Holidays seem to bring with them expectations, laughter, disappointments, lots of questions and discussions, feelings of still being a child, and memories of what was and, perhaps, longings for what never was. As we look to visiting family, we may experience a mixture of responses in our souls-some good, some bad, some appropriate, and some inappropriate.
There are four common, but treacherous traps that we can fall into as we deal with the possible ambivalence rooted in our hearts associated with heading home for the holidays. First, we can be lulled into complacency. It is way too easy to take life for granted. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have next year, even next month, to pursue relationships with family (cf. Jas. 4:13-17). Accidents happen. The occurrence of disease and death are unpredictable. Second, we can get caught up in the “blame game.” The bifocals of blame and bitterness can blind us all, especially when it involves family. The perspective that our parents are to blame for all of our life’s struggles can bring about relational paralysis and opportunities to love are missed. Third, we can get stuck in the pit of unforgiveness. Hurts leads to hardened hearts. We can convince ourselves that we can never forgive. Interestingly, encounters with family members on their death-bed often lead to long overdue forgiveness, reconciliation, and changed hearts. Fourth, we can be absorbed by self-focus. Too often, we can focus on the themes of “What can they do for me?” or “Look what they did to me!” or “This is what they haven’t done for me!!” It is way easy to forget that relationships are a two-way street. Don’t let your complacency, hurt, unforgiveness, insecurities, or self-centeredness keep you from moving towards your parents with Christ-like love and forgiveness (cf. Eph. 4:31-5:2).
If you are dreading or avoiding being with your family this upcoming holiday season, take a few moments to ask yourself the following questions: Are you setting yourself up for a life of regret? “I thought I had more time . . .” or “If I only I could have told them that I love them.” Are there opportunities for you to shift from a posture of blaming to one of focusing on how you have wronged your parents, especially through your disrespect and tendency to receive and not give? Remember that God uses the messiness of relationships and circumstances to reveal our sinful hearts and to compel us to cling to the cross of Christ for His forgiving and sanctifying love. Are you too hurt or too hardened to forgive a family member? Just as we have been forgiven and reconciled with God the Father through Jesus Christ, so too must we forgive and be reconciled to others. Remember the riveting words of Christ, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt 6:14-15). Are your thoughts more about your own agenda, rather than how you might obey, honor, and respect your parents (cf. Eph. 6:1-3) and love them like you love yourself (Matt. 22:39)?
God desires for each of us to move towards our parents with the love of Christ-to be Christ to them as Christ gave Himself for those of us who are His children. We are prone to forget that Christ-like love involves giving ourselves to others, regardless of the cost, so that they will come to see and experience the love of Christ (cf. Rom. 5:8). We are all called to pursue peace as far as each of us are concerned (Rom. 12:14-21) and to be ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-21). Remember, the gospel is powerful to transform not only you, but also your relationships, including your family relationships. Remember you are no longer a child, but a child who has grown to be a man or woman of God.
I have had the privilege of seeing how God uses gospel-driven adult children as instruments of redemption to bring about God-glorifying changes in the hearts and lives of their parents. The beauty of God’s redeeming love is that both parent and child will experience the Lord’s blessings when the faith of a son or daughter works through love (cf. Gal. 5:6). So, step out in faith in your Savior, Jesus Christ, know that you will be enabled by the power of His Holy Spirit, and take time to be with your family during the holiday season. Sit with them, laugh with them, learn about and from them, bless them, and love them such that God will be glorified and you will experience the redeeming grace of God.