Family Holidays: Tidings of Joy

By Kersley Fitzgerald

The holiday season is upon us. Extended family will join once more, reworking old wounds and personality issues with new vigor. Tempers will flare, ornaments will break, and expectations will, once again, be ground into the carpet next to the melted marshmallows and the baby's Cheerios.

When out-of-town relatives add to the mix, things can get tense. It's amazing to me how quickly we forget what people are really like. Then there's the pressure of the Big Family Event on top of everything else. How do we survive without never wanting to see each other again?

Taken from the file of "learn from my mistakes," here are some thoughts on how to survive the family holidays.

Clear your Expectations. (Acts 11) Especially if someone is coming in from out of town or you haven't seen them in a while, approach your loved ones as people that you have decided to like, but don't necessarily know that well. Even if you grew up with this person, it's not always a bad idea to slip down a couple of rungs on Cog's Ladder and get reoriented. Make fewer assumptions; ask more questions.

Simplify. (Luke 10:38-42) Family traditions are great as long as everyone wants to still be family after the tradition. Maybe take a poll and see which foods people actually like. Or events—does everyone really want to go on a sleigh ride, a Christmas light tour, and the Christmas Eve service? Or do they want to stay home, drink cocoa, and watch the original Miracle on 34th Street? Tradition doesn't have to be exhausting.

Put on your Armor. (Ephesians 6:13-18) Lauren Birago has an excellent article on Armor—what it is, how we should use it, and what it's not designed to do. If you know you're going into a stressful situation, pray up. Ask others to pray. Maybe remind yourself of the personalities involved. As Lauren says, the enemy wants to kill, steal, and destroy, but God specifically provides for our protection. We just have to actually use it.

Put your Anger into Perspective. (James 1:20) Is it sad that I sometimes think this should be my life verse? "For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." Lack of sleep, strange eating schedules, sugarfied kids, and grouchy relatives can all cause our anger levels to go up. If we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, however, we do not have to give in. Just taking a moment and remembering that God's work in us as individuals and as a group is more important than our rights can change our entire demeanor. If we let it.

Remember your Priorities. This is really key for the Christian walking into chaos. What are your priorities? Love everyone (1 Corinthians 13). Show the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). But what happens when you feel pulled in eight different directions? Break it down.

First comes spouse (Ephesians 5:22, 25): Is he comfortable? Is he getting attacked by your uncle who's in that pyramid scheme? Is he going to be horrified if you tell his grandfather exactly what you think about his favorite political candidate? Help him out. You're a team in this as you are in everything.

Then kids (Ephesians 6:4): Is the current situation realistic for them? Is the 18-month-old over-tired? Does the 6-year-old need to go to the park? Is your introverted teenager in desperate need of a Starbucks run? It's true that kids need to be exposed to varied situations to learn how to serve others and gain maturity. But don't let relatives or friends place expectations on your kids that are neither necessary nor realistic for them.

Next is parents (1 Timothy 5:8): Is what you're doing honoring to them? That doesn't mean giving them everything they want, but it does mean being respectful and making sure they have what they need. Even if "what they need" is you keeping your mouth shut.

The next is a strange one—the other believers in your family (1 Thessalonians 5:11): Time and again, Paul exhorts us to care for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. How can we help them live out of their faith? In my generation, only Dev and my sister are Christians. As much as I love the rest of them and want to spend time with them, we three are coming at things from a specific angle, and we need to encourage each other.

Hearts over efficiency (Matthew 9:27): This one is really hard for me. I am terrible at stopping for a moment and thinking about what will actually bless someone. I'm much better at just getting the job done. Don't be me.

Do What You Need to Do. (Matthew 14:13a) Need to stay in a hotel? Hit the gym? Briefly leave the room? If you're an adult, you should know the difference between being self-centered and needing a time-out. Being self-centered means you want everyone to change so you get what you want. Needing a time-out means you need to take care of a personal need so you can give to others. It's okay to slip out early to read your Bible or take a run. It's not okay to spend the entire weekend hiding in the movie theater.

Be Thankful. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) I recently read a blog post that has proved to be very true. There are some times when praying for a situation only serves to give it an emphasis in your mind to an extent that's actually damaging. Sometimes it's good to stop praying for help and just patiently wait. But the waiting can be hard, and you still want to feel close to God. So give Him thanks. Find everything good about the situation and let Him know you appreciate it. It will also reorient your mind to the more positive things that you may be missing.

I find it easier to walk into a difficult situation if I have a goal in mind. We should always try to be lights that point the way to Christ. We should always live out of our identity in Christ. It's easy to slip into old patterns when we meet up with family. And I know it's discouraging that we have to be "on" in the environment where we should be able to relax. But our family deserves the best of us, perhaps more than anyone else. And staying alert will help us have a better time, too.

Just don't emotionally crash when you get home and take it out on your spouse and kids!*

* Not that I ever do thatů

Photo credit: Awkward Family Photos

TagsCelebrating-Holidays  |  Christian-Life  |  Family-Life  |  Personal-Relationships

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Published 12-03-13