Some of us are faced with navigating strained relationships amidst the holly jolly season, while others struggle with letdown when the excitement of the holidays draws to a close. Whatever the case may be, this time of year tends to amplify the feelings associated with the circumstances we often face.

As a minister on our Congregational Care team, much of my time involves working with persons who find themselves traversing a variety of life transitions. The mission of our department is “to walk compassionately with others through the changing circumstances of life.” These circumstances are typically marked by uncertainty, fear, conflict, and loneliness, none of which are what anyone would hope for or choose on their own, yet these feelings are part of the human condition.

Support groups, Stephen Ministry, Prayer Tower, Recovery and Restoration ministries, and pastoral counseling are some of the ways we walk with others as they endure illness, grief, addiction, divorce, infertility, loss of all kinds, and despair.

In our support groups, we spend a fair amount of time preparing for the holidays. Many counselors will tell you their schedules are booked solid this time of year as clients anticipate the holiday season in hopes of coming out on the other side relatively unscathed.

In Chapter 22 of Matthew’s Gospel, we see that Jesus is no stranger to conflict. He was tested and questioned publicly by the incredulous religious leaders of his day. Questions concerning his true identity were couched in the topics of taxes, the resurrection, and the greatest of the commandments.

With each line of interrogation, Jesus establishes a boundary and maintains his identity as Messiah. Jesus responds with the declaration, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

We are called to love God whole-heartedly and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We hear a lot about loving God and others, but what about “as yourself?” I believe it begins with loving God.

As we cultivate a relationship with God through prayer, worship, service, and Scripture, we prepare our hearts and minds to receive the grace and mercy God offers us each and every day. As we grow in our understanding and acceptance of God’s love for us just as we are, we are more prepared to extend compassion to others.

These commandments do not state that we are to be doormats to whatever or whoever might come our way. They tell us to be rooted in God’s love and to let this be a guide for caring for others as well as ourselves.

Taking a few moments throughout each day to say a prayer could provide sustenance in the hustle and bustle. If you find yourself with a lack of words, I offer the Serenity Prayer as a starting point: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Whether you are dealing with small annoyances or very serious issues, establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries is a key means of caring for yourself anytime, especially when anxieties are heightened.

What might this look like?

  • Establish intentional God time each day in Scripture and prayer
  • Identify helpful support persons — a trusted friend, counselor, spiritual director, or sponsor — if you or a family member is in recovery
  • Consider establishing safe conversation topics and reasonable timeframes for visits
  • Honor the boundaries of others
  • Remember, you cannot control others!

If you find yourself dealing with difficult circumstances or a contentious relationship, keep in mind that you are not alone. God is with us. That is the promise we are given in Jesus, Emmanuel. If you find yourself feeling isolated, reach out to our team and learn about the ways you can connect with our church and the variety of resources we offer to care for those who are hurting.