October 1, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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The holidays are such a joyous time of the year in many aspects. But for some people, the joy surrounding this season can be tempered by anxiety or dread about having to spend time with certain family members. Any time a group of people get together—related or not—there’s bound to be some disagreements.
Disagreement can be healthy, but there’s a time and a place for it. Christmas dinner probably isn’t the time or place to be discussing hot topics. All of us have that uncle or cousin that’s just a little . . . well, controversial. Sure, some family members may be hard to love, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. After all, what reward is there for only loving those who are easy to love and love you back (Matthew 5:46)?
Family gatherings are a great opportunity to be an ambassador for Christ to your family who might not know Him yet—especially at Christmastime when we’re celebrating the birth of our Savior! Your family will be watching you to see how “Christian” you act. Don’t give Christ a bad name because you can’t surrender your hard feelings towards certain family members. Sow seeds of love, not hate. Seek God, pray, and plan in preparation for how you’re going to act during this year’s gatherings. And look for opportunities to talk about God’s goodness and share His love!
Here are some do’s and don’ts to hopefully help your holiday gatherings run a little smoother.
Don’t: Don’t strike back when someone says something that upsets you.
Do: Be slow to anger.
Try not to assume the worst—maybe that comment that seemed like a subtle dig by your great aunt about your relationship status wasn’t meant to be rude. Usually people are just trying to be helpful, although sometimes it comes off wrong. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Even if they are blatantly rude, the Bible tells us to seek peace as far as it is in our control. So, try to control your temper and be slow to anger. Angry words will only stir up more conflict.
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”—James 1:19 (NIV)
Don’t: Don’t subtly insult family members or remind them of their shortcomings.
Do: Seek to see the best in everyone, even people who frustrate you.
Just as we all hate when people give us backhanded compliments or insult us in subtle ways, we shouldn’t do it either. Most of us have that one person who just rubs us the wrong way, and sometimes it’s so hard to not dig at that person as soon as you see them. But resist the temptation! Jesus knows their heart, and we should seek to understand them, too. There’s probably a reason why they act the way they do. Instead of reminding someone of their flaws, give them a genuine compliment instead. They won’t expect it, and it’ll lower their defenses—which could be the beginning of a better relationship.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”—1 Peter 4:8 (NIV)
Don’t: Don’t accept the status quo.
Do: Seek to strengthen relationships with extended family.
Life has a bad habit of getting in the way. Maybe you only see your cousins that you grew up with once a year now. When your life gets busy with a career and children, it’s easy to let extended family relationships fall by the wayside. Don’t let every year be the year you say, “Let’s get together more this year!” Make it this year. Be the one to interrupt your busy life first and pick up the phone. Invite them to dinner, have a playdate for your kids, and catch up. Life is short, and we have to strengthen relationships while we still can.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”—Philippians 2:3–4 (NIV)
Don’t: Don’t let past memories or issues cloud the present.
Do: Choose to forgive those who have offended you, even if they didn’t ask for it.
It’s so easy to allow bad memories to influence your opinion of others. Especially if your issues began far in the past, it can affect your present opinion of them. Instead, try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt; maybe they’ve changed! But even if they haven’t, it doesn’t serve anyone well to bring up those old memories. Sometimes, if you’re thinking bad thoughts about a person, you’ll subconsciously treat them differently, which can make things even worse and then harder for the relationship to mend. But if you purpose to fill your heart with forgiveness for those who have offended you, you just may be surprised at how things turn out.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”—Colossians 3:13 (NIV)
Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, NIV). This holiday season, be known for your generous love—let God’s love for you overflow into your interactions with others, even with your difficult family members. It might not be easy, but through prayer and surrender, God can and will use you to shine His light into your family.
Remember, everything in our lives—every interaction—goes back to the gospel. So, let’s purpose to keep our eyes focused on that little baby in the manger, the One that was God in the flesh for the salvation of the whole world—even the people that we find difficult to love.