Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Advent, Genealogy of Christ
Volume 6 No. 389 December 16, 2016

III. General Weekly Features

20 Ways To Chill Out This Christmas

By Dr. Eric Scalise

The holiday season is supposed to be a time for relaxing and celebrating with friends and family. However, that's not always the case… rates of depression, drinking and drugging episodes, family and relational conflicts, disappointment, loneliness, and isolation, all increase during the last few months of the year. Holiday stress is real, but the good news is that it can be managed effectively if we know what to anticipate.

Noise… crowds… the feeding frenzy over the latest toy or gadget. For many, there may be a host of unrealistic expectations that seem to torment our souls. Some of us become hopeful that the "magic" of the season will solve a myriad of problems, reconnect us to family members, or heal broken hearts. Others face financial pressures, the need to find the perfect gift, or simply the craziness of trying to fit everything into a jam-packed 5-6 week schedule. In fact, nearly 45% of Americans admit they would skip Christmas altogether if they could.

What is the Impact?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), and the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Center, some of the stats are sobering:

• 75% of people experience "extreme stress" during the holiday season
• 69% are stressed by feeling or having a "a lack of time"
• 69% are stressed by perceiving a "lack of money"
• 68% feel greater fatigue
• 53% feel stressed about too much commercialism and advertising hype
• 52% are more irritable
• 51% are stressed over the "pressure to give or receive gifts"
• 44% are stressed about family gatherings
• 37% are stressed about staying on a diet – there is an average 18% increase in eating over the holiday period
• 36% feel greater sadness
• 35% feel greater anger
• 34% are stressed about making/facing travel plans
• 26% feel more lonely

The APA also reported that holiday stress can have a bigger impact on women (44% vs. 31% for men) because they often take on multiple roles (holiday celebrations, meals, gifts, children's activities, their own workplace responsibilities, decorating, entertaining, coordinating family time, Christmas cards, etc.). Women are also more likely to use food (41%) and/or excessive drinking (28%) in order to cope.

The overconsumption of alcohol is another major consequence of holiday related stress. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Addiction (NIAAA), alcohol is a primary factor in a significant number of highway deaths between November and January (Thanksgiving – 40% of all highway deaths; Christmas – 37% of all highway deaths; New Year's – 58% of all highway deaths). The NIAAA also indicates that 57% of people in this country say they have seen someone drive under the influence during the holidays. An increase in DUI violations tells the story: Thanksgiving – a 30% increase; Christmas – a 33% increase; and New Year's – a 155% increase.

On an interesting note, higher rates of suicide during the holidays are a bit of a myth. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide attempts and completions peak between April and August and actually decrease in December. However, bouts of depression are still common. The American Psychiatric Association reports an estimated 10 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) due to shorter days and less sunshine during daylight hours. Symptoms can include depression, anxiety, mood changes, sleep/appetite disturbances, and lethargy. Seventy-five percent of all cases are women.

Stress can manifest itself in many ways, such as headaches, sleep disturbances, fatigue, exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, a short temper, upset stomach, aching muscles (including lower back pain), loss of appetite, and a decline in productivity and work performance. Emotional stress also elevates blood pressure and heart rates, resulting in a surge of chemical reactions within the body that can create abnormal inflammatory responses. This often affects the immune system, as well as insulin levels, which disrupt the body's ability to regulate blood sugar.

If the emotional stress becomes too intense or overwhelming, underlying cardiovascular problems may surface, as well as an increased risk for acute cardiac events (primarily heart attacks). Certain stress related hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released and can impact pre-existing atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries of the heart. Blood clots are formed when plaque breaks off, damaging the vessel and leading to heart attacks and strokes. According to the American Heart Association, more than 50 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure and nearly 60 million suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease, resulting in over one million deaths every year (two out of every five people who die or one every 32 seconds). Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States every year since 1900 (except 1918 during the flu pandemic) and crosses all racial, gender, socioeconomic, and age barriers.

The rise in cardiac "mortality" during the holidays is not epidemic (about 5%), but it is still considered to be statistically significant. Nevertheless, there is a 50% increase in non-fatal hearts attacks during the winter months, more than at any other 2-3 month period. Several years ago, sociology professor, David Phillips, examined over 57 million death certificates issued between 1979 and 2004 and discovered that not only do more people die during the winter months, but New Year's Day is actually one of the deadliest days of all, with Christmas close behind.

What Are Some Good Stress Prevention Tips?

Here are a few suggestions to help maintain a healthy sense of balance during the holiday season:

1. Accept the fact right now that you simply cannot do everything and you cannot do it for everyone. Determine what are desires and preferences vs. what are true priorities.

2. Plan ahead as much as possible. Managing and scheduling your time is much better than your time controlling you.

3. Create a budget and stick to it. Don't try to buy happiness – celebrate and enjoy it.

4. Give up the goal (or obsession) of having to be perfect and/or do everything perfectly. Life rarely works out that way.

5. Give yourself permission to set appropriate boundaries with people. Be willing to say, "No" and don't feel guilty about it. Every time you say, "Yes," you are saying, "No" to something else. Say, "No" to the right things.

6. Build in downtime for yourself. Read a book. Play. Relax. Go to a movie. Engage in a favorite hobby. Sit and just be still for a few minutes.

7. Share the tasks; do less, not more. Doing things together, especially when it flows out of genuine relationship, often renews the soul.

8. Don't give up all of your normal and daily routines. Repetition and rhythm are good ways to minimize anxiety, worry, and depression.

9. Unplug from time-to-time. Be intentional about reducing the amount and use of technology, especially social media. Quiet your soul.

10. Have reasonable expectations for yourself and others. Understand that there may be some distance between the ideal and the real when it comes to family, friends, and schedules. Don't make it your mission to "fix" people or the past. Instead, give the gift of your time and the ministry of presence.

11. If being lonely or depressed is a concern, get involved. Avoid isolation. Reach out and seek community. Spend some meaningful time offering service to others who also need a word or gesture of love and encouragement.

12. Eat and drink in moderation. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and can compound other symptoms of depression.

13. Be sure to get enough sleep. This is the body and mind's way of restoring and revitalizing itself. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average person loses almost a day of sleep every week.

14. Listen to your favorite music. One study out of the University of Maryland showed that music can relax blood vessels and increase blood flow, especially in and around the heart.

15. Spend more time in direct sunlight during the winter months. Sunlight increases the production of serotonin, an important mood stabilizing neurotransmitter.

16. Smell the citrus. Research on depression has revealed that citrus fragrances can increase a person's sense of well-being and alleviate the symptoms of stress because of increased norepinephrine production. Norepinephrine is another important mood-related neurotransmitter.

17. Take a brisk walk or work out on a regular basis. Moderate exercise is an effective stress reliever and has a positive effect on the brain by decreasing anxiety and improving sleep patterns.

18. Watch the caffeine intake (e.g., coffee, tea, chocolate, and soda). This is especially important after 3:00-4:00 pm because caffeine has an almost eight-hour half-life (meaning 50% of its effect is still impacting your body up to eight hours after consumption). Too much caffeine (a stimulant), when combined with increased levels of stress-related adrenaline (also a stimulant), over-amps every system in the body.

19. Meditate on your favorite Scriptures. Have some honey while you do it – food for the soul and for the body. Honey is a proven antioxidant (the darker the better), and has antibacterial properties that help the immune system while also providing a good source of energy.

20. If necessary or appropriate, seek out professional help. Untreated anxiety, depression, addiction, and other stress-related disorders can be potentially dangerous.

Finally, take a few minutes throughout the holidays to reflect on the things you are truly thankful for. Having a thankful heart can be transformative in so many ways. Create some of your own memories and traditions. Invite Christ, the true Prince of Peace, to have first place in your life and affirm once again the joy of His gift to you. Perspective is a great companion in the midst of all that seems crazy and disruptive. The holidays can become an endless pursuit of peace, joy, meaning, relationship, and so much more; yet too many of us look in all the wrong places. Jesus is the source. He told His disciples, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful" (Jn. 14:27). He is, as the angels proclaimed two thousand years ago, the, "good news of great joy, which will be for all people" (Lk. 2:10).

About The Author:

Eric Scalise, Ph.D., LPC, LMFT, is the President of LIV Enterprises & Consulting, LLC and CEO for the Alignment Association, LLC. He is the former Vice President of the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), as well as the former Department Chair for Counseling Programs at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA. He is an adjunct professor and the Senior Editor for both AACC and the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation. Dr. Scalise is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with 36 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field.

Copyright ©2016 Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk All Rights Reserved

Holiday Blues

by Leslie Vernick

For some people, the holiday season feels anything but merry and it's hard to pretend. Maybe you've lost a loved one, and this season does not feel the same without him or her. You may be recently divorced, and the traditions and celebrations you shared as a family are now gone along with your wedding ring. Or, perhaps you live alone and the holidays only magnify your isolation and lack of family or close friends.

Other people dread Christmas because it conjures up bad memories of holidays past when there wasn't peace, joy or good will, only drunkenness, disappointment, conflict, and hurt that continues to rage wild even if you wished it wouldn't.

If that's you, or even someone you know, let me share a few things that might help you get through these next few weeks.

Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Give yourself permission to grieve and process your pain. As Christians, sometimes we feel guilty for having negative emotions. Jesus knows how you feel, and you never have to pretend with him. Take some time to journal out your questions, your emotions or your complaints as David did when he wrote his psalms. He often discovered after writing, he not only felt better, but he experienced God in a new way.

Look daily for the good. When we're in pain, it's hard to be intentional to look for the good tucked within each day. Before you go to sleep, scan the past 12 hours of your day and ask yourself what happened today that you're most grateful for? Write it down. Keep a gratitude journal of the things you have to look hard for in order to see them. The Lord tells Isaiah, "I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness – secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name" (Isaiah 45:3).

Do an act of kindness for someone you don't know well. We can always find someone who is in need of a kind word, a good meal, a meaningful card, a hug or a little bit of our time. Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. While you may not feel like it, give something of yourself to someone less fortunate. It will bless you as you bless another person.

Allow yourself to receive. Sometimes we'd rather sit home and eat a can of cold soup than accept an act of kindness from another person. We're embarrassed and don't want to feel needy. Yet God may have put you on someone's heart in order to bless you. I remember early in our marriage my husband became ill with a life threatening problem. Our family didn't live nearby, but the people from our church rallied around us and not only loved us through it, provided cash for us to pay for some of the expenses of it. It was humbling, but it met our financial need and it touched our hearts. Let yourself receive their act of kindness. You both will be richer for it.

Christmas is a joyous occasion but not in the way we usually celebrate it. Christmas isn't about trees and gifts and carols and special cookies. Christmas is about God. Emmanuel, God with us. He sent Jesus so that we might know what God is like.

Spend a few minutes just pondering John's description of this miracle when he says,

"So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness........No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father's heart. He has revealed God to us"
(John 1:14,18).

Source: Leslie Vernick Newsletter

About The Author:

Leslie Vernick is the Director of Christ-Centered Counseling and the author of The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, Getting Over the Blues, (Harvest House) and How to Find Selfless Joy in a Me-First World, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong and How to Live Right When Your Life Goes Wrong (WaterBrook).

Family Special: Conquering Fears in Marriage

by David and Kelli Trujillo

Scripture: Hebrews 11:1-12:3

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1

It's scary to tell someone, "I love you." It's even more frightening to ask, "Will you marry me?"

Still even more terrifying is the answer: "Yes."

Think about the weak-in-the-knees words "I do" and what can follow them: buying a house, having children, moving the family to a different state, taking a new job . . . The list of intimidating, heart-pounding, fear-provoking aspects of marriage go on and on.

Responsibility really hit me when Kelli and I started having children. I thought, "Now, not only is my life inextricably linked to my wife's, and not only do I carry the responsibility of owning property, but now I am responsible for the well-being, provision and growth of other little human beings." What a scary thought!

It seems that in every new stage in life, the stakes get higher.

When you stop and think about it, though, all of the Christian life takes tremendous courage as we commit our lives to God and join others who are called to be God's people. Though we cannot see God, we can be confident of God's goodness, God's power, God's presence and God's wisdom. And yet we still must take that fearful first step of trust.

As Christians, we trust the unseen and base all our decisions about love and marriage on God's invisible reality and the promises he has made. To live the Christian life and to make choices (not only for me, but for my entire family) based on a God we can't see is tough. But the Bible tells us that this is the only wise choice to make.

As we look to Scripture for guidance, we can draw comfort and courage from heroes of faith such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Rahab - people Kierkegaard called the unsurpassed "Knights of Faith." After commending these and a few other Old Testament believers specifically (see Hebrews 11:4–31), the writer of Hebrews affirmed the many others who had faith to conquer kingdoms, administer justice, shut the mouths of lions and rout foreign armies (see Hebrews 11:32–38). These heroes weren't lauded because they were strong in themselves, but because they trusted God. They were weak as they considered the tasks ahead of them, but when they trusted God, he turned their weakness into strength.

Likewise we are to trust God as we face the risky and intimidating aspects of married life. For as Hebrews 12:1 assures us, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and therefore we have the strength and courage to throw off everything that hinders us and move forward in love, confidence and trust. This is the unseen reality that makes sense of our choice to step forward into marriage despite our fears.

Let's Talk

What are the toughest choices or biggest risks we've ever had to take in our lives? In our marriage?

What is our vision for our life together? What fears do we have? What hopes do we have?

How can we help each other live like heroes of faith as we face fears and risks in the years to come?

Source: NIV Devotions for Couples

Family Special: Beauty in Submission

by Lee Eclov

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 2:11 - 3:7

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
1 Peter 3:1–2

For many people, the word submission implies serving someone else hand and foot. Submission seems dehumanizing. We assume that such deference would sap a marriage of the mutual respect and service that a marriage ought to have to make it strong and vital.

In 1 Peter 3, Peter was addressing a specific situation: how the wives of unsaved husbands might influence them to become Christians. He counseled the women to submit, but he was thinking of the kind of submission that is deeply catalytic, a potent secret remedy for a lost loved one.

The secret of a Christian wife's submission is found in three phrases.

The first is in verse 1: "in the same way."

It refers back to the Christlike submission described in the previous verses (2:21–24). In the same way that Jesus trusted God to work redemptively through his submission, we can trust God to work through our submission.

The second key phrase is in verse 2: "when they see the purity and reverence of your lives."

Purity and reverence ennoble a person; they are signs of spiritual strength. They are the marks of carefully guarded relationships with people and with God. Submission without purity and reverence has no potency, but when someone is the recipient of your humble submission and realizes that it springs not from his or her power over you but from your relationship with God, the person is changed by the experience.

The third important phrase is in verse 4: "a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."

A gentle and quiet spirit is the opposite of a fearful spirit. Wives of unsaved husbands in Peter's day had a lot to be afraid of, but those who learned to quiet their hearts in the promises of God took on an inner beauty that no dress or makeup could give them, a beauty that attracted others to Christ. The message, both then and now, is that while Christian wives serve their unsaved husbands, they are depending on God, and that is a transforming experience.

Notice that the goal is not a dominating husband, but a godly husband. God-shaped submission makes the people around us better, not worse. Furthermore, even if an unsaved husband never responds to Christ, the Christian wife may grow in such beautiful godliness that others will be attracted to Christ.

Peter didn't apply to believing husbands the same recipe for winning over an unsaved wife, but we can be assured that the principles are similar. Paul instructed Christians to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21). If a husband has an unsaved wife, his loving and sacrificial behavior toward her will show her a picture of Christ's love for the church (see Ephesians 5:25–32).

Let's Talk

How can Christian submission as Peter described it actually empower rather than dehumanize us in marriage?

How does fear sour submission (see 1 Peter 3:6)? What is it like to be around a fearfully submissive person?

How does the purity and reverence of our lives change the character of submission?

Today's reading is from the NIV Couple's Devotional Bible by Zondervan

Source: NIV Devotions for Couples, Bible Gateway

Don't Miss Christmas

by Greg Laurie

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
- Isaiah 9:6

This Christmas, don't miss the point of celebrating Christmas. Don't be like the innkeeper who missed Jesus because he was too busy (see Luke 2). Make time for the Lord. Don't be like King Herod who was too afraid to let Christ rule his life (see Matthew 2). Turn your heart over to Christ. Finally, don't run your life like the Roman Empire, who missed Christmas because other gods took the place of Christ in their lives. Allow nothing else to take the place of worshipping Jesus Christ.

On Christmas morning we will unwrap our Christmas presents, but eventually the novelty of it all will wear off. The present that was once so precious to you will end up stuffed in the closet or handed off to someone else. A newer version of your latest gadget will arrive that has more megapixels, or is smaller, or faster, or has better battery life. In time, your Christmas gifts will mostly be forgotten. But God has given us the ultimate gift—the gift of His Son Jesus Christ.

Don't miss Christmas this year. As Watts and Handel once wrote, "Let ev'ry heart prepare Him room."

Share this today:

Allow nothing else to take the place of worshipping Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2015 by Harvest Ministries. All rights reserved.

Joy to the World!

by Dr. John MacKeever

"I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be to all the people…."
(Luke 2)

God is a God of great joy.

There is great joy in God's presence. (Psalm 16:11)

That joy has a name: Jesus Christ.

Wherever Jesus Christ is honored, joy is the dominant element in the atmosphere. (Acts 8:8 and 15:3)

When Jesus Christ enters a life, that person is filled with joy.

Joy is the flag flown from the castle of your heart to show the King is in residence.

Joy is something other than happiness, for that quality depends on happenings. The joy of the Lord is of a higher quality and superior to all others.

The joy of the Lord is the strength of His people. (Nehemiah 8:10)

The one in possession of this kind of joy does not need the lesser kinds, the so-called joy derived from bank accounts and flattering comments and pretty clothes and rich food and artificial stimulants.

The one who is in the grip of Heaven's joy may endure the harshest experiences this life can dish out and still rejoice in the Lord. (James 1:2)

The one who knows Christ will find himself rejoicing in the most surprising circumstances (Acts 5:41).

No one can take His joy from us. (John 16:22)

Our joys are partial and temporary; His is full and lacking nothing (John 17:13). Ours tickles our fancy for a time; His touches us on the deepest level and leaves us forever dissatisfied with anything less.

Our own rebellions and neglect, however, can diminish the joy to the point that we are no longer aware of it. Sin is our enemy for so many reasons. (Isaiah 59:2)

When the sinning believer returns to the Lord in repentance and surrender, the joy of the Lord and of His salvation is restored. (Psalm 51:12)

When we pray for His will in our lives, the unexpected gift from Heaven is joy. (John 16:24)

Joy is always a choice. "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4). "Rejoice…because your names are written in Heaven" (Luke 10:20).

"I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever…exchange it for all the pleasures in the world." –C. S. Lewis in "Surprised by Joy"

The angel who appeared to the shepherds that night outside Bethlehem was not just bringing joy, but "news of great joy which shall be to all the people." Joy was the by-product, the accompaniment if you will, of the coming of the Savior.

It has been that way ever since.

How's your joy?

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