My mother -in-law has arrived for this holiday season. My defenses are up and she hasn’t even done anything yet. However, you and I know, it’s only a matter of time before she’s muscling her way into my kitchen, wincing at my onion chopping technique and shuddering as I make gravy from a packet. I wonder how long it will be before she arranges my pantry. I am writing this article on my laptop in the hall closet.
As Christmas approaches each year, I begin hearing clients’ tales of past disappointing holidays and resulting resentments and fears about the upcoming family gathering. Most of the themes involve poor relationships, differing values or inappropriate behaviors. “I hate my mother-in-law.” “Uncle Bob will be drunk and embarrass everyone.” “My nephew will spend the whole day staring at his iphone.” “This is the first Christmas since Grandma died and everyone will be miserable.” “I hope the police aren’t called to the neighborhood this year.”
Christmastime can be stressful or relaxing, depending on the choices you make and the attitudes you adopt. Remember that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth and a reminder of his teachings.
Here are 10 old teachings you could embrace over the holiday season.
1. CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES. Hebrews 12: 14-15 “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy: without holiness no one will see the Lord”.
- Weigh up what it would cost you to agree that, yes, of course the bacon should be placed that way on the ham, rather than your way.
- You may flatter your family member by saying: “What a great idea, I hadn’t thought of that.”
- You should not be a pushover- nor is it worth fighting about which way the onions should be chopped.
2. PLAN AHEAD. Proverbs 6:6, “ Go to the ant, consider its ways and be wise, it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”
- The key to cordial relations is to plan the big day. If you are entertaining, make sure there’s structure by factoring in games that will appeal across all age groups. A walk may sound old fashioned, but it’s a great refresher when everyone has been sitting in close proximity, watching yet another re-run of “The Christmas Story.”
- Think ahead about potential problems and politely lay out healthy boundaries so relatives know what to expect of you and each other. You might decide to book a hotel room, state how long you will be staying with family, or choose what activities you might like to participate in. Before Grandpa Joe lights up, you might consider saying in a joyful voice, “Please no smoking in the house this year.”
3. DON’T HIT THE BOTTLE. Ephesians 5:18 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
- There is something about family’s arrival that has us madly rummaging for the corkscrew. Yet if relationships are already strained, alcohol can exacerbate tensions. In some homes alcohol is a part of Christmas, but balance it with plenty of water and food. Coffee is another substance that can make an edgy person more edgy.
- Remember quality is better than quantity when it comes to a drink at Christmas.
4. DON’T TAKE THINGS TOO PERSONALLY. Proverbs 19:11 “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.”
- If your Aunt Beverly gets you a size XXL night gown or your Cousin Mark wraps up a book on parenting, try not to read in hidden messages. They are simply gifts, and quite possibly ones they just happened to have in their gift closet anyway.
- Just say thank you and move on. Dwelling on potential insults from family will surely ruin your holiday.
5. AVOID CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS. Proverbs 20:19 “A gossip betrays a confidence, so avoid a man who talks too much.”
- Be very careful about stating your opinions to family members or giving advice. If you know that little Ray has just gotten out of jail, don’t bring this up during your holiday meal.
- Some family members love to start trouble and will always land on a topic that will cause strife. If this happens, do not engage, and have a re-direction ready.
- Please be especially careful not to talk badly about others. It never leads to a good place.
6. ALWAYS PRAY BEFORE YOUR MEAL. Matthew 26:26 “ While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat, this is my body.”
- Even if all your family are not used to prayer, I suggest you say one. Perhaps have one written up beforehand so you won’t feel uncomfortable. In addition to thanking God for sending his Son to save us, the prayer can also be used to set the stage for the rest of the day. Pray for love, peace, joy, kindness, and respect to be shown between family members. They won’t know what hit ‘em.
7. BE KIND AND GRACIOUS. Psalm 112:5 “A good man deals graciously and lends: He will guide his affairs with discretion.”
- Sometimes the hardest thing to do when you feel overwhelmed and stressed is to be kind and gracious to others, especially the others whom you believe cause the stress.
- Adopt a new mantra for the holiday season. Whenever you feel yourself becoming annoyed, take a deep breath and repeat to yourself several times, “I am kind and gracious, I am kind and gracious.” Keep repeating this until your anger diminishes or you lock yourself in the closet because it’s not working and you really just need a break.
8. TAKE A BREAK. Genesis 2:1-3 “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done.”
- It is important during your holiday visits to take small breaks away from family. This might look like you stepping into the bathroom and locking the door for a 15-minute breather or you and your own family unit getting out of the crowd and doing something special.
- It is important that each day you are with your family you have at least 15 minutes away from them for rejuvenation or prayer.
9. REMEMBER THAT “ THEY” WILL NOT ALWAYS BE AROUND. Ecclesiastes 3:1 “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.”
- Once the family gathering is over, you will be able to take off that halo and laugh about the foibles. That’s when the fun really starts. Live in the moment and enjoy this season, for it will end.
- Remember, you can really do just about anything for a few days.
10. NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF THE REASON FOR THE SEASON. 1 Timothy 3:16 “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”
- What Jesus really desires from us is that we love, embrace and serve one another in His name. This is the opposite of indulgence and selfishness. Protect yourself from the tendency to think of self-pleasures by keeping at your forefront the idea that Christmastime is more than an opportunity to stretch your tolerance for others. It is also a great opportunity to love and celebrate Jesus’ life through the people in your life. There may be no one who needs the love of Jesus more than old Aunt Agnes down at the end of the table.
Have a Blessed Christmas!!!!
(Now stepping out of hall closet with a smile)