Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Coping with December Pressure

I have a love/hate relationship with the month of December. My birthday falls near the middle of the month and Christmas falls near the end so those occasions should make the month of December a banner month, right? Senior Pastors know better. December is easily the most pressure packed month of the year. Teaching fresh material every December is a herculean challenge. Extra time is always needed for celebrating the staff, honoring the volunteers, raising year-end funds, and being even more available than usual for pastoring the church and community. And then there is your family- your spouse and kids and grandkids and extended family. Neglect them and well, you know… So, each year there are the 2 things that I make sure I do to recharge and stay grounded. The first is prayer. 

Out of desperation I started a new practice decades ago. On the first Monday in December I take my Bible and journal to a place that offers solitude. My prayer is the same each year: “God, please help me get this Christmas right…or at least a little better all around than I did last Christmas.” Then I start journaling about whatever comes to mind. Sometimes I start with making sure I’m learning from mistakes of previous holiday seasons. Other times I begin by reviewing what I got right the year before. But regardless of where I start, God always speaks to me.

I specifically remember the year that God whispered to me to stop pretending to my wife and children about what my schedule was going to be in December. Ever the optimist, I would joyfully announce that I was going to be around more this December than last year. Then reality would strike. Almost every year I spend December 26 apologizing to my family for not keeping my word about my schedule. 

This all changed with a whisper on a Monday. 

God said, “Why not tell your family the truth? Why not simply explain to them that December is the most intense month of the year for pastors and despite the flurry of activity in the first three weeks of the month you will all get sweet revenge the final week of the month.” Sweet revenge! 

The second strategy I have for staying grounded in December is replenishment (aka: Sweet revenge!). My children, who were young at the time, loved that term. Our family would scheme, plot and plan what we could do as a family that would make the chaos of the first 3 weeks fade. For over 25 years, the Hybels family packs up to go somewhere on Christmas Day and we aren’t seen around Barrington until the first of January. 

These “sweet revenge” travel days have been a lifesaver for our family. We cook meals together, jog together and watch sunsets together. On Old Years Night, we all list the top 10 blessings from the previous year. By the time the ball drops in Times Square we are all good with God, the church and each other. The deeper point in revealing all of this is that the idea came from a humble prayer for help from God on a Monday morning in early December decades ago.

Other years God has whispered other directions to me that gave me new ways to cope with the intensity of December pressures. Nothing has been more valuable to me than the first Monday of December, alone with God, armed with a Bible, a journal and an earnest prayer to get this Christmas Season a bit more right than last year.

By: Bill Hybels (@BillHybels)
Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church
Chairman of the Board, Willow Creek Association