Christmas Comfort Zones

Certain elements of the Christmas season bring me warm, fuzzy feelings every year.  Colorful light displays.  Children’s Christmas programs.  Hot cocoa and family recipe cookies. My tree decorated with treasured ornaments.  I look forward to these traditions because they are tickets to temporary happiness in what is often a stressful time of social interaction.

As parties approach, I tend to fret about dealing with difficult people, especially ones who have deliberately hurt me in the past.  I have worked hard to forgive them and let the past be the past, but I don’t trust them not to hurt me again.  I’m tired of the Christmas battleground.  Part of me wants to retreat to my couch with my plush blanket and admire the tree lights in my quiet, peaceful living room.  That’s my Christmas comfort zone.

The problem is, my comfort zone doesn’t include people in my life who desperately need to see a living example of God’s grace.  Jesus wants me to get off the couch and rely on Him as my Prince of Peace while doing my best to showcase his grace, even to people who feel like my enemies at times.  Romans 12:18 says that as far as it depends on me, I must work hard to live in peace with others.  Especially at Christmastime, when all of us can use an extra measure of peace.

In his book “Vanishing Grace,” Philip Yancey writes about a meeting he had with Henri Nouwen, a priest who ministered to AIDS patients in the 1980’s.  As Nouwen stepped out of his comfort zone and listened to their stories, his viewpoint changed.  He prayed, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies…but rather as thirsty people.  And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”

This Christmas, my desire is to step out of my comfort zone to give God’s grace and peace to thirsty people in my circles.  How is God calling you to step out of your comfort zone this Christmas?  Who are the thirsty people in your life?

5 Ways to Manage Work Stress

Meditations+of+My+Heart+webMost days, I come home mentally and emotionally spent from my job at a school.  I haven’t managed my stress well in the past, so eight hours of stimulus and negativity wear me down.  This summer I’ve reflected on my mistakes and thought of five ways to proactively manage my stress this school year.  Here’s my list:

  1. Start with a positive mindset.

On my morning commute, I will pray over my upcoming day.  I can listen to Christian radio at my desktop, which helps me focus on faith throughout the day.  I purchased a lovely illustration of a favorite scripture from gracelaced.com (pictured above) to keep me accountable for my thoughts and words—you can purchase a print here.

  1. Use a journal to vent.

Rather than running to my coworker to vent, which too often turns into griping, I will jot frustrations in a journal.  Then I can weigh their importance and decide whether I need to consult with someone else or simply let them go.

  1. Find a physical outlet.

Since the school bells ring every hour, I will use them as reminders to get up and walk around a bit.  That activity will also give my eyes a break from the computer screen.  I have noticed my own children grumble less once they get moving—surely it’s true for me too.

  1. Don’t contribute to problems.

When gossip starts, it’s tempting for me to get sucked in and drown in the negativity.  I can stop entering the discussion by not asking detailed questions, and I can redirect the conversation or walk away if gossip occurs.  The gossip will no longer head in my direction if I don’t listen or participate.

  1. Choose my battles.

When conflict arises, I usually don’t address it, but the tension burns me up inside for hours.  This year I plan to be more direct.  I don’t have to be rude or ugly, but I need to be direct for my own good.  I can say something like, “That comment was out of line, and I don’t appreciate being spoken to that way.”  Even if the offender dismisses me or doesn’t apologize, I will know I’ve done all I can to confront the problem.

What are your stress management techniques for work?