Crying Over Gingerbread: Balancing the Holidays

One year, close to Christmas, I decided to make gingerbread men cookies. After all, I had been given that cookie cutter shape and hadn’t used it yet. And—what could be more “Christmas-y” and fun for my kids?

I found a recipe, steered my young elementary-aged sons into the kitchen, got out all the ingredients—and determined this would be fun! As we mixed eggs, flour, and spices, and as we got messier and more out of control, my hopes for beautiful cookies started to fade. Rolling the dough got tricky; I got snappier with the boys—and they got more subdued. A good time was not being had by all.

We attempted to cut the dough into perfect gingerbread men shapes, but not one of them resembled anything close. Arms were missing, heads were lopsided, legs crooked. Tears started down my face and in my frustration, I walked out of the kitchen and sank into a living room chair in defeat.

Chris, my then second grader, followed me out of the kitchen, silently crept up to my chair, and peered into my face. He walked back and announced to his brother Colin, “Yep. She’s crying!” What a sad end to what should have been a good memory!

I didn’t take into account that we were already too busy. The boys were in three different Christmas programs each. Even in December, we kept the almost impossible routine of private music lessons, basketball practices and games, homework, Bible Quiz, and other church activities. We would be driving 13 hours to my in-laws for Christmas. My husband and I both worked full-time and had office Christmas dinners to attend, not to mention gifts to buy and wrap—and you know the holiday stress. The season was already too eventful!

Looking back, I’ve wondered why I attempted to make those cut-out cookies at all. We really didn’t need them. I’m not sure we even liked gingerbread! I learned a huge lesson that day that I’ve tried to remember in following years.

That lesson was balance.

The word balance is an easy one to define—but so much harder to carry out. One definition is: “a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.”  The elements of my life might not have been in correct proportions that year.

Another definition for this word balance is:offset or compare the value of (one thing) with another.” Obviously, by my reaction to the failed gingerbread men shapes, I was valuing perfect cookies over making a memory with my sons. Instead of crying, we could have laughed together at the imperfection.

Someone once said that we never really balance all the elements of our life, but that we live through seasons. Not the holiday seasons or seasons of the year, but we live the  season of being a mom to littles, or the season of being a parent to high schoolers, or the season of being a care-giver to someone we love.

So, what is the key to finding balance in the holidays? It differs for each person, but here are a few tips:

1. Assess the season I’m in. What is going on in my life right now? What will our family be dealing with in our ongoing schedules as we move toward Christmas? Can I also recognize that some seasons will have less balance than other seasons? What is realistic for us right now?

Life often becomes difficult when we pretend to be in a season that we really have not arrived at yet, or when we cling to a season already passed. Honest assessment helps us avoid those issues. Can I open my arms to embrace the season I’m in?

 As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven” (3:1, CSB).

2. What do I value this year? What is really important for this holiday? What do I value more this year—and what can I let go? Can I “compare the value” of one thing to another, and choose only the most valuable? I’ve often placed value on an event or activity I thought was important for my family, when in reality—they didn’t care about it nearly as much as I did. Choose things of value to those around you while you are choosing. Some things you will value year after year.

And remember why we have this holiday in the first place—to celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, who brings meaning to every aspect of our life. While He was on earth, He said, “But I have come to give you everything in abundance, more than you expect—life in its fullness until you overflow!” (John 10:10, TPT).

3. What decisions do I need to make to stay balanced? Look at the calendar, your finances, your available time, your obligations to others, and make a plan. Be aware you may need to renew your decisions daily, or even minute-by-minute to help you stay balanced.

The final definition of balance, which is actually the most common, says: “an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.”

 The Psalmist reflects this steadiness we can possess when he said: 

“A person’s steps are established by the Lord, and he takes pleasure in his way.
Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed, because the Lord supports him with his hand” (Psalm 37:23,24, CSB).

Isn’t that what you want for the holidays—to remain upright and steady? I know I do. Our families need that from us as we put our trust in God. As busy moms, grandmothers, and wives, we can actually get through this holiday season—and even enjoy it!—when we remember to balance every activity for the season we are in.