Today at Bible study our leader asked us, “what are your plans for Christmas?” My mind went quickly to the place where my heart has been mourning for several days….to extended family issues. Seems Christmas, with its forced joviality, togetherness, expectations and agenda’s can really take the true JOY out of the season. If we let these types of challenges plant in our heart – ultimately we will be as tangled and strangled as a string of last year’s broken Christmas tree lights.
We discussed this same issue a little at bible study and I was reminded of wisdom a friend once gave me that if I have tried to mend and the other party wants none of it – then I have met God’s expectation – “For as much as it is up to me – be at peace with your brother.” Let’s face it, sometimes there cannot be “peace on earth” – especially in families, because there is the common issue amongst all – the problem of sin. It comes in so many forms, large and small – but from start to finish – it begins in our hearts.
We cannot control someone elses behaviours, motivations and decisions. We can only 1) control our reaction to it through God’s strength, 2) lean on Him to make right what is wrong in His time and purpose. So after much pondering, I am holding on to the truth of God’s word – that He will bind the wounds of the broken-hearted and bring what has been said and done in the dark into the light. He will strengthen and renew in His timing – as it is not His will that strife lives in members of HIS family. Even if your family are not members of God’s family – He can change that too. Afterall – didn’t Jesus’ family have issue with Him at one time too? Yet his human family ultimately became part of His Father’s family as well.
Though my intent today was to write about something else – I will save it for another day and share this very timely devotion from Proverbs 31 Ministries. I received it today – hmmm – think God is speaking into my heart again?
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18 (ESV)
Sometimes the images I spy during the holiday season can deflate my festive spirit and send me instead into a frosty funk.
A stunning home appears on my television screen complete with color-coordinated décor, an inviting roaring fire and stunning packages under the Christmas tree that look as if they were wrapped at a high-end department store.
Then, I glance around my home.
I see ordinary decorations donning our humble tree and gifts wrapped with commonplace paper topped off with tags from the dollar store. And I use the term “wrapped” rather loosely. I’m all thumbs when it comes to holding a roll of tape while also trying to create crisp creases and edges. I usually opt for an easy-open gift bag instead.
Social media blows up with taunting images too. A holiday tablescape dotted with gourmet foods. Clever crafts. Incredible traditions. All of these can make me feel my holiday season is “less than” by comparison.
But the images that prompt the most “must-be-nice” feelings in me are the ones of the families gathered together. And they’re not just gathered. They also appear to be getting along!
Family time around the holidays can be rough. Different personalities, lifestyles, schedules, religious beliefs and political views — even the opinions on who should bring the pumpkin pie this year — can all make for an interesting, even explosive, yuletide gathering.
I used to enter time with family with the goal of everyone behaving. No outright fights, sarcastic statements or backhanded comments. While it didn’t always happen, when it did, it was usually due to one particular relative who loves to sling their opinions throughout family events. Before each family gathering with this person, I hoped and prayed that none of their caustic and cruel comments were slung my way. But rarely did that happen.
Instead I had my mothering skills subtly slammed, my method of mashing potatoes called into question and worse. As a result, my hopes of a happy family gathering were dashed and my feelings got repeatedly — and deeply — hurt.
Over the years, I have found a tool that helps me when entering into interactions with the in-laws and out-laws. I simply apply today’s key verse from Romans 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
I am not single-handedly responsible for bringing peace to the family gatherings. I can’t close the curtain on every scene of drama. I can’t force others to be nice. But I can control my words and actions. I can make sure what I say doesn’t contribute further to the tension or escalate a minor squabble into a family feud.
As far as it depends on me, I can behave.
I can change the subject. Speak in a calm and collected tone when answering the combative person. Or just simply keep my mouth shut and say nothing at all. I can leave the room and go play with the children. Go into the kitchen and quietly do the dishes.
I’ve learned I don’t need to say every single thing I’m thinking. Or even half the things I’m thinking!
I can purpose to pray and weigh. Pray that the Lord will help me know if I should speak or remain silent. And weigh each word I do say, asking myself if it is totally appropriate, completely necessary and ultimately gracious.
Then, when another family gathering is in the books, I can look back and see that I did not contribute to any of the drama that might have ensued, but instead I chose — to the best of my ability — to create or keep the peace. I can then put on my coat, give a round of goodbye hugs and leave the family gathering guilt-free, with no regrets.
Well, except for that second piece of pumpkin pie.
Father, when interacting this holiday season with family members, help me to do everything in my ability to live peaceably with all. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Romans 14:19, “So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.” (HCSB)
For more on using your words properly, check out Karen’s latest book, releasing next month, entitled Keep It Shut: What to Say, How to Say it and When to Say Nothing at All. Click here to preorder and be among the first to receive your copy.
Save the date! Our next Online Bible Study starts January 26 and features Keep It Shut. Watch for updates at Proverbs31.org.
Visit Karen’s blog to enter her 12 Days of Christmas giveaways or sign up for her free email resource about using our words carefully called 5 Days to Sweet & Salty Speech.
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Is there someone you encounter at family gatherings whose bad behavior sometimes tempts you to behave poorly in return?
How can keeping in mind the instructions in Romans 12:18 help you to alter your behavior around that person this year?
© 2014 by Karen Ehman. All rights reserved.