Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Practicing Love in the Midst of Family Disagreements This Holiday Season

 By: Rebekah Hargraves

Photo Courtesy Of: krakenimages

"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God."

~James 1:19-20

Sadly, what should be a most joyous, special, and festive time of the year is, for many, the most dreaded. Yep, I’m talking about the holiday season – that time of the year when we know we will be getting together with family members with whom we disagree on a whole host of topics ranging from politics to religion. And, rather than purposing to be the grown ups we claim to be, many of us allow said disagreements to erupt into all-out family drama and personal attacks this time of year.

Believe it or not, there is a better way. But it will depend on you – not them! – choosing to change your own behavior and be responsible for how you behave and speak.

With that in mind, here are 7 important reminders for us as believers as we seek to walk by the Spirit this holiday season and truly love our families as God has called us.

1. Assume the Biblical Position

We are, as ambassadors of Christ, called in James 1 to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

What we have to understand is that, in an effort to get someone in our extended family to see things the way we do, we are shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot every time we turn a disagreement or difference of opinion into a personal attack. Doing so will never inspire the other person to see things from our point of view; it will only ever push them further away.

If you want to be a breath of fresh air this holiday season, if you want to truly walk by the Spirit when dealing with extended family members with whom you disagree, you are going to have to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry.

2. Assume the best about the other person.

There are few things more aggravating and hurtful than someone having an issue with you and your beliefs, but never coming directly to you to talk them through, but instead assuming the worst of you and spreading it to others. I have had that happen to me personally. Don’t be that person.

If you want to truly be a peacemaker this holiday season, you must assume the best of your extended family. That is not to say that you have to agree with or approve of everything they do. It simply means that you refrain from assuming the worst of them; it means you refrain from viewing them as monsters out to destroy the world through their “false” worldview.

The interesting reality is that when we stop assuming the worst about those with whom we disagree and instead sit down with them to hear them out, what we often end up discovering is that they have very legitimate, well-thought-out, good reasons for believing what they do. You may still think them wrong, but you will at least be less likely to assume that they are awful, wicked people for believing what they believe.

3. Speak with love.

No one wants to be hollered at. No one wants a disagreement to be turned into a personal attack. And no one wants truth thrown at them in a less-than-Christlike way. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we are to “speak the truth in love”.

I have heard people say that the most loving thing you can do is speak truth. I understand what they mean by that, but it is not enough to simply speak the truth. That proclamation of truth must also still be issued in a clearly loving, humble way. If the person you are sharing truth with does not tangibly feel your love, you’re sharing it in the wrong way.  Snark and sarcasm are not fruits of the Spirit.

4. Focus on what does unify you.

Don’t intentionally look for or cause trouble during your family get-togethers this holiday season. Instead purpose to be the peacemaker. Paul wrote in Romans 12:18 that, as believers, we should “if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” All men – not just those with whom you agree. It is easy to live peaceably with conservative Christians if you are a conservative Christian. But, as believers, we are called to a higher standard than that. If you are a conservative, pro-life, heterosexual Christian, what you are being called to is a way of living peaceably with your family member who is a liberal, pro-choice, homosexual atheist.

This doesn’t mean you have to change your views or never speak truth in their presence. What it does mean is that you don’t intentionally start trouble, issue forth personal attacks, or do everything you can to prevent peace between the two of you. Seek to live peaceably with all – including your extended family this holiday season! Rally around what does unify you – your family heritage, your favorite Christmas tradition, your least favorite Thanksgiving dish, and let the Lord take care of the rest.

5. Understand what the holiday is and is not for.

Though we often seem to forget this, the holiday season is not meant to serve as an opportunity for us to hash out all our differences with our family members. It is a time to be thankful, to meditate on our blessings and on the goodness of the God Who provided them, to remember His incarnation and its implications for our lives, to seek peace and joy and pursue both.

Keep that in mind, and it will be easier for you to live lovingly alongside your extended family this holiday season.

6. Understand that it is humility, love, and kindness that changes hearts and inspires repentance – not your beating someone over the head with truth.

If you shun a family member this holiday season or if you berate them with truth when you are in their presence, remember what we learned from James 1:20 – you will not be producing the desired righteousness of God in their lives by doing so. You will be pushing them further away. Paul makes this clear in Romans 2:4 – “Or do you despise the riches of his kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

Did you catch that? It is God’s kindness and patience towards us that leads us to repentance – not His acting as a vindictive judge beating us over the head with our sin. No one will ever be inspired to become a Christian or to grow in their Christlikeness by us shunning them, judging them, or acting as if we are better than them. But our love, our kindness, our patience, our humility? Those characteristics can absolutely have a huge impact on others and draw them to Christ like nothing else will.

The same can be said for Jesus’ life and ministry as a servant while on this earth. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” His reputation as a servant, as one who was willing to eat with tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, and sinners of all kinds, is what led to those very same sinners desiring to follow after Him. They felt His love in a tangible way, and their lives were forever changed as a result. May we seek to emulate Him this holiday season!

7. Seek to understand where the other person is coming from, and be teachable.

We touched on this briefly above, but it bears repeating here. If you want to be a God-honoring peacemaker and ambassador of Christ this holiday season, then you will spend more time sitting down with your loved ones and seeking to understand where they are coming from than you will assuming the worst and beating them down with your argument (or your cold shoulder!). Be teachable, be humble, be loving, and your influence for Christ will go far. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change your beliefs or your worldview. But it does mean you may have to change how you present it and how you live in light of it.

Holidays and family drama do not let us off the hook – we are still called to live as Christ did, to love, to serve, and to live peaceably even when we really don’t want to. One quick note I would say here as a caveat: we are not talking here about dealing with dangerous, destructive, abusive, unhealthy people. With folks like that, you may need to erect some boundaries and it may be best not to spend the holidays with them at all. But, even then, they need to feel your love even as you do erect those boundaries.

I wish you the best this holiday season, my friends! I know it’s hard to attend family events when we know the potential for drama is there and there big-time. But we are not alone, we are not helpless, and we are not purposeless. We have a calling from God to love others. May we do just that this holiday season!

Reflection Questions:

1) How are you feeling as we approach the holidays? Are you at peace or are you fearing potential drama coming around the corner?

2) How can you purpose right here and right now to be the peacemaker this holiday season?

3) What is the Lord saying to you as you read these words and contemplate the season ahead?

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