Recently I ran across a survey on Christmas. When people were asked what the best part of the holiday was, family was the answer. When asked what the worst part of Christmas was, it was family.
Many of us can relate. While we may (or may not) look forward to Christmas gatherings, reality soon sets in. There’s Uncle Louie the Loonie who’s always blurting out the first thing that comes to his mind, no matter how it affects others. Sweet Aunt Betty the Blabber, who no one can trust to keep a secret… or stab you with. Here comes the dysfunctional in-laws who are always bickering and jabbing at each other (of course, our family could never be dysfunctional… right?).
Some relatives want nothing to do with you and are there only because their spouse is forcing them. They couldn’t care less about you, and the only way to make conversation is to get them talking about themselves, which means you get to listen to hours of monologue.
Then stir in all the different religious and political views; some Christian, some not, some maybe even who might be antagonistic towards God. Bring Christ or a controversial topic up like the Duck Dynasty firing, and stand back and enjoy the fireworks.
If you’re going through the pain of a marriage that’s hurting from porn addiction or affairs, the family thing becomes a heavy burden that there’s little energy or patience for. Spending hours, or days, faking it and trying to put on a happy face and pretend everything’s okay can be a painful, long, drawn out process.
It’s not easy, but there is a way through. (There are few ways out, unless you catch the flu, and then you’re miserable anyway).
It all starts with perspective. Every family is a mess. Any time two people are brought together there’s a risk of conflict. Get a group together with all their personality and other differences, and the chances of someone getting angry or hurt multiply. Look at the others through God’s eyes. They have weaknesses, blind spots, struggles with sin, and their own pain, just like the rest of us. Often we don’t know what our relatives lives really look like. Some may be on their way to the horror of a Christ-less eternity. Use the knowledge of this to propel you to pray for them.
If the time and setting presents itself, and the person on the other end can be trusted and you know they can handle it, consider sharing a little of your story. I did this about 12 years ago and it opened some doors to communication. This doesn’t mean we spill our guts to Aunt Betty the Blabber or Uncle Louie the Loonie, who just won’t get it, but that we keep our eye out for an open door.
Don’t let yourself get wrapped up judging or criticizing others for their weaknesses or faults. I’ve been there, and it’s a miserable place. As soon as we start to judge, the heart turns black. Let them be who they are, mess and all, just as you are. Let God have their weaknesses; it’ll lighten your load. Thicken your skin against the stupid things people say, and soften your heart with compassion toward them.
Pray. Do this a lot. Pray for humility, compassion, strength, and wisdom.
Look for God’s purposes. You never know when He might use you. Be aware there might be someone He wants you to help or encourage. Helping others is a great way to lift depression; it gets our focus off ourselves and our problems.
During the holidays, spend time with the friends you have who build you up so you can get an extra boost of encouragement, strength, and support, and prayer.
Learn to say no. Set your priorities firmly in front of you, and politely decline the invitations to burn yourself out with all the “get involved with our ministry,” “come to our party,” and “give us an extra year- end donation” messages that come your way. Guilt sucks. Don’t give in to it. If Christmas is really about Jesus, all this other stuff is optional at best, a distraction at worst.
God wants you; enjoy some time with Him.