The caricature of women during the holiday season is a frazzled, exhausted, pressure-filled, and over-extended one. I'm not entirely sure how true that is anymore. I'm holding out hope that we're getting better at picking the events that matter, saying no to credit card debt and letting go of the belief that we have to send cards and throw a party and hide the elf every night and make homemade cookies and buy everyone a present. I'm hoping...
But even if we're not frazzled from over-commitment, it's far too easy to let the holidays whiz by without really sinking in to meaningful moments.
Here are three ways to help increase your sense of connection this holiday season:
1. Initiate Meaningful Sharing.
Far more important than scheduling time to be with family and friends is then making sure that real sharing happens. I do this most often by saying, "Let's all share one highlight from this month (or week) so far and one lowlight." (read my post about that favorite sharing question here) to ensure that everyone gets to share about the subjects of their choosing and to help keep the conversation real.
But another idea that's especially good for groups of people not used to sharing is to put a bunch of meaningful questions in a jar and during dinner announce that tonight we'll each draw a question to answer. This extends the mealtime and keeps everyone laughing and connecting longer. I'm keeping a jar on my table all month long for everyone who comes over! It doesn't have to be fancy -- just a jar with questions begging to be answered by anyone who sits around my table this month!
Questions could include:
- What is one thing that surprised you in a good way, an unexpected gift, that you're grateful happened?
- What is one thing that you're really, really, really proud of from this last year... something that matters to you that we can celebrate with you.
- What's an area of your life (i.e. work, health, hobbies, relationship) that has been really energizing and fulfilling for you? What contributes to that feeling?
- What is one thing happening in your life right now that gives you hope?
- If you had to give the last year a name/chapter title -- what might it be and why?
- What are three unique (not the typical "God/Family/Health) things in your life that you're really grateful for?
A little note on this before I go onto the next idea: It's common to feel a little weird doing this, and that's okay. I just tell myself that making sure everyone leaves feeling seen and heard matters way more to me than whether it will feel normal, comfortable or easy on me, or anyone else. I used to try to guess whether a certain family member would think it was stupid or whether so-and-so would actually share. I've been doing this long enough now to conclude that most people prefer meaningful conversation to small talk, everyone wants to be seen and that it's a gift to all of us to have some structure that provides permission and expectation to share. Courage to you!
2. Choose One Person You Miss.
Ask yourself who you miss having more regularly in your life and commit to connecting with them this month. It could be a far-away friend whom you decide you will Skype or call with... no matter what. It could be someone locally that you just haven't seen enough of recently whom you call and say, "You are my priority this month. My month won't be complete without being with you... so name the time and place and I'll come to you... I want to spend time with you." Or, it could be an aging family member, someone you've drifted apart from, or maybe even somebody where there has been some tension between the two of you. The point is to just pick one person who pops into your head and find a way to really connect.
The gift of this is that everything else on your list will feel urgent, with a time stamp to it, but that doesn't mean they are all things we'd list as "most important"; whereas this connection isn't urgent at all (the reason you've let it slide until now), but you're claiming it's importance and choosing to make it urgent. You're deciding that it is indeed urgent to make sure that this season has a deeper connection as part of your celebration. Initiate today... and be completely committed to finding the time to catch up and affirm and love on one person you miss.
3. Pick Presence for One Event.
In an ideal world, we'd be truly present to every single event -- decorating gingerbread houses, the kids choir concert, shopping with your mom, signing the Christmas cards -- but the truth is that many "fun" things don't capture 100% of our attention. So, let's not claim we can do it all season, but let's intentionally pick one that matters. Look at your calendar and say, "For this event, I am going to soak it up!" And then really be as present as you can be: choose to find the magic, watch their faces, add music, dance and laugh, pause and breathe deep, communicate your love, receive everything available to you in those moments.
In this exercise we're not worrying about updating our social media pages, we're not hurrying everyone along, we're not more focused on the logistics than the people and we're not quick to temper. Quite the opposite; we are cherishing as much as we can, holding gratitude, inhaling deeply and smiling. When we get to January, we want to look back and remember that we were there at that event.
In choosing to do these two of these three things, we're not really adding more time to our month; we're simply infusing the things we're already doing with meaning. We are making sure that as intentional as we are about getting through our list of tasks, we're also making sure that we're intentional about the outcome of those tasks. For what's the point of filling up the calendar if not to also fill up our hearts?