Humming through the Humbug

Dear Pilgrims,

Since 1989 I’ve spent at least one day a week serving as a pastoral associate for the Care and Counseling Center of Evergreen Park Ministry (EPM). Founded as a mall ministry, we provide pastoral care to any individual, couple or family, without charge. The ministry is ecumenical; our current staff comes from five different denominations, and over the years we’ve had pastors from traditions as diverse as Quaker and Roman Catholic. You will have an opportunity to learn more about EPM in the coming weeks, as our Mission and Outreach Committee has selected EPM as the recipient of our annual Advent Conspiracy offering. But my musing today is about the relationship between pastoral counseling and the Thanksgiving holiday.

Every year there is a spike in our waiting list following the Season’s Greetings. The spike initially arises the week after Thanksgiving, but with all the activities leading up to Christmas, clients are usually too busy to confirm an appointment until January. When the dust settles from the frenzy of year-end, folks finally have the time to talk about what bothered them way back in November when they started the non-stop, family-in-your-face, gift-buying marathon. Initially I thought the sudden rush for appointments was driven by some post-holiday-let-down depression, but more often than not the backlog is created by a “we are not doing the holidays like that ever again!” disgust.

After more than a quarter century offering post-holiday pastoral care, I’ve got a few ideas that might make your season bright, or at least not so intensely dark. So, here a few suggestions as we head into emotional tree-shredder season. Embrace these concepts, and you may not need an appointment in the New Year.

1)     Being kind to people you don’t like won’t kill you. We tend to be far too loyal to our hurts. We fear that if we’re nice to people they might mistakenly think we have forgotten, or worse yet, forgiven. Compassion, listening and kindness won’t forfeit your right to still be disgusted by someone’s behavior. Setting aside bitterness for a season affirms our power to choose our own emotional state. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to express your disgust and disapproval in the coming year.

2)     Quit thinking you’re able to change other people’s attitudes. Face it, some of your family and colleagues are jerks. Embrace your powerlessness to change them and the pointlessness of trying to convince others that you’re right. The holidays are not about transforming others; they are about self-transformation and inner peace. Choose to declare a truce in your outer wars.

3)     Before you risk, check your resentments. As you’re spending too much for that gift or putting in too many hours in decorating, decide in advance that it will be unappreciated and discounted. Response pessimism may sound cynical, but trust me, it’s a survival skill. There are few things more gratifying than hearing an earnest “thank you” when you planned to be ignored.

4)     Forgive yourself in advance for patterned behaviors. Stress drives us to familiar, even when the familiar isn’t healthy. Lighten up and look for the fun in dysfunctional. After all, Christmas is the season we celebrate salvation in Christ from our sins, not our perfections.

There’s other advice for the holidays, things like not using frayed extension cords and avoiding the danger of raw eggs, but those focus on a different kind of survival. As your pastor I want you to not just survive the season, but flourish in it. And perhaps the most important thing to remember is how we begin with Thanksgiving. If you linger over that sentiment, trust me, you’ll be fine; if not, we’ll have some appointment openings in February.

Looking forward to the craziness of Christmas, I remain with love,

Jonathan B. Krogh

Your Pastoral Grinch