Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved Christmas. The tree. The decorations. Sitting by the fire on a cold winter night, sipping hot chocolate, watching a movie with family and friends. I look forward to it all year.

But this year has been different. All of our plans came crashing to a halt with the surge of COVID-19 cases in our state. To make matters worse, my 7-year-old son is recovering from a stem cell transplant and our little family has been separated so he can get the treatment he needs. We’ve been on this road with him for 15 months. We’re hoping he’ll be home for Christmas (wouldn’t that make a great Hallmark movie?), but it’s possible he won’t.

Our family isn’t the only one whose Christmas hopes have been dashed this year. Families all across the globe are struggling with the prolonged isolation, social and political unrest, and economic fall-out that have resulted from COVID-19. As we enter the long, cold, dark winter months, many of us are struggling to find anything to be merry about this Christmas.

While COVID-19 is proving to be a challenge that we’ll probably continue to work through in the year ahead, there are still ways we can have hope, joy, and connection this Christmas. Here are 7 tips that will help you have a better Christmas this year.

1. Grieve what’s gone.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:4 (NLT), “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” You can’t find God’s comfort for your grief until you actually take the time to grieve. Don’t numb the pain or pretend everything is fine. That leads to addiction and toxic positivity. Cry, journal, talk to safe people, tell God what’s on your heart.The old adage is true: You can’t heal what you don’t feel. Take time to grieve what’s gone.

2. Browse your blessings.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6 (NLT), “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Many people get the first part of this verse right (“Tell God what you need,”) but neglect the second part (“and thank him for all he has done.”)

As you pray, be sure to thank God for the blessings you have right now. One practice that helps me with this is to make a list of three things I’m grateful for first thing in the morning and three good things that happened to me at the end of the day. Jon Gordon says, “You can’t feel stressed and blessed at the same time.” Spending time focused on your blessings will help you feel less stressed and more blessed.

3. Be a blessing.

Proverbs 11:25 says, “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” Helping others with their needs can help you with your’s. Look for ways to add value to the people in your life. It might be Door Dashing them a meal, sending them a gift, helping with a project, donating to your church or favorite charity. It can even be as simple as sending an encouraging note, text, or video.

A gift doesn’t have to be big to make a big difference in the life of others.

4. Try new traditions.

The first part of Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time and season for everything. Right now is probably not the season to do all the activities you would normally do at Christmas, but you can develop new traditions.

Maybe that’s a watch party of some of your favorite Christmas movies, caroling over social media, sending more personalize notes to the people your closest to, or scaling back the decorations so you have more time, energy, and space to read, play games, and talk as a family. Use this year to test-drive new traditions you may want to graft to your Christmas bucket list.

5. Cultivate your connections.

In Genesis 2 God said that it wasn’t good for people to be alone. I think we’re all struggling with that right now. You might not be able to gather in-person, but you can still connect virtually, over the phone, writing, and physical-distancing. It’s not ideal, but it can make the loneliness of this season easier.

6. Schedule self-care.

Under normal circumstances Christmas is a very busy, stressful, and for many, painful time of year. COVID isn’t making that any better. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial you take good care of yourself. Cancel a few holiday plans. Take a mental health day at work. Talk to your pastor or a counselor in your area. Open up to a friend you trust. Take a nap. Engage in exercises you enjoy. Spend time on a hobby you enjoy. Even Jesus took time away from his work to rest (Mark 6:30-31). If Jesus paused for a little downtime, we should too.

7. Concentrate on Christ.

Hebrews 12:2 (GNT) says, “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.” Remember what Jesus did for you on the cost. Don’t forget that he promised to never leave you (Matthew 28:20). Reflect on how he’s been there for you in the past. Meditate on his promises. Listen to songs and sing praises that remind you of his character, power, and love.

Christmas this year is going to be different. We’re all figuring out how to navigate what this season looks like with everything going on with COVID-19. It won’t all be picture perfect (which is an unrealistic under normal circumstances), but it can still be merry.

Grieve what’s gone. Browser your blessings. Be a blessing to others. Try new traditions. Cultivate your connections. Schedule self-care. Concentrate on Christ.

Don’t let what you can’t do this year discourage you from doing what you can do to enjoy the time this Christmas.

What are you doing that’s helping you enjoy the Christmas season this year?

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