It was mid-October and already the weight of holiday obligations sat heavy on my chest.
The people-pleaser in me was longing to say yes to every invitation — to go with the flow, to appear low-maintenance and flexible. Meanwhile, my heart longed to say no to the push and pull for our growing family’s presence — I dreamed of quiet evenings in front of the Christmas tree, of the sound of laughter bubbling up all around when family piled into our small house to bake cookies.
I could see two paths laid out in front of our family: We could check every box and wake up in the new year, bleary-eyed and exhausted, or we could get intentional about showing up with our whole selves, punctuating parties and shopping with rest and silence.
Maybe you’ve found that sweet spot already. Maybe your holiday rhythm is as comfortable and familiar as a favorite sweater. But if that’s not your reality — if you’re still caught in the tension of wanting to enjoy this season and wanting to make everyone else happy — maybe we’ve been asking the wrong question all along.
The old question: Can I squeeze this in?
A quick glance at my schedule used to be the deciding factor in how I answered these questions. If I didn’t already have something scheduled, the answer was an automatic and enthusiastic “Yes! I’ll be there. What can I bring?”
For a while, this approach works. We pull a bottle of wine from the stash we’ve set aside for occasions such as this, put on the ugly sweater, and go. But time goes by and our circle grows to include the typical family plus colleagues, church friends, college friends, high school friends who are home. Add in a significant other and everything doubles. Suddenly, the demands on our time and energy have outgrown what our hearts and bodies can handle. But we keep saying yes because it’s what we’ve always done and it’s always worked.
I knew from experience what would happen if I let our family overcommit in the name of people-pleasing. We had lived that reality and the thought of repeating another overly-stuffed holiday schedule brought tears to my eyes. Is this the pace we wanted to set for our growing family?
So I asked a new question. I knew what I didn’t want for this holiday season, but I didn’t have the slightest idea what I did want. I never stopped to understand what our families were really after — a deep desire to have everyone together at the holiday for the same kind of sacred moments and memories that I’d been longing for.
The better question: Can I be fully present for this?
Before we say yes to another cookie party, or commit to another secret Santa, before we agree to another weekend away, let’s take a breath and ask ourselves if we can commit our whole hearts, our full attention to those people, in that place, at that time.
If not, what’s the point? If we’re too busy, too tired, too overcommitted to really show up and be present, then why go? Maybe your reason for muscling through is good and maybe it’s worth pushing past capacity for the sake of seeing your great-grandmother for what might be the last time, or meeting your niece for the first time.
But maybe it is just another party. Maybe the right answer is an intentional and respectful, “No, I can’t make it this time, but thank you for inviting me, I’d love to get together soon.” Or maybe it’s just a flat out “no” because those weren’t ever the people you wanted to pour your limited energy and attention into in the first place.
What makes this question better is that it reminds us of the importance of healthy boundaries. Having healthy boundaries protects our loved ones as much as it protects us. This better question reminds us that we have a choice. We always have a choice. This question reminds us that if one sugar cookie is good, six sugar cookies isn’t always better — that “anything worth doing is worth overdoing” is not a motto to live by.
Here’s what I’m learning this holiday season: every soulful “no” that replaced an anxious “yes,” every choice to slow down instead of people-pleasing — it was all worth it. Every silent night in front of the tree and every blessed, bustling moment of holiday fun, it is good.
This is my Advent wish for you — may your no mean no and your yes mean yes. May you not lose sight of what you want most because of what you want now. May you wake up in the new year full of joy and memories that will keep you warm all winter. May you find yourself truly present this Christmas.