People are sometimes confused by the term pastoral counseling. They aren’t clear if it is religious counseling or if it is real therapy. Fortunately today’s segment provides perfect example of professional pastoral counseling perspective. In addition to addressing the common problem of stress around the holidays, it also demonstrates how familiar biblical stories can be used to augment and reinforce the lessons of psychological science.

Why are Holidays so stressful for some?

Since it’s the holidays, it’s a perfect time for a great story and the story of biblical story of  Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38) perfectly expresses the essence of holiday stress. For those who aren’t familiar, Luke 10:38-42

( …a woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; 42 one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” RSV)

Two sisters were having an important guest over and while Martha scurried about and attended to getting things just perfect, Mary sat with the guest of honor. Although Martha wanted to be a gracious host,  she became so upset that she indignantly asked if the guest thought that it was right that she was left to do all the work. The guest responded calling her by name and saying that she was anxious with many things but that Mary had the right spirit.

Sometimes anxiety about doing things perfectly can overwhelm us to the point that we lose sight of what is important and our frustration can spill out as anger on others. This is made all the worse when we have relatives we don’t get along with anyway. The added pressure of the season can push things over the top.

Tips for Reducing Stress and Anxiety around the Holidays

Remember: Life doesn’t take time off for the Holidays!


— Reality Test your Expectations …  Are they realistic? Can things ever be perfect ?

— Think ahead and anticipate difficulties and be specific … What are the worst parts?

— Be creative and think of different ways to handle predictable rub points … What could I do differently?

— Have an emergency plan just in case you become overwhelmed … Ask for help and take time out.

Don’t be like Martha, don’t lose touch with or forget about the true spirit of the holiday or with what is really important.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone !