Lower Expectations for the Holidays and Enjoy Them More

Kathy Carlton Willis Enjoying a Stress-Free Christmas

Kathy Carlton Willis Enjoying a Stress-Free Christmas

When Dave and I became a blended family six days before Christmas 1992, I quickly learned that the best gift we could all give each other was grace and flexibility–especially during the holidays. Then when our four children married and started having their own children–grace and flexibility took on a whole new meaning! Our guest blogger today, Kathy Carlton Willis gives some excellent pointers on how to lower our expectations and enjoy the stress-free holidays like she did as a child in the picture above. Isn’t that how Jesus tells us to come unto Him–as little children.

How to Grin with Grace through the Holidays
by Kathy Carlton Willis –

What causes you to grit your teeth during the holidays? Perhaps it’s a certain expectation you have in yourself or unreasonable expectations others have in you. Or maybe you’re stressed by unmet expectations you have in others. If there’s one thing you could take a pass on this year to alleviate tension, what would it be? Perhaps your irritant made the list:

I’m stressed because someone else expects me to:

  1. Give more money toward a gift than I have budgeted, or to give a gift to someone not on my list.
  2. Go to a function that conflicts with another event I really want to attend.
  3. Enjoy a family gathering with drunk Uncle Troy there.
  4. Stop what I’m doing to help bail them out of an emergency caused by their poor planning, which will put me behind on my own schedule.

I’m stressed because I expect myself to:

  1. Decorate my house as festive as Martha’s.
  2. Plan and cook a meal that will rival Julia’s.
  3. Be as creative during the holidays as all those amazing women on Pinterest.
  4. Look as svelte as Heidi in my special outfit at the big Christmas shindig.

What if you could learn to grin with grace rather than grit your teeth through the holidays?

Expectations. Don’t worry. We all have them—especially this time of year. Unmet expectations, unrealistic expectations, unhealthy expectations. These lead to disappointment—in others, in ourselves, even in God.

Sometimes expectations are based on what we want to see happen—no matter how unrealistic. Other times our expectations are based on what another person has promised. But not everyone carries out his or her promises.

What to Do:

  1. Pre-plan a healthy way to handle your expectations. It’s impossible to have a godly response in the heat of the moment without having a predetermined course of action.
  2. Focus on the difference between reactions and responses. Reactions are based on emotional reflexes and are governed by the heart.Responses are based on disciplined actions and are led by the Spirit.
  3. Disengage your feelings from the response so you’re not allowing others to push your buttons. (And we all have buttons—usually a mix-matched set!) Take it out of the realm of feelings and put it in the realm of godly thoughts and actions.
  4. Pray for God’s wisdom and discernment.
  5. When a situation arises, be intentional rather than irrational. Remove yourself for a timeout if you need to disconnect from your feelings. Refocus on what Christ’s response would be. Being intentional means you have a strategy in place ahead of time, and you act on that strategy. This is called reframing your thoughts.


Bible Remedies for Expectations:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Philippians 4:6-7 (The Message)

  • How can your expectations be a cause of anxiety?
  • What is to accompany your prayers and supplications?
  • What do you need to let God know about?
  • What does God promise that His peace will do for you?

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)

  • What can you expect God to give you when you truly trust in Him?
  • When you focus on the unmet expectations, you overlook all the amazing stuff that God is doing in your life and in the world

Prayer Points:

  • When you have unmet expectations, take them to Jesus.
  • Allow your unmet expectations to draw you closer to the One who can do “abundantly more than all you can ask or imagine.”
  • Focus on the ways Jesus exceeds our expectations. He has eternity in mind, not just today.

What’s Grace Got to do With It?

God is teaching me to give grace through the benefit of the doubt. I’m also praying a little differently. I’m learning to reframe my expectations by infusing these prayers with God’s grace.

What I’m learning from expectations:

  • Everyone has unplanned “stuff” that keeps them from fulfilling their commitments, and I need to be as flexible with others as I hope they will be with me.
  • When others respond in ways that rub me the wrong way, it’s because I had in my mind a more acceptable response and they missed the mark. I expected them to respond in a situation like I would. They are not me (obviously).
  • My timetable is not the same as others. My priorities aren’t the same as others. I need to extend grace regarding timing and priorities, and be okay with the differences, even thanking God that we are all different.


Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, focus on the relationships of the season rather than the expectations. When you let love motivate your prayers, you will discover a new grace-infused way to interact with others—even when they make you want to grit your teeth. And there will be enough grace to go around. Use some of it on yourself.


Kathy Carlton Willis writes and speaks with a balance of funny and faith—whimsy and wisdom. She shines the light on issues that hold women back and inspires their own lightbulb moments. Almost a thousand of Kathy’s articles have been published and she has several books releasing over the next three years, including Grin with Grace with AMG Publishers. She and her husband/pastor, Russ, live in Texas. Learn more at: www.kathycarltonwillis.com/

 kathy carlton willis-64



  1. Cathy Henselr says:

    Thank you!

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