Take a moment to picture your family… not just the people you live with, but the household you grew up in. Imagine a get-together where you’re all under one roof, with spouses and children in tow.
How do you feel? Does that mental image give you a warm, fuzzy feeling, or does it just give you heartburn?
Some of the most popular Christmas movies are about the “interesting” dynamic that happens when large families come together. There’s the uncle who drinks too much, the gossippy aunt, the overbearing mother, and the father who’s trying to put too many lights on the house. Usually, there are kids running amok – too many to count, so sometimes one gets left behind.
I come from a large family, and so do my parents. Mom and Dad and all four of us kids would pile into the minivan and drive halfway across the state (so really far – this is Texas, y’all!) to visit grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. In the car, somebody was always arguing, somebody was always sleeping, somebody was always trying to ignore everybody else. At our destination, almost every moment was loud, boisterous, and… well, crazy! If we all show up at Mom and Dad’s house now, it’s much the same. Dogs, kids, friends, and family cram into a small space, and it gets loud. By the end of the day, tensions are running high, and even if it doesn’t blow up, it feels like it could any minute.
Now that we’re all adults, my siblings and I have grown into very different people from one another. One sister hikes and flies her hot air balloon in her spare time, and the other has an active social life. Our brother runs a miniature farm and sells at local farmer’s markets, and I’m always reading or writing but rarely leaving the confines of my own house.
If you’ve been to my house, you know that it’s generally quiet, maybe with some music playing, but virtually never with yelling, running, slamming doors, or pets. This isn’t the kind of environment I grew up in, but it’s the one I’ve chosen. It’s much like the environment my husband grew up in, though, and our daughter appreciates it as well.
Needless to say, family reunions on my side of our little family look nothing like our chosen experience. It’s fun, but it’s stressful. My husband, my daughter, and I all feel like retreating into a quiet room from time to time, just to decompress. I’m sure some of you feel the same way. If you really want a relaxing, conflict-free holiday, you don’t go see family.
On Sunday morning, Jurie spoke about Getting Along. The central question was, “How do you love people you disagree with?” In our daily lives, I think most of us actively avoid conflict. We “go along to get along.” With family, though, we let down our guard, and chaos ensues. Sometimes the hardest people to love are family members. We’re thrown together, not by common interests or shared goals, but merely by blood and history.
How do we love our extended families? How do we relate to our relatives?
I think part of the reason family time can be difficult is that we allow our past relationships to define our present and future ones. It is hard to let go of who a person used to be in favor of learning who they’ve become, or who God is preparing them to be. We are the same way with ourselves; we assume that the relationships we’ve had with others in the past must define our relationships going forward.
Jurie gave us four steps to getting along with everyone, all based on Ephesians 4:1-6:
Take the challenge this Christmas season, and find some common ground with the people you get to enjoy it with. We’ve been isolated all year; take this time to connect. Realize that you are worthy of respect because you were made in the image of God, and see that worthiness in your extended family. It’s intrinsic worth, not based on anything we’ve done or said in the past. Fight for unity by refusing to get heated in your conversations and by making sure you listen to what the other is saying without choosing to feel offended. Above all, remember that we in our own power may be too weak to repair broken relationships, but God has the power to work miracles of healing, in relationships as much as in our physical bodies.
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