“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house were tensions and frustrations. What a rouse!The hurts and offenses from long long ago seemed just under the surface. Things were ready to blow.”
Does this, in some measure, describe your family Christmas each year? Are you concerned about the gatherings over the next few weeks? You are not alone. It isn’t just your family. In fact even in the Bible we see family conflict from the first family (Cain murdered his brother Abel) right on to the family of Jesus himself. If you study the families of historical heroes in the faith, missionaries and even pastors, you’ll find conflict to one degree or another. Why? We are all sinners. We irritate each other at the very best and “bite, devour and destroy one another” (Galatians 5:15) at worst.
So how do we handle tough family situations during the Holidays when it is supposed to be a time of love, joy and peace? A time to cherish the memories of each other’s company, yet it is filled with strife? Certainly there are an infinite number of situations. This post is not intended as a “cure-all” article nor do we want to minimize your family’s needs by trying to tackle them in a short blog post. However, we want to offer some basic Bible principles and a few practical ideas that may be of help.
1. Love your family. Jesus said that our love for family must be secondary to our love and devotion to him. He also said to love our enemies and those who spitefully hurt us. In order to love Jesus and honor him, we must love our families. What does this love look like though in practical terms? Does it mean we open ourselves or our children up to physical or spiritual harm? No! However, It does mean that we love biblically. Study 1 Corinthians 13 for a refresher on what this means. We suggest you seek wise biblical counsel from a pastor or godly friend for help in your particular situation especially if it is involves an abusive situation.
2. Pray. Pray for yourself. Pray that you will show grace, love, patience, mercy and reflect Christ and his actions toward those who hurt him. Pray also for the family members who cause problems. Seek God’s help diligently about the whole situation through serious prayer.
3. Open neutral lines of communication. The Christmas visit probably isn’t the best time to confront or rebuke. Instead, perhaps you could make an actual list of topics you can chat about which you know will be neutral. Try crafts or hunting and fishing. What about new apps you’ve found for your phone? Recipes, pets, new restaurants… the list could go on, but think ahead about it and write it down. Maybe write it in a note on your smartphone so you can discreetly refer to it when needed in the middle of the room or in the car.
4. Don’t preach. Again, this probably isn’t the time to correct, advise or rebuke. If frustrating topics arise, do your best to suggest postponing the conversation. Have a plan of action for politely walking away. (I have to email a friend for Christmas, wrap a gift, check on the kids…) Do your part to avoid tense subjects especially if you’re prone to being a confronting type person.
5. Limit the time. Plan ahead to limit your time together. Don’t over-stay. Planning ahead allows you to politely let them know you’ll only be staying for a few hours or just for a meal. If family is coming to your house, plan something ahead that you’ll be involved in after the family visits. Invite others over at a certain time so the family members in question will need to leave etc. This is not being rude. It is planning to avoid conflict.
6. Plan activities. Perhaps you can visit a local landmark together. Go to dinner at a neutral place in public. You can plan crafts with the kids, outdoor or indoor games or watch a Christmas movie. Avoid down time where people are bored, restless or have opportunity for negative conversation and/or arguments. Keep the flow of activity moving with things that give options to keep minds and talk active with positive subjects.
7. Create Space. If possible, plan ahead for times of space for yourself and/or your family while still visiting. Maybe you’ll take the kids for some last minute shopping or to a McDonald’s Play Place. Plan a walk or run each day. Plan to call a friend for Christmas which takes you away into a private room for a short time. Bring a project to work on with the kids – a model or craft. Whatever it is, plan ahead to create some space so tensions can ease. Space allows you and them time throughout the visit cool down.