by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

It’s seven days till Thanksgiving, and I’m not home cleaning house. Nor have I done my grocery shopping for our Thanksgiving feast. Actually, I’ve not even made my shopping list yet! What am I doing? I’m camping with my husband in a very remote location.

Solitude during the holiday season is a gift to be relished, I’ve heard. My daughter told me to enjoy the quietness and relaxation before all the hustle and bustle gets in full swing. But I did bring along some holiday catalogs and cookbooks to peruse. And, clearly, I brought my laptop, since I’m typing this column as I sit at our camper dining table enjoying the view — hills, trees, sky and our puppy basking in the sun on the camper window shelf. The only sounds I can hear are birds singing, and I think I hear some cows off in the distance.

As I sit here reflecting on the holidays ahead, I’m wondering why the season of peace, love and goodwill is also a season notorious for raising people’s stress levels. The demands on our time are steadily increasing — from work to parties, decorating, shopping, baking, cleaning and scores of other chores and responsibilities. Yes, there certainly are many things I want to do and little time to do them.

Perhaps we get caught up in trying to create the perfect Hallmark holiday. Or perhaps we attempt to re-create the Currier and Ives Christmas of our childhood. Whatever our motivation, we may feel the pressure of the fast-approaching holiday deadline and become consumed with fear and anxiety that we will not accomplish the memory we long for.

Our anxiety is a good indicator that we need to bring a healthy and holy balance to our goals and aspirations. This reminds me of Jesus’ visit with Martha and Mary. Jesus and his disciples were on a journey to Jerusalem and went to Martha and Mary’s home in a nearby village. Apparently, while Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing, her sister Mary was listening to Jesus as he taught.

Eventually, Martha approached Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

But Jesus responded, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, Eugene Peterson, The Message)

I can’t help but believe that Martha had good intentions and was working hard to give her best efforts for her special guest and friends.

But I can also see that perhaps her overzealous focus on “details,” as Jesus described her busyness, was keeping her from listening and pondering the good news Jesus had to share. He was giving a feast that would provide an everlasting meal of strength and healing and an endless supply of inspiration and hope — sounds to me like a feast not to be missed!

Mary was not faulted for being attentive to Jesus’ teachings. It was clear she was not worried about anything else. She knew what was most important in that moment and made the choice to listen and grow in spiritual knowledge.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers, ” … seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). This seems like good instruction for setting our priorities and making our choices. If followed, we could surely walk through holiday clamor and would experience the most wonderful time of the year blessing others and being blessed ourselves, too.

Then we will not allow time constraints to dictate and dominate our thought to the point of forgetting the reason for the season. We will leave room for quiet reflection, prayer and study, as well as rejoicing and praise.

And we will not neglect opportunities to spend quality time with loved ones. We will outline less what and how our holidays should look and be more flexible and open for new and spontaneous ways to celebrate. We will count blessings rather than what is missing or what remains on our to-do list. And we will observe and honor each moment, giving our full attention to whoever is with us sharing each moment.

No doubt we can keep our cool this holiday season if we keep our priorities in better, holier order, which will certainly help us make good choices as well as make lasting, special memories.