How to Work Holiday Retail Without Losing Your Soul

Holiday retail. Just the words conjure up images of crowded parking lots, long lines, and looks of desperation in the faces of shoppers too numerous to count. Whether you’ve worked holiday retail in the past or this is your first season, you’ve probably got a growing collection of horror stories about rude, impatient customers. Meanwhile, open up your phone and the Insta-perfect images of holiday comfort and joy are flooding social media. I wonder if all the stress and bitterness of holiday retail is not only holding workers like me back from enjoying Christmas but actually inoculating us against it! Is there a way to work holiday retail without losing your soul?

Our immediate temptation is to escape the stress. Netflix binging beckons. There’s always someone in the stock room who wants to gossip. When we get home, the dull glow of the phone lulls us to sleep as we do what we have to in order to forget the day. Is there a better way? Can we work holiday retail and not only preserve our souls but perhaps even deepen them?

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I believe we can.

Instead of seeing the holidays as just another busy season to survive, I invite you to approach it as spiritual formation. Traditionally, spiritual formation involves engaging in practices that open us to God’s work in our lives and reshape us in the image of Christ. God works to grow us into the people he created us to be, but we often miss his subtlety in the onslaught of daily life. That’s why we need a disciplined approach to receive his grace. During the holiday season, opportunities to open ourselves to God’s work come to us constantly throughout our shifts, if we are willing to receive them.

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Normally, we approach spiritual formation through the same lens with which we approach Christmas. We expect the experience to be warm and cozy, filled with happiness and good cheer. While these feelings should certainly be an aspect of spiritual formation, they are the end result, not the process.

The process is always arduous, and it always entails suffering and self-denial. We all long to join Christ in his resurrection, but to do so we must join him in his death. Fortunately for the holiday cashier, manager, or stock clerk, the opportunities to die to self and live to Christ are endless. Tired of hokey Christmas music? Surround yourself with deep, rich music on your way to and from work (extra points if the songs are in a minor chord, the chord of waiting and longing). Overwhelmed by the weight of stock to put out? Remember how Christ courageously bore the weight of your sins, and with each pallet thank him for his love. Frustrated by rude customers? Pray for them (you may be the only one who does so this year) and be kind to them, not because it is your job but because Christ has been so kind to you. Overwhelmed at the end of the day? Read a psalm or two and offer it back to God in prayer, or immerse yourself in the world of Isaiah 9, Matthew 1-2, and John 1.

Whatever your role at work, look for ways to leverage the stress and burden of that position into growing the character of Christ in you. That is, after all, the process of formation and the hidden blessing of holiday retail.

Awake, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. – Ephesians 5:13


Featured photo by Diariocritico de Venezuela on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license