Though the holidays are often a festive time full of family gatherings, they can also bring unique challenges. Family dynamics and relationships between extended family members bring joy—and hurt. Extended families are a blessing and it's worth figuring out Christ-honoring ways to navigate these relationships. Even when it's difficult, we love the people around us because God first loved us; our love for others flows out of the love we've known in Christ.
Here are five ways you can make the holiday season more peaceful. I offer these suggestions as someone who has failed many times, but I'm ready to try again!
1. Absorb insults.
Absorbing insensitive comments or hurtful words is not our natural instinct. When someone says or does something that stings, our intuitive response is often to defend or counterattack. There are times it is right and good to speak up for ourselves or to clear up a misconception someone has about us. But often, the empowering and Christlike choice is to absorb the insult and respond with quiet grace (1 Peter 3:9).
2. Keep first things first.
Maybe you're a libertarian or a fiscal conservative, and you have extended family members who love all things liberal. How often do you engage in heated debate about political issues? If your family members were to say what rouses your passions, would they say you're passionate about politics or Jesus? Are you known for being a Republican, or are you known for being a Christian (2 Cor. 5:20)? Keep first things first.
3. Love those who hurt you (even when it's hard).
It is the people closest to us—our family members—who have the ability to hurt us the most and likewise us them. Where there is the love and closeness of true family, there is the capacity to hurt others and to be hurt ourselves. It's part of being a family; it's part of being sinful. The Christlike response to those who hurt us is this: love! Love one another. Don't simply settle on not being bitter toward a family member who has hurt you; resolve to actively, intentionally, sacrificially love them (Matt. 5:44).
When you feel ready to give up and like you just can't give any more, raise your eyes to the One who wrapped Himself in flesh and then gave everything for us. Even when it's hard, we love others because Jesus first loved us (1 John 4:19).
4. Be okay with people not being perfect.
Do you have family members who annoy you or always manage to get under your skin? Guess what? You're probably annoying to others sometimes, too. We're imperfect, all of us. Even when we're not sinning, we can be annoying as we have such different ways of doing things. There is freedom in arriving at a place where we're simply okay with the people we love being less than perfect (Rom 15:1).
5. Seek to be a blessing.
Sometimes during the holidays what we need more than anything else is a prayerful heart check that goes something like this:
Oh Father, help me seek the good and joy of others above my own; help me be a source of deep encouragement and blessing; help me care way more about others than I care about myself; help me be Christ to those around me; help me display Your love and grace in a way that causes those around me to look past me and see the beauty of my Savior.
And may we remember these words from the apostle Paul as we seek to emulate the example of Christ:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:5–6).
What are some other ways we can pursue love and bring peace to our family gatherings?