Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How to Quiet Your Heart at Christmas

Leslie Basham: Author and speaker Dannah Gresh has always loved marking Christmas traditions with her family. For instance, they all loved to sing along to funny holiday songs. But a few years ago, she and her husband Bob realized something.

Dannah Gresh: All of our traditions were silly. Now, I don’t want to say that silly traditions don’t matter because I think they do. But especially in terms of Christmas and Easter, these holidays are meant to point us to the Lord. We have to ask ourselves, “Are my traditions doing that?”

So in recent years, we’ve instituted some new ones. My favorite one is, since we now live on a farm, we go out into the stable on Christmas Eve, and we sit in the hay. My husband’s always annoyed that I have to bring at least one horse, one llama, one chicken . . . one of everything into the various stall that we’re in, and we, by candlelight, read the Christmas story.

It’s cold. There’s snow on the ground outside sometimes. It’s not a comfy place. Everyone’s wondering, When do we get to go inside to have cider? But it just reminds us of the humility and really the turmoil and difficulty and hardship that our Lord endured even on the first day that He came into this world.

So take some time to establish those kinds of traditions. Have fun, get out the Christmas comedy classics, but don’t forget that we’re pointing our kids to the Savior that night.

Leslie: You don’t have to have a barn or animals at home in order to make Christmas more meaningful. You can establish your own significant traditions. Nancy Leigh DeMoss is about to talk about it on Revive Our Hearts for Monday, November 24.

Nancy’s addressing a group of ladies at the Revive Our Hearts Ministry Center in Michigan.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I was on the phone a week or so ago with a friend who has six children . . . seven? . . . she’s got a bunch of 'em! It’s the Thanksgiving/Christmas season, and we were talking about how in that season her life is very full. Her children are eight and under, and she’s home schooling. So just in the ordinary course of things, when it’s even not a holiday season, her life is very full and busy.

But we were talking about the holidays and how she is being so intentional about not letting the house get crazy, about not letting her family get overwhelmed with busyness. That looks different when your kids are all little than it does when you have six or seven teenagers or you’re empty nesters. There are different seasons of life, but now when her kids are little, she’s really trying to establish—and it’s a busy family. Her husband is starting a business, and he’s very busy. So their lives could be very crazy, and by many standards, are. But she said, “I’m just determined we are not going to let our lives spin out of control of the Lord in this season.

So they’re simplifying, simplifying, simplifying, working on that. As I heard her, I just thought, If this woman can simplify, then any of us can. She’s being intentional about it. That’s something that struck me. This doesn’t happen if you just let the ordinary course of things go, especially during the holiday season. You’re going to be run ragged. The culture is going to be telling you what you need to do and how you should observe the season, and then, as I hear so many people especially in the more recent years, just whine about, “We missed Christ in this,” as if we’re victims—which I have had that feeling myself.

But in recent years I have just had this kind of fresh sense of, “I’m going to take Christmas back.” I’ve made some rather drastic changes in my own life. It’s still hard. I still have to work really hard at it, but I’ve found some real great benefit in making some of those course adjustments and decisions, and they’re decisions that people don’t always understand.

You have to be willing, if you’re going to really enter into the fullness of these, what were holy days in early times, have now become holidays, which sometimes have no spiritual significance at all. We know they do, but the way we get caught up in it, we end up frazzled and depressed and bankrupt.

So I’ve just thought, If I’m going to honor the Lord in these seasons, I’m going to have to make some choices that other people may not always understand—even other believers.

I can’t say I’ve arrived at the right way to do this. I’m a single woman, working. Some of my life looks different than maybe yours does, but I thought it would be neat to get some of our listeners together and just say, “What do you do? What have you found helpful?”

To start us off, I asked Paulette if she’d come to the microphone. When we sent out an email saying this was going to be a topic of discussion today, Paulette was kind enough to send an email back and say, “This is something that I have thought a lot about.”

Paulette is involved in leading the women’s ministry in a local church in our area, and you can tell, those of you that are here, she joins me in being one of the gray-haired women. So she’s not old, but she’s one of us older women, and this is part of a Titus 2 ministry into people’s lives, giving input about how to live out the gospel in practical ways including not only how to survive but how to thrive in the Christmas season.

And Paulette has done a lot of thinking about this and is mentoring the women in her church in practical ways that they can make the holidays meaningful, make Christmas, in particular, meaningful. So she sent me some of her resources that she’s developed, a blog she’s developed, and I said, “Would you come and (I asked her just a little while ago) share some of those thoughts?”

So, Paulette, thank you for having this conversation with no notice. But how did you start yourself developing some of these Christmas traditions? Did your parents do this?

Paulette Seiter: Yes and no.

Nancy: Tell us a little bit about your journey.

Paulette: Well I didn’t become a believer until I was twenty-one, and shortly after that I got married. I knew two things: I knew I wanted to be the best Christian wife and mom that I could be. The second thing I knew was I didn’t have a clue how to do any of it.

I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, so I didn’t know. So I just started trying to learn.

Nancy: Do you have children?

Paulette: I have three children.

Nancy: So as they were growing up, what did Christmases look like in your household?

Paulette: Pretty similar to everybody else. I just didn’t have my hands on some of the things I’ve come to learn.

Nancy: So before you learned those things, what did it look like? I just want to know if we can relate to you.

Paulette: Oh, absolutely. We just did the normal things.

Nancy: Which were?

Paulette: The gift-giving thing, the big family dinner, always church was a part of that, and then my kids went to Christian school and so they were involved in the plays and the programs and all those kinds of things.

Nancy: So the month of December was . . . how would you describe it?

Paulette: Pretty hectic. Just like you were sharing. There’s so much to do, and how do we get it all done and trying to make sure we read the right stories and those kinds of things, but I just didn’t have a handle on it.

Probably the biggest help for me was having grandchildren. After we’d raised our kids—we have three grandchildren, and they all—don’t ask me why—live in Arizona, and we’re here.

Nancy: Well, this time of year I kind of understand why they would want to live in Arizona!

Paulette: What that did for me was it made me think, “I’m not there, but I want to have an influence on my grandchildren. So I started trying to think of things I could do and send to them or talk to them about, and that started the ball rolling for me.

Nancy: So tell us how you got started. What are some of the early things that you did? And how old were these grandkids when you started doing this?

Paulette: I started when my first one was three. We now have three, but it’s continuing. I started this thing, which it’s working out great. I don’t know how long it will work, but I started picking a theme for every Christmas. On December 1, I make sure that they receive a box that has a number of different things in it all involved in this theme.

For example, this year I chose the candle. The reason for that is we memorized the verse, “Jesus is the light of the world.” So everything that I do, everything that I send to them has to do with that theme and what the meaning is. So it’s very repetitive.

Another thing that we do every year is bake cookies together. Do you all like to bake cookies? With kids it’s so much fun.

Nancy: You do this in Arizona, or do they come here?

Paulette: Well, we’re going there, and the day after we arrive, we’re baking the cookies. We do specific shapes. We have the Christmas tree—just eight different shapes, and they all mean something related to Christmas.

Then I’ve made out little tags. For cookie number one I have, "The tree means: Under the tree are gifts, and Jesus was the best gift ever." And I do that with each one. So we bake them, and we frost them, and eat them. But then we package them up, and we give them out to everybody you can imagine—the people at the pharmacy, and the bank and everywhere. The kids get involved, too, and they take them. So the people get the cookies, but they get the meaning of what each one of them is.

So the children are involved in doing it and handing it out, but the people then (we don’t know who they’re going to—they may not be believers at all) get to read those meanings and put the attention back on Christ.

Nancy: So your children are learning themselves what this is all about, but they’re also being involved in sharing that story with others.

Paulette: Right. And one of the other things (I sent them a number of just little candles), but on the candle is tied a tag that says, “Jesus is the light of the world.” And they have that right by their front door. Whoever comes to visit them during the month of December, that’s a little take-home gift that they give to them or to take over to the neighbors’ homes, and they’re non-believers. But they get some kind of a gift, and, of course, if a child gives it, it’s even more acceptable. So they can do that.

Nancy: It sounds like you put a lot of time, effort, and thought into this box of goodies that goes to Arizona. So you spend the month of November being a crazy woman?

Paulette: Probably more than the month of November. It takes a fair amount of time. But because of the meaning behind it, that's why I want to do it.

They have an advent calendar that they can use so they can keep up every day the repetition of what we are looking forward to—Christ's birth. That's what the focus is. We do a Happy Birthday Jesus party so they understand that this is His birthday that we are celebrating.

Nancy: Are there any particular traditions or meaningful things that you do yourself in terms of the Christmas season that you look forward to? How do you keep that season from being crazy?

Paulette: Doing this keeps my focus there—which is probably one of the greatest helps. I've had the opportunity to do some of this as a presentation at other churches, so I'm preparing all the time for that, to have the opportunity to pass that on.

We have certain things in our family that we always do—one of which I’m sure everybody does—and that’s reading the Christmas story. But what’s been so interesting, my husband and I have been married thirty-seven years, and we have always done that. As our kids grew up, that was always a part of our celebration. The interesting thing to me is that all through the years, after that story is read, we’ll start having a discussion. It’s always different, and somebody, one of the kids or somebody will say, “You know, I never quite heard that before. I never realized that.” It’s just amazing to me after all those years, but it makes the difference, and we wouldn’t miss it. That is something we wouldn't ever miss.

Nancy: By the way, I would not assume that everybody reads the Christmas story, even all Christian families.

Paulette: That’s probably true.

Nancy: I think it’s maybe an assumption, but because of the people coming and going in so many different directions and a lot of tensions in families, I think there are probably a lot of families that don’t sit down and read Scripture together. The holidays can be a tough time for families.

Paulette: That’s really true. Something I’ve come to notice in our culture right now, we have an awful lot of families whose children don’t even know who Jesus is, and I can hardly believe that. I have a friend who’s a school teacher, and she was telling me that she walked into her classroom and there were three little kids talking, two of whom were churched and one wasn’t. These two were talking about what had happened at their church that Sunday about Christmas. A little boy walked by and heard them and said—and he wasn’t being disrespectful. He just literally said, “Well, who is this Jesus dude?” He didn’t know!

I kept thinking, That can’t be true! But it is. More and more I’m finding that it’s much more true that people don’t know, and if moms or parents don’t know, then they don’t know to pass it on to their children. It’s overwhelming to be a young mom with little kids that you want desperately to teach but you have so many things going on. It’s very hard; I remember. 

Nancy: But if we don’t pass these stories on to our own children and Christian families, they will be lost. I’m sitting here thinking about how the Jews in the Old Testament, when they came to these annual feast days, celebrations, Passover, they would tell the story to their children. They would have visible symbols and reminders. The children would say, “What does this mean?” And the parents would say, “This means this,” and it was the same story told every year. They wanted their children to know the roots of their faith and what this was all about.

So we should not assume that kids growing up today—I mean, who’s going to tell them the story if we don’t? And even in our Christian homes, I think there are probably a lot of children who are not really being grounded in the Scripture and what our faith is. So these holy days and seasons are opportunities to teach the faith.

As you’re talking with the women in your church, what is your observation? What would you like to say to them? What are you picking up in them as it relates to the holiday celebration?

Paulette: Busyness is a big thing, and when we started out, you mentioned the word intentional. I think that is the key, and this is what I share with them a lot. If we aren’t intentional, if we don’t plan ahead and decide these are the certain things I’m going to do this year to make sure that my family keeps their eyes on Christ, if you don’t do it as a mom, it’s probably not going to happen.

So slow down long enough and say: These three things are absolutes that I’m going to do this year, and make it happen, because otherwise it’s gone. It’s just gone, and you say, “You know, I wish I would have . . .” I’ve had a lot of years of, “I wish I would have,” and I don’t want somebody else to go through that if I can help it.

So I just really encourage them. That’s why—you mentioned the blog. I don’t even know how I got it, frankly. Somebody else just set it up for me, but I’ve just started putting one thing every day on there that you can do just so that a mom can go on there and say, “All right, maybe I can do that.”

Nancy: This is during the month of December?

Paulette: Yes, and it’s just—there’s so many things. For Christian women, there’s so many things that are good, and so it’s hard to say no because of that. You just have to kind of pare back a little bit.

What has God called you to do? What is your calling as a wife and mom? And then give your life and attention to doing that. You can do other things later. I have gray hair, and I’m older, and my kids are gone and grown up, so I can do some of this. But I couldn’t do it then. You can’t go back and raise your kids. It’s now, or it isn’t.

NancyYou said something really important, Paulette, and it has to do with priorities. You said that you have to say "no" to some things, and you have to pare back. And the fact is, we cannot do everything that we want to do or that others want us to do in any season of life.

That's why I think so many women are frazzled and frenzied and stressed off the charts, myself included at times, because we are trying to do more things than are on God's agenda for our lives at the season.

So during the holidays, one key thing for me has become saying "no" to some things. I'll give you an example, and I'll probably get some letters over this. I used to send a "gazillion" Christmas cards. I like getting Christmas cards. I enjoyed sending them. It was a way to stay connected. Hear me, I'm not saying that sending cards is a bad idea. But for me, we record up to the middle of December, and it's a heavy study and preparation time for me. I found there were more balls in the air than I could possibly keep. One of the decisions I made consciously a few years ago was, I don't do Christmas cards anymore. I'm not saying that is the right decision for someone else. I hope you'll still send me Christmas cards.

But I'll tell you one thing I did do, I started sending more notes and cards at Thanksgiving. I started focusing some of those things I was doing at Christmas to Thanksgiving because it wasn't so cluttered, even people's mailboxes aren't so cluttered at Thanksgiving. I'm not saying I send a "gazillion" thank you notes at Thanksgiving, but I'm conscious about writing thank you cards, thank you notes. I send them around Thanksgiving so that the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas I don't spend signing and addressing envelopes and missing Christmas.

That was something for me, that I made a decision that at this season of my life, that's not the best way for me to be observing this season. That doesn't mean I'm Scrooge and I don't observe the season. It just means, in order to observe it meaningfully, I have to say "no" to some other things. I cannot go to everybody's event. There are so many activities.

Sometimes if you can't be at all of it, people don't always understand that. But why are we so driven by where everybody else thinks we need to be and what everybody else thinks we need to be doing? Because we fear man more than we fear God is what it comes down to.

I'm not saying this is easy. I have to fight for this every year; I'm doing it right now. But I have found that it is possible to get a quiet heart if I will say "no" to the things that it's just not the right season for me to be doing that.

That's not right answer, necessarily, for everybody else. I'm saying that everybody needs to ask the question, "Is this the season of my life for me to be doing this?

And this is what my friend with the six or seven children was saying. “We can’t do all the activities with our children.” And as the children get older, that will be even more true. People may be running their kids around to everything, but is that wise? Is it best? Is it really developing a heart for the faith in those children? Is it ministering to their children? Is it ministering to others? It’s keeping them busy, but it may not be best.

Paulette: I would just totally back you up in what you just said. Don't try to do everything because it's just not possible. Everyone else losses out when you are stressed out.  When you’re invited to some place or asked to do something, just take the time to pray about it. God will say, “Yes, I want you here.” Then you’ll know you need to do it. But if He says, “Not this time,” that’s the end of the story. You just can’t do it all.

Nancy: And some of the things we do, I think, can be simpler. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a great feast, a great spread with holiday entertaining. But if we think more in terms of hospitality than entertaining, then our meals might look different or how we deal with guests. I mean, I love creativity—I’m not real creative myself, but I love watching things that other people do to make guests feel really welcome. When guests come into my home, I want flowers by their bed, and I want a little note card there. There are times when I can do some of those things, but I don’t have to do those things all the time.

So to invite people into your home for a meal, not every meal has to be a great spread. I’ve watched so many women with the holiday season with lots of people in their home being so stressed, so tense that nobody enjoys it.

So if we can make it an objective to have peaceful hearts, even if that means that the meals are not as complex. People aren’t as impressed, but maybe they’re more blessed. So, do we want to impress, or do we want to bless? I just made that up! Isn’t that good? (laughter) Sometimes you can’t do both.

I have a friend whose children are now grown, but she had five children, and she’s not one who does home entertainment. It doesn’t come naturally to her or real easily to her. So when family was coming for the Christmas holidays, it used to stress and strain her so much. There were multiple generations, people who were out of their normal routine, and when we get out of our routine, sometimes we can get hard to live with. She was trying to juggle all of this and make everybody happy.

She started a number of years ago saying, as the season would start, she would be prayerful. We’re friends. We would talk together, and she would say, “I just want to have a quiet heart. I want to be a peaceful woman in the midst of all this.” She didn’t have to do everything, and when she did, she was consciously asking the Lord to put a governor on her heart and on her tongue. She said, “I don’t want to be Scrooge.”

I think sometimes we are. We are so concerned about making everything work and about the stress of it all. Just roll with the punches. So if you have to travel, and it’s not as convenient, can we do this with joy? Can we do it as servants? Can we do it with peaceful hearts?

One thing is just praying about it, asking the Lord. That’s what I saw in this woman. She was so wise. She is now at the beginning of the holiday season, and she stops and she prays. She knows what her natural bent is, which is to be uptight and anxious, but she says, “Lord, just change me. I want to be a blessing to my family. I don’t want to be the one they’re having to tiptoe around because mom’s going nuts in the kitchen.

So, to bring the Lord into how we do this season and every season, can make such a huge difference in the spirit we have while we’re doing it.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Paulette Seiter about Christmas, how to escape from other's expectations and savor the Christmas season.

We asked Nancy what kind of Christmas music was meaningful to her growing up.

Nancy: One of my favorite Christmas carols is one I learned when I was in Christian school when I was a little girl. It's not so familiar today, but I wish it was more familiar. It's called, "Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne." That's kind of old English.

But what I love about this carol is in its several stanzas, it moves from recounting Jesus' first coming to earth. Then it talks about His earthly life and ministry. It talks about His sacrifice on the cross. Then it anticipates the day when Jesus will come back to this earth and take us to His eternal home.

Throughout this carol with hear this refrain: "Oh come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee. After that last stanza, when we sing about the great hope of Christ's return, that final refrain says, "My heart shall rejoice Lord Jesus when Thou comest and callest for me."

So we celebrate that fact that He has come. We ask that He would come and visit with us in this season, and then we celebrate that assurance we have that one day the clouds will part and Jesus will come back to take us home to be with Him forever.

We've called this Christmas CD Come Adore. This album is an invitation to come adore the Savior who came to free us from our sin and to reconcile us to God. O come let us adore Him Christ the Lord.

My hope is God will use this CD during this season to infuse a spirit of joy and worship and celebration and Christ-centeredness in hearts and in our homes throughout this Christmas season.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. We’d like to send you Nancy’s new Christmas CD, Come Adore as our way of thanking you for a gift of any size to Revive Our Hearts. We’ll send one CD per household for your gift this month. When you call with your donation, let us know you’d like Come Adore. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or donate and get your CD at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear more ideas on making Christmas more meaningful. One mom will explain why there are very few wrapped presents at her house. Find out what her family gives instead. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.