I’m a podcaster by profession. It’s my job to interview guests and to truly listen. But listening doesn’t come naturally to me, I must confess. I’ve always been a talker. (In elementary school, my report card consistently included the note “Talks too much.”) I’ve had to learn to listen. But listening isn’t just a matter of being quiet and letting the other person talk. The key to listening, and I mean really listening, is to be present and attentive. To do so, you have to eliminate distractions—whether they’re voices in your own head or some external visual competing for our attention. (Have you ever tried to hold a conversation with someone with the TV on in the background? It has a kind of magnetic pull on us, doesn’t it?)

The carol It Came Upon a Midnight Clear says, “The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing,” but how can we possibly listen to the angels’ song when the world seems so very loud at this time of year?

Here are my six secrets for cultivating quiet and truly listening for the voices that matter this season:

Stop.

Say “no” to one holiday demand that you really don’t need to accommodate. I’ve been known to cart my family to several events in one day in an effort to please others at the expense of our own mental health. Practice exercising the “no” muscle and find some heavenly peace.

Exercise.

You knew this was coming, right? We need to move, but not just from the parking lot to the closest mall. Movement to music releases endorphins and brings some natural joy. Find a fitness class that takes you out of the “stress zone” for at least an hour or two a week. (Body & Soul classes fit the bill for me!)

Connect with Jesus.

THE best gift ever. Be intentional about moments with the Reason for the Season at the beginning of the day, if at all possible. Read an Advent devotional or download an advent app. It will help you set your internal antenna to receive positive heavenly signals all day!

Relish relationships over presents.

Make people the priority, not things. To make sure this happens, set dates on the calendar ahead of time, to ensure that you don’t miss prioritizing those closest to you. Make a date night with your spouse; make individual dates with the kiddos. When the holidays have come and gone, you’ll have built into what matters most.

Experience.

Consider giving a gift that doesn’t come in a box: One that will connect you w/ neighbors, children, friends in the months ahead. It doesn’t have to be pricey. Give babysitting coupons to your best friends, offer to make soup or shovel snow for the neighbor, plan an outing to a nearby museum with your nephews, etc.

Take time for yourself.

This is last, but truly not least. Again, this will take some intentionality, but you need to listen to your body/mind, to find what you need most. Maybe you can cut out of a party early or hit the hay an hour or two early one evening (and have your spouse put the kids to bed for a change).

Note that none of the above include technology. At the top, I mentioned that in order to be present and attentive we must eliminate distractions. And the commercialization of Christmas attempts to persuade us that the season is about the “new,” the glitz, glitter, flash, and buzz. We know better. Unplug and eliminate yet one more distraction. And then, hear the angels sing.

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Hilda Labrada Gore is the DC Metro Regional Director for Body & Soul Fitness. She is a certified Integrative Nutrition health coach and the author of “Podcasting Made Simple.” She is the host and producer of the Wise Traditions podcast, sponsored by the Weston A. Price Foundation for wise traditions in food, farming, and the healing arts. She lives in D.C. with her husband, Mitch, their children, and their cat and dog.

I love Christmas music of all kinds. I love the traditional carols, I love the recently written songs about the true meaning of Christmas and the joy of family. And yes, I love the crazy Christmas songs that just make you smile, tap your toe, sing along and clap. One such song is “The Christmas Clap”, a hiphop-style song by B-Shoc and his buddy Mello. You should watch the youtube video if you want the full effect. Christmas deco, lights, cookies and wrapping paper abound, and you can make it into an exercise routine just by moshing and clapping.

But the reason I like “The Christmas Clap” is that the true message and meaning of Christmas is clear in this song. The lyrics say “You know it’s Christmas time. You know this light of mine. You know I’m-a let it shine… You know it’s Christmas time, so let your Jesus shine! Celebrate his birthday!” This Christmas let’s sing, dance, work out, and do the Christmas clap, but most of all, let’s “let our Jesus shine” through us as we love and serve and give. Let this Christmas be the biggest birthday celebration ever!

Psalm 47:1 “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.”

Questions to ponder: How do you “let Jesus shine” in your life in specific ways at Christmas time? Do you do special things at Christmas to highlight the fact that it is Jesus’ birthday—such as have a birthday cake for Jesus as one of your desserts? Brainstorm on ways to let the light of Jesus shine in your holiday traditions.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to shine your light brightly this Christmas. Help me to treasure the fact that Christmas is your birthday. Thank you, Lord, for loving me. Amen.

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Jeannie Blocher is the President Emeritus and Director of Spiritual Impact of Body & Soul Fitness. She and her husband Roy founded Body & Soul in 1981, and now Jeannie serves in a volunteer capacity. She is an author and speaker, who treasures first her role as wife, mother of three and grandmother of eight. She wrote the First Place 4 Health Bible Study “Make Every Day Your Best Day” and the book “Encouragement for the Body & the Soul.” She enjoys speaking on behalf of Body & Soul, sharing the message of faith & fitness.

Contact Jeannie at jeannie@bodyandsoul.org.

What would make this year the best Christmas ever for you? Stop and think a minute, list some things in your mind, then check out this list in the song “The Best Christmas Ever” by Newsong:

“When the snow starts falling, friends come calling, you can feel the love in the air. Singing carols by the fire, presents piling higher; it’s a favorite time of the year. Let’s make this December one to remember, a feeling we can hold on to. It’s gonna be the best Christmas ever with you. You and me, and all our friends and family, singing joy to the world, love has come. Let’s light a candle, say a prayer for peace on earth everywhere. Come on, let’s get together for the best Christmas ever.”

This is a pretty good list of things that make Christmas the best ever! Some of these things may be on the list you just thought about. Many are also my favorite things about Christmas. I love Christmas gatherings, singing songs of the season, snow, and candles glowing. My favorite memories of Christmas are full of these joys, and more. One of my favorite memories from when our children were young is that we would all gather on our bed—all five of us in one big pileup, and pray together before going downstairs for present-opening. Our kids knew that no one was allowed to go down before that. It made us all stop to get our perspective on the true meaning of Christmas, and it was a special together-moment. I’m so glad we did it each year, and I’m glad prayer is one of the things listed in this song. When you are thinking about making this a Christmas to remember, consider how you are going to make prayer for peace on earth and good will to men a part of your celebration. I promise if you do, that it will be one of the most important things that makes this Christmas the best Christmas ever for you!

Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

Questions: As December begins, ask each family member what would make this the best Christmas ever, then make sure that what they hope for happens this year. If someone wishes for something that is not possible, take time to have a conversation about that. Ask the Lord for wisdom to guide the hearts of the ones you love to be focused on him, on the joys of being together and on peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

Prayer: Dear Lord, Help me to find joy in the small, simple things that will make this Christmas the best Christmas ever. Give me your perspective. Help me to guide others to that perspective. Thank you for all the blessings you shower on me that make each Christmas the best Christmas ever.

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Jeannie Blocher is the President Emeritus and Director of Spiritual Impact of Body & Soul Fitness. She and her husband Roy founded Body & Soul in 1981, and now Jeannie serves in a volunteer capacity. She is an author and speaker, who treasures first her role as wife, mother of three and grandmother of eight. She wrote the First Place 4 Health Bible Study “Make Every Day Your Best Day” and the book “Encouragement for the Body & the Soul.” She enjoys speaking on behalf of Body & Soul, sharing the message of faith & fitness.

Contact Jeannie at jeannie@bodyandsoul.org.