As we reflect “peace on earth and goodwill toward men,” I’ve wondered how to really give the best simple presents. There’s three things to consider as we prepare for Christmas. They are ways to honor this sacred time and give the gift of ourselves. Memories and expectations along with our perspectives can interfere with our gift-giving. Loving eye contact along with a prayer for peace enhances the best simple present we can give.
Memories and Expectations of The Best Simple Presents
Memories of Christmas pasts and expectations of friends and family can be overwhelming. As a child it’s easy to believe Santa comes down the chimney and brings presents. But, as adults we learn to guard ourselves against pain. Our beliefs turn to distrust, negativity, and avoidance where there’s perceived danger. And sometimes, we’re up against not just perceived, but real emotional harm. The wonder of life no longer seems wonderful as we move through relationships.
Let’s remind ourselves of the phrase “good will toward men.” Of course, we interpret “men” as all human kind. In this special season, we celebrate the coming of Christ. And let’s ask ourselves, what does that really mean?
Perspective Gives Us The Best Simple Presents
What if we could see the childlike soul of the person who holds discomfort in us? We may see a wounded, betrayed, hurt little boy or girl. Can we be open to see the substance of their being and look beyond their manipulation or rejection of us? If so, could we see their good will? If we could see their pain out of their own unhealed wounds, we could relate with compassion.
Loving Eye Contact Accompanies The Best Simple Presents
It’s not easy to make loving eye contact. Nor is it easy to believe in the goodwill of those who cause us pain. Yet, if we choose to hold onto our childlike faith, we can grow beyond our own woundedness. As a result, we allow the love of Christ and His healing touch on our own lives. We can give the best simple present of ourselves. Our souls are filled when we’re at peace with the life-giving meaning of “goodwill to men.”
An Attitude of Peace Makes The Best Simple Present
This prayer brought tears to my eyes more than once in my reflections of Christmas. May it touch your heart as you celebrate this sacred time!
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console:
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love:
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to
– attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi
There’s a method I’ve discovered as the best way to relieve stress immediately. I’ve shared it with my clients and use it in my home every day. It’s called the seven-minute rule. What is the seven-minute rule? I’m glad you asked. Before I tell you how it works can you relate to these scenarios?
You Can Relieve Stress Immediately if. . .
- You come home from work after a stressful day expecting to relax. When you walk in the house, it’s a wreck. No one cared to pick up after themselves. They must be lazy, you think.
- Piled up bills are laying on the kitchen counter. The TV is blaring. The children don’t notice you because they’re on their iPads. They haven’t done their chores or homework. Or, they could at least be outside.
- Your spouse is stressed and gives you the crying baby. And also expects you to change the dirty diaper. In an irritated tone, you ask, “what have you done all day?”
- Your voice is firm with aggravation. The family accuses you of being mean. But it’s the only way you can get your point across.
As a result, we end up with an “I-work-so-hard-all-day-and-no-one-cares” attitude. Whatever our story, we find ways to escape the stress. Some do it by working late. Others do it by spending hours on social media. Those methods and others provide an immediate reward: dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical.
But, it doesn’t take long before our relationships become more distant. Those who matter most seem like strangers. And in some cases, enemies. Then we make up stories in our minds about their intentions to make our lives miserable. The results produce no teamwork in the family. Nor do we have partnership in the marriage.Don't let mismanaged stress make relationships distant. Otherwise, those who matter most seem like strangers. Click To Tweet
Here’s how to change that cycle.
Relieve Stress Immediately —The Seven Minute Rule
The seven-minute rule is a technique that transforms stressful situations. With consistent use, we can create relaxing and peaceful connections in family relationships. What we create in a family environment can benefit in other ways. It also gives us skills to create more productive work environments.
Here’s how it works:
- Consider seven minutes before or after any transition as sacred space. What do I mean by sacred space? It’s the place in-between a relationship that holds only gratitude and heart-to-heart connection. Nothing else. There’s no irritability, demands, criticisms or other negative interactions. That includes confrontations, stern looks, sarcasm, and cynicism.
- The seven minutes of sacred space and time is taking deep breaths. That sacred space means slowing down to be loving and respectful. It’s focusing on being compassionate and tender with our loved ones. Also, it’s being kind and gentle regardless of the environment. It’s having an attitude of curiosity rather than judgement.
- Let the children know you’re happy to be with them. You love them just as they are. You might say to your spouse with light-hearted honor, “I can’t believe I’m married to you! I am SO blessed.”
- It’s your choice to love unconditionally in that seven minutes of sacred space. You take time to connect and value your relationships.
Examples of the 7-Minute Rule to Relieve Stress
- Set the timer on your smart phone for seven minutes after pulling up in the driveway.
- Put a reminder on your dashboard with a 3” x 5” card that reads “7-minute rule”.
- Take deep breaths in and out with a mantra such as this. Breathe in thankfulness. Breath out stress. Or say, “I breathe in appreciation and I breathe out criticism.” Take about three or four deep breaths with the same mantra. Use that attitude for the following seven minutes of sacred time.
As you enter your home, leave your stress behind. Use deep breathing and then look into the eyes of your children and spouse. Be interested in their world.
It’s as if you’ll be walking onto “holy ground” in those seven minutes. Use it to connect, appreciate, and see the world through the eyes of your loved ones. Be willing to live in the present.Use the 7-minute rule to connect, appreciate, & see through the eyes of your loved ones. Make transitions sacred. Click To Tweet
Relieve Stress through these 7-minutes:
- Before bed
- When you wake up
- Right before leaving the home
- After you arrive at your destination
- While sitting down for a meal
- As you finish your meal
Any transition is seven minutes of sacred and holy space.
Try it out for a week, (7 days) and see how it works for you. I challenge you to try it for 30 days. And I’d love to hear your comments.
Here’s Your next step.
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Some of us dread gathering with extended family on Thanksgiving Day. Rather than focus on gratitude and enjoying the meal, we end up feeling like roasted turkey. But it doesn’t have to be that way when we learn how not to be a turkey on Thanksgiving.
Holidays are strong reminders of the way things used to be. We gather with those who know our quirks, history, and points of irritation. Relationship patterns are so automatic that we don’t realize our part in creating the mess.
Even the anticipation can be stressful. We’re uncomfortable with reminders of loss. Divorce, death, or manipulative relationships can make the tradition of gratitude difficult for some and unbearable for others. We think thoughts like, I wished we could just skip these next six weeks.Relationship patterns are so automatic that we don't realize our part in creating the mess. Click To Tweet
Thanksgiving can trigger our grief and negative thoughts. Emotional and mental energy depletes us from the warm fuzzies of gratitude.
Here are six practices you can do to make Thanksgiving a time of gratitude.
1. Practice adequate rest
Most of us disregard the basic foundation of our mental, emotional, and relational health. We push ourselves to make things just right to impress our guests. Our ability to handle stress is depleted without a consistent habit of seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Adequate cycles of sleep provide our brains the fresh charge of energy for clarity and awareness. Without proper sleep, we’re not able to cope well in stressful situations.
2. Practice deep belly breaths
Slow deep belly breaths help calm impulsive words and actions. It only takes ninety seconds of deep breathing to slow the fight/flight/freeze area of the brain that lights up when we’re triggered. We’re able to access rational thoughts when someone says a mean or hurtful comment. Ancient wisdom teaches us to be quick to hear and slow to speak. (New Testament – James 1:19)
Most people unintentionally harm others because of their own unhealed emotional wounds. With rest and deep breathing, you can control your reactions. You can stop your part of a charged incident.
Deep belly breaths give you ability to reason beyond reactivity. You create neuropathways in your brain that opens up awareness. You’ll be aware of your own body reactions. Emotional triggers affect both our bodies and our minds.
Quiet the racing thoughts and stories in your head that may not be true. Even if they are true, deep belly breaths slow you down enough to gain insight into yourself, the other person, and the incident.
Make it a point to process later through journal-writing or an appointment with your therapist. Your well-being depends on you keeping resentment from building.Deep belly breaths give you ability to reason beyond reactivity. Click To Tweet
3. Practice your smile
We have mirror neurons in our brains that aid our social connections. When we interact with others, we reflect their gestures, tone, body posture, and behaviors. They reflect us. We smile back when they smile at us. It’s like looking in a mirror.
A smile has the power to disarm another’s frown. Some of us were born smiling while others naturally have stoic faces. A person who looks grumpy might really be concentrating. Or they may be unaware of how they appear to others. Be conscious of how others see you. Practice smiling around those who frown. See if their frown softens with your smile.A smile has the power to disarm another's frown. Click To Tweet
4. Practice accepting change
Any change is difficult as we thrive on comfort and security. When our loved one has died, or we’ve experienced divorce, or we’ve moved our family across the country, it’s important to grieve. How we accept change is unique to each of us.
We are meant to grow and change throughout our lives. People, relationships, and circumstances are continually changing. Welcome the reality that our lives will never be stagnant. They’re not suppose to be. It’s part of our humanity to grieve the loss of a loved one and celebrate the birth of new life.
5. Practice what belongs to you
It’s important to know what’s yours and what belongs to another. Your emotions are yours alone. All of us are responsible for our own resilience, emotions, and decisions.
- Avoid fighting another person’s emotional battles.
- Let go of another person’s loneliness, anxiety, or uncomfortable feelings.
- Recognize when others take on the victim role expecting you to be their savior.
- Spend less time with those who drain you.
Give yourself permission to let go of others’ expectations of you. You were only meant to handle your own emotions. Others are responsible for themselves.
6. Practice the present moment
When you practice the present moment, you’re living that moment to it’s fullest capacity. This could be the single most empowering advice for us all. Hyperfocus on the unfinished business of the past or continuous worry of the future steals away the only time we have in the moment.
Imagine yourself standing still in the middle of a stream. You’re aware of the past like the water flowing toward you from upstream. You’re aware of the future like water flowing beyond you downstream. You feel the cool stream flow around you. Yet, you’re standing still in the present moment.
Don’t be the turkey
You now know how not to be a turkey on Thanksgiving. Begin your six practices of gratitude.
1. Practice rest
2. Practice belly breaths
3. Practice smiles
4. Practice accepting change
5. Practice what belongs to you
6. Practice the present moment
Your next steps:
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