clarify our plans, I waffled.
What was at the root of my poor communication? Fear. Fear of man. Fear of family.
Family has so much power over us, so much control, it seems, over our emotions. Combine family with the holidays—the season of gathering, eating, gift giving, arguing, emotions, consumerism, and Christianity all boiled together and overflowing—and you’ve got a recipe for stress, a recipe for fear of man and fear of family.
What did I learn from this miscue? How can we remove fear from the equation and reduce stress from the recipe? Lord willing, I’ve got a lot of years of holidays ahead of me (a lot of opportunities to learn and grow) but even in just a few years of holidays as a married person, I think I’ve learned quite a bit about how to be a man during the holidays.
This is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). This is the fear that drives out all other fears—fear of family included. God has called us to be faithful, and ultimately, it is his approval that matters. As Jesus said, “Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Likewise, don’t fear those who give gifts, cook meals, get their feelings hurt about time not equally split, or practice emotional blackmail. Fear God.
Don’t make the holidays about yourself, your favorite foods, your traditions, and your comfort and ease. Try instead, insofar as you can, to serve everyone involved: wife, kids, parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and unexpected guests. In other words, be like Jesus: “In humility, consider others as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
Anyone who attempts to serve others during the holidays will quickly realize that it is impossible to do in a perfectly proportional way. You just can’t serve everyone equally all the time. Not everybody gets what they want (as I learned quickly that first Thanksgiving). Eventually, you must decide whom you’re going to serve. How do you choose?
The key is in relating rightly to all involved parties, and for Christian husbands, that means your wife takes precedence. Yes, you are still related to other family members, but marriage is about “leaving and cleaving.” It’s about separating from your parents and holding fast to your wife in a new family unit. You and your wife should of course consider what it means to honor your mother and father even after the wedding day, but if you aren’t first and foremost loving and serving your bride, it’s time to check your priorities.
Kill Your Idols
Idols seem omnipresent during the holidays. We idolize traditions, the opinions of our loved ones, particular dates on the calendar, and consumerism and materialism. To be free of stress and fear during the holidays—insofar as it’s humanly possible—kill your idols. Take a good look at what’s lurking below the surface with a hold on your heart, and repent. It’s likely that the thing causing you the most anxiety about the holidays is the very idol that has a grip on your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to change you, and, though it probably won’t be quick or easy, He will. As you grow in the fear of the Lord, the idols in your heart will slowly lose their control, and you’ll learn to serve others and relate rightly.
Having loved ones with whom to spend the holidays is a blessing, but like with any blessing, Satan will fight tooth and nail to turn it into a curse. That’s why the holidays are so hard—because they’re fought on a spiritual battlefield. Not against flesh and blood (overbearing mothers-in-law, unruly nieces and nephews, drunk aunts and uncles, swearing cousins), but against the demonic powers of darkness. And that’s exactly why men need help to be faithful during the holiday season—help our Father is ready and willing to give.