Get your heart and mind ready for the holidays ahead!

Here’s a historical tidbit I’m guessing you didn’t know. Commemorating holy days on the calendar in red ink became popular with the printing of the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. On pages dominated by black ink, these “red-letter” days were boldly proclaimed as the most special, most memorable, and most joyful days in a Christian’s life.

…they’re not meant to be blue.

Unfortunately, for many people, the joyful promotion of the “redness” of the holidays just makes them feel all the more blue. It doesn’t help that the media shows images of smiling families, fancy feasts, elaborate décor, happy children, and women in little black dresses eating all the yummy sweets they want. Okay, maybe that last one is an image that’s only in our minds, but we have to admit, an opportunity for comparison is around every holiday corner. This perceived pressure to be happy and perfect may cause us to start questioning the quality of our relationships and the happiness of our lives. Stress and depression can become the unwanted guests of the holiday season. They invade our joy and ink the red days blue.

There’s a simple practice to evict these invaders of joy and rewrite blue days with more red— permission slips. Try it for yourself and share the idea with friends, family, the women in your church, and anyone battling the blues this holiday season.

Here’s how it works: Keep a pad of sticky notes (and a red pen!) handy and write yourself permission slips to help you deal with the stresses and challenges you know you’ll face each day. Write some specific ones like, “I give myself permission to bring store-bought cookies instead of homemade and to not feel shame about it,” and a few more general ones like the ones suggested below. You can also write permission slips virtually in your head when you’re on the go (and get stuck in the slowest checkout line—again). Here are a few to help you get started:

I give myself permission to…

  • Say it’s okay to feel blue. Stress, grief, and sadness are normal emotions to feel during the holidays, especially over feelings of loss or separation from loved ones. Express your feelings to empathetic family and friends, cry if you need to, and don’t force yourself to be happy because you think you should. If the feelings persist and begin to affect your sleep, daily routine, and health, give yourself permission to seek additional support from a doctor or counselor.
  • Remember that “Happy Family” is a Chinese dish. You may need to give yourself permission to remember this when your dream of the perfect family get-together turns into a messy, imperfect reality. Write permission slips for accepting people as they are and for time to work out grievances after the holidays when stress levels for everyone are lower
  • Eat brussel sprouts, even though I don’t want to. It’s easy to overindulge on sweets during the holidays, but this can contribute to feelings of stress and guilt. Give yourself permission to eat something healthy before a party or holiday dinner to help you avoid overeating and keep yourself healthier and happier.
  • Be imperfect and enough. It’s a great time to stop the “I’m imperfect and never enough” self-talk and start talking to ourselves like we would to someone we love. Self-compassion is the antidote for perfectionism, and we receive big doses of healing when we give ourselves permission to actually live out the Scripture to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
  • To say no. Don’t say yes when you need to say no—it will only leave you feeling overwhelmed and resentful. You don’t need to be a stressed-out superhero, so give yourself permission to be a healthier, happier you by saying yes only when it’s the right thing to do.
  • To reach out to someone when I’m feeling overwhelmed or blue. Isolation is the place feelings of loneliness and depression grow. Connection with others helps joy and hope grow. Identify one or more close friends or family members you can reach out to, who are able to listen and encourage you (but not try to fix you) when you feel blue. These are your “red-hearted” friends—the ones who share love and joy and let you know how special you are.
  • Balance the holy with the hurry. Let’s face it, the hurry gets way more priority than the holy during the holidays. Making a schedule for the hurry and the holy can help. Keep a schedule for shopping, cooking, and social engagements to help alleviate the hurry. Prioritize the holy by creating a schedule for devotions, prayer, rest, and free time to embrace the wonder, joy, and holiness of the holidays.

There’s one more permission slip you need to write: permission to embrace the joy of the holidays and every day. It’s the one that was written by Jesus, in red letters, just for you: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” —John 10:10 (NIV)

Linda Crawford