As a pastor I hear so many heartbreaking stories about families that struggle during the holidays. Many are due to years of bitterness and unresolved issues that have been left to fester and become toxic. Some of you may be part of such a family. You may be asking yourself, “how can we celebrate the holidays and spend time with family when that time is anything but joyful”? So… what do you do when disappointment and conflict is the norm for your family? I want to encourage you to start by making a new Christmas wish list.
- COMMIT TO RECEIVE, SO THAT YOU CAN GIVE:
Have you received the kindness, mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God? Put receiving God’s grace at the top of your Christmas list this year. We know this is a time of year for giving. Jesus says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). But the truth is that none of us can truly give unless we receive from Christ first and foremost.
We are unable to extend grace until we receive his grace. We can’t be kind to someone who has offended us unless we receive the loving-kindness of Christ. We can’t hope to forgive those who have sinned against us unless we receive God’s forgiveness first (Eph. 4:32). Grace and forgiveness never ignore or excuse sin. Look to the cross: the most gracious moment in history was also the most confrontational. At the cross, God declared war on sin, Satan, and death while freely extending grace to any hopeless sinner who will receive it.
Maybe this is the year God wants you to stop using your family as an excuse to reject his grace to you. From the richness of his grace comes the ability to gift grace to others.
- REMEMBER TO PRAY FOR YOURSELF:
Next on your list, start praying specifically for yourself and your heart. We often pray for others and surrounding circumstances. There is nothing wrong with this, but we have no control over others or life’s events. With God’s help, we actually have control over our own thoughts, words, and actions. We are most likely to recognize God’s transformation in us when we pray for our own hearts to change. As you spend time with family this year, pray that you would respond differently to the strife that will surround you. Pray that you will hold your tongue when you are tempted to lash out in frustration. Pray that you will be willing to have that difficult conversation that needs to happen. Pray that you will overlook an offense that might sting, but will not destroy you. Pray that God would give you opportunities to shine light into family darkness.
It only takes one person to confess wrong, extend forgiveness, and repent of sin. Pray that you will initiate doing that. Don’t wait for the other person to make the first move.
- DECIDE TO BE A WITNESS FOR JESUS:
Make sure Jesus is on your list. Jesus came to earth as a baby in a manger. But he didn’t leave. If you are a Christian, he has taken up residency in your heart, through the Spirit.
At Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, literally meaning, “God became flesh.” Christ became like us so we might become like him. He is embodied, or incarnated, and we share this good news with all. God incarnate was no pushover. Jesus demonstrated true strength in the face of his enemies and in dying a horrific death on the cross.
We can be a witness to what Christ has done this Christmas. Family relationships often bring deep wounds. Even Jesus’ family did hurtful things to him (Mark 3:21; John 7:5). Hurting is different than harming. Harmful, destructive, and dangerous family relationships might need to be cut off.
But most of us have disappointing and painful family relationships instead of harmful relationships. We avoid, run from, and dance around issues that need to be addressed or seek vengeance against others who have hurt us, when God is asking us to do something radically different.
What would it look like to love members of your family who have not loved you well? How can you serve family members when you might not get anything in return? For those who are hurting and struggling through difficult relationships this season, my hope is that this Christmas wish list will bring you joy for the New Year.