The holidays are upon us. Just thinking about the holiday treadmill ramping up speed is enough to trigger the voltage meter of stress and anxiety, presenting the looming threat of OVERLOAD in every category: emotions; the budget; the calendar; the expectations of others; time demands. It’s tempting to run and hide from all of it!

Thankfully, there is another option. You actually have the option of regulating how much stress you take on, and how much power you give anxiety. In anticipation of overload, while you are planning your shopping, your menus, your kids’ visitation schedule, and your holiday events, you can also plan to live life with “margins.” Margins are limitations that create space: on paper, they give us room to add in notes; on busy highways, they give us stopping room behind the car in front of us, and a shoulder for stopping. In life, margins create breathing room to find calm, allow for flexibility when the unexpected happens, and remind us to live gracefully with the limitations of our humanity (and the humanity of those around us.)

Margins of time create space to position ourselves throughout the holidays to keep Jesus in view. My first Christmas as a single mom I struggled to create a “perfect” Christmas for my kids in our anything-but-perfect lives. When I asked with annoyance who had rearranged the figurines in my artistically displayed nativity scene, my four-year-old proudly claimed the deed. “I did! They had to see Jesus!” Indeed, she had crowded the shepherds, wise men, and animals as close as possible to the infant in the manger. She had zeroed in on what I had missed completely. What do you need to rearrange in the busy holiday season to keep Jesus in view? Perhaps it is lowering your own expectations; perhaps it is saying “no” to good but not-necessary activities that crowd your calendar; perhaps it is giving yourself permission to have an “imperfect” Christmas that has less of the external trappings but preserves more of the internal meaning of Christmas for you and your children.

Christmas is often a season of excess, which adds to distress on so many levels. However, the truly good news of Christmas is that out of love, grace, and mercy, Jesus chose to live within the limitations of our humanity—living within a 24 hour day; only able to be in one place at a time; experiencing fatigue, hunger, pain, and temptation; not “being all things to all people.” When we keep Jesus in view, and experience His mercy and grace toward us, we develop margins of mercy and grace toward others as well. Spending time with Him, we learn to be patient and humble, and make allowance for one another’s faults because of our love. (Eph 4:2.) What better way to navigate the holiday season than to find grace for ourselves in being limited human beings, and demonstrate margins of grace to our families?


Carol Floch McColl has been involved in ministry to women in every stage of life for over 30 years. Carol is the author of The Single Mom’s Devotional (2010; Revell) and is a featured expert in Single & Parenting, a ministry of Church Initiative. She currently ministers to women as a professional counselor in private practice in Dallas, TX ( In 2012, Carol married Angus McColl; their very full life includes 8 daughters, 3 son-in-laws, and 3 grandchildren.
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