Christmas is the time for family to get together. Yet, for some, family can be a source of pain. Perhaps you’re estranged from a loved one or maybe the relational baggages are too overwhelming and time together is just another potential conflict.
Do your attempts to connect with a family member feel like a futile push against a mountain of defensiveness, awkwardness, and shame? Let’s explore tips to help chip at this mountain.
1. Remember where we came from
As a young believer, I avoided relatives who were pre-believers, thinking, “They’re living in sin, they won’t understand my faith and we’ve nothing in common to talk about.”
In my quest for righteousness, I unconsciously judged people whom I felt didn’t measure up. Truth is, I was once in sin, just like them, but someone reached out to me. I know what it’s like to live without God and a sense of purpose. Without Jesus, I’d be just like them.
2. Keep short accounts
Past experiences can cloud our perception of people. We can become hyper-sensitive to every gesture and word when we view people through a heap of pre-conceived ideas.
If I spend a little time each week balancing my finances, it’s an easy task. But, wait months to do so and it becomes more of a mess. It’s the same in relationships. Settle issues quickly. Clear the air of any misunderstanding, don’t let anger fester.
Be quick to apologise and forgive. Once forgiveness is extended, clear the ledger, forget the mistakes, and no longer view a person through the lenses of his/her past – and potentially turn an emotionally draining season into one of freedom and joy.
3. Listen with your heart
Practise empathy. Listen without feeling the need to correct. When we prematurely try to change someone’s opinion, it puts them on the defensive. But, empathising and listening without guns blazing cultivates connection.
Often hidden behind words are unspoken emotions, dreams, hopes, disappointment and pain. Listen with your heart beyond spoken words into what’s really going on inside.
Love does not seek its own but is focused on someone else. Show an interest in their life and what they care about. When we empathise, we connect in a way that fells walls.
4. Dispense hope
People often use fantasy as a coping mechanism to numb the pain of reality and draw a sense of hope. We may know someone who habitually buys lottery tickets, wishing to strike it big. Whenever they realise someone else has won the big prize, they bemoan their fate of not winning and imagine themselves attaining the next one.
The hope of escaping their reality is built on the sinking sand of winning a bet. When one endures prolonged periods of shame, disappointment, and hopelessness, fantasy becomes the only thread that their sanity hangs by – until they find true hope and deliverance.
Don’t be too quick to burst people’s bubbles before they encounter truth – it leaves no solid rock to stand on. Dispense true hope wherever we are. It’s much needed in tough times.
5. Parading your accomplishments may hurt people
Have we at times paraded our successes before people who are broken and hurting? Our accomplishments can be an inspiration to others, but we forget that our journey with God through struggles and defeats also teaches an invaluable lesson.
Being authentic about the highs and lows of our lives draws people and cultivates acceptance and belonging. Our accomplishments are praiseworthy, but God didn’t love us less when we were broken and had not accomplished much.
Material success cannot take the place of those we love. Is there something your family members are doing that you can champion? It can simply be their capability in their jobs.
A simple compliment can be powerful – not just a profound prophetic word. Our love for people cannot be based on the condition that they change or live up to our expectations. It’s important to express with our words and actions that we love them not because of who they can become, or what they can do for us, but because they’re family.
People belong before they behave. Folks struggling with a certain area of their lives know it’s wrong but feel powerless to change. They feel they don’t belong due to their failures.
Sin and shame separate people from the very ingredients they need for their breakthrough – love, acceptance, and community. It behooves us as believers to consider if our attitude or responses contributed to their feeling unwelcome.
Family relationships are often complex and challenging. While these tips may not guarantee an immediate change, as we continually choose courage and connection, push through the awkwardness, shame and fear, relational conflicts will lose its grip on our families.
God wants our relationships to thrive, not just survive. He’ll equip you with everything to bring connection and restoration in your family. I pray the Lord will give you wisdom and insight to break down relational walls with your loved ones this Christmas and new year.
Here’s a blessed Christmas to you and your family!