Christmas is widely known as the “most wonderful time of the year” and the “happiest season of all.” We are told again and again that it’s a season of joy, family bonding, and making memories that will last a lifetime. But we live in a fallen world and many things aren’t what they are supposed to be, nor are they even close. Here are three suggestions for surviving a dysfunctional family Christmas:
Protect your peace. It’s important to remember that your peace, joy, and contentment during the holiday season isn’t dependent upon others; it’s dependent upon you. It’s certainly easier when everyone around you says the right things, does the right things, and always bends to your will, but I don’t encourage you to hold your breath until that happens. The reality is that we are always going to deal with people saying unkind things, doing things that hurt you, and choosing to put themselves first. That’s the very nature of a fallen, sinful world.
As we read in Jeremiah 17:5-8, we should not allow our circumstances to affect our peace. Instead of going into Christmas placing expectations on the rest of your family, set yourself free, and set them free. Don’t place the pressure of a perfect Christmas on imperfect people. Walk in knowing that you are walking into a group of people who are hurting, who may be lost, and who God has called you to love. Scripture makes it clear that “heat and drought” are going to come for all of us. Are you going to waste away, or are your firmly planted roots going to continue to bear fruit regardless of the circumstances? In addition to adjusting some of your expectations, another way to protect your peace this Christmas is to celebrate your own meaningful Christmas with just your immediate family. If you are traveling all week to see family, take some time before or after to worship together, read the Christmas story from Scripture together, or celebrate any other meaningful traditions on your own.
Give the gift of peace. As followers of Christ, we must seriously consider the teachings of Scripture on what it means to be a peacemaker. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out what seem to be some character traits of disciples. In Matthew 5:9, he says this: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t mention the peacekeepers or the conflict avoiders or the go-with-the-flowers. Peacemaking is not a passive undertaking.
What if this principle guided your interactions with family this Christmas? If instead of sticking your head into the sand, or just walking away during a difficult conversation, you tried to tap into wisdom that comes from heaven? When the family political debates inevitably get a little heated, rather than jumping in on one side or the other, you could instead ask that everyone put their debate skills to rest just for the day, and give a subtle reminder that Christmas is about more than politics. This Christmas, instead of taking the role of passive bystander, give your family the gift of peace by accepting your God-given role as a peace-maker.
Seek peace in prayer. There is nothing more encouraging as we prepare to engage in sometimes unpredictable, chaotic family gatherings around Christmas than Paul’s words on prayer in Philippians 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Some of us become anxious around family gatherings. We worry about what people are going to do or say. We worry about what we are going to do or say. The peace of God is exactly what we need this Christmas. We need the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds.
Instead of focusing on the negative aspects, we have a direct instruction from Scripture to focus on the beauty. Begin praying now that God would help you to find the beauty this Christmas. God sees your dysfunctional family members differently. He sees his beloved kids that He desperately wants to redeem and restore. He sees their brokenness and their pain and how sin has destroyed everything in them and around them. And God’s desire is to move towards them, not away from them. He continues pursuing and blessing and loving through it all.
So pray that God would give you just a glimpse of how He sees your family this Christmas so that you can continue loving them, rather than shutting them out. If they are valuable to God, they should be valuable to you. Pray for the peace that surpasses understanding. Pray to see the beauty. And pray that you would see your loved ones in the way that God sees them.
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Consider celebrating a quiet, early Christmas with your immediate family before the extended family arrives.
- Consider now how you can be a peace-maker at Christmastime. Be impartial, sincere, and merciful.
- Pray that God would help you see your family as he does: as beloved children in need of a savior. Pray that God will give you opportunities to share the good news of the Gospel with your family.
TAKE ONE STEP
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)