I have to admit, my hometown is beautiful at Christmas. Twinkling lights and picturesque decorations. It mirrors the image most of us have of Christmas. A season of great expectations.
But expectations can be disappointing. How many children each year are disappointed because the expected toy is not under the Christmas tree? Family members are disappointed because relationships aren’t what they would hope they would be. The iconic family sitting around the fire singing Christmas carols is an unspoken expectation of relationships during the holidays. Often family scenes are different than that. Expectation of the ideal brings disappointment, frustration, sadness, even anger.
Heading into the holidays, checking expectation levels is important. Expectations most often revolve around people and relationships. Strained relationships usually don’t dissolve at Christmas time if they are not addressed at other times of the year. Having realistic expectations about relationships can help overall emotional health of individuals going into family gatherings. Realistic expectations don’t mean expecting more than what people can give, but it also doesn’t mean expecting the worse in a situation. If we look for the worse in a person or situation we will probably find it. Realistic expectations mean accepting things or people for where they are and what they can offer. It means acknowledging this principle:
“It is what it is”
Applying this principle in life situations and relationships gives each of us accurate expectations. But it also gives us the ability to change things we have control to change. If there are unhealthy or toxic people in our lives, it gives us the ability to decide how we are going to let them affect us, what boundaries we need to establish with them, and what changes, if any, we need to implement for healthy living. Unfortunately, not all relationships in our lives may be healthy. Assessing the situation realistically allows us to either adjust our expectations so we are not racked with disappointment, or it gives us the choice of what we can control in the situation.
“It is what it is, so what am I going to do about it?” Ask yourself this question when assessing expectations. Perhaps not everyone can be together on Christmas Day. Instead of being disappointed, what are creative ways to celebrate when everyone is together? Perhaps you are experiencing ongoing strife in a relationship. Have you sought out counseling or help from a pastor, mentor, or friend? Are your finances are not what you hoped for this holiday? Can you make meaningful celebrations that are rich in activity and conversation rather than in material things? Are you emotionally stuck in bitterness or anger? What do you need to change to get unstuck?
This holiday season, make an effort to set realistic expectations for relationships and holiday hoopla, acknowledging, “It is want it is.” Then, change or readjust what you can control to walk through the holidays in good physical, spiritual, and mental health. That’s the best gift you can give to yourself and those around you.