For the past seven weeks, I’ve been leading the Just Open The Door study by Jen Schmidt (grab it if you’re looking for an amazing study! Seriously, it’s a great one!) In it, Jen explores hospitality from a biblical perspective. Not just pretty tables and perfect food, but true, Jesus-modeled hospitality. In one of the final sections though, Jen challenges readers to accept the “Uncomfortable Yes” – to extend hospitality to those in our lives who we might label as difficult. An idea that has continued to settle on my heart because we ALL have those people in our lives.
Now, I’m not sure if you realized it, but we’re now officially one week, ONE WEEK, from Thanksgiving Day. Can you even believe it? Maybe you love Thanksgiving, maybe not, but one thing we probably all have in common, is that one relative. Aunt Mabel who insists on telling everyone about how great her kids are. Grandma June who only notices everyones flaws, and loudly calls them out. Your uncle who won’t put down his “happy flask.” Maybe even be your mother who won’t stop asking when you’re going get married/get a new job/have a baby/etc. Is it any wonder then why the $49 billion distilled-spirits industry makes more that 25% of it’s profits from Thanksgiving to the New Year? Families are tough. And the holidays, make them even tougher.
Have you ever seen a old school lint brush? Not the sticky rollers, but the red felt covered kind. The one that works magic, but if you happen to brush it the wrong way, instead of marveling over your beautiful lint free pants, you find yourself staring at a pile dust and lint. I love these things for their cleaning ability (Amazon has them cheap!) but they are a great reminder of how to deal with our difficult family members.
Figuratively speaking, rub them the right way, and everything is smooth and easy. But rub them the wrong way, and they spill out all kinds of gunk.
So how do you tackle “the most wonderful time of the year” knowing you’ll have to face some of the less than wonderful people you know? It’s certainly no easy task, so here are 5 steps you can take to make your holidays with difficult people just a little bit better.
1. Pray in Advance.
I love how The Message puts it in Matthew 5:44-46,
“I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.”
Just replace “enemies” with “family” and you the point right? With a week to go, now is the time to begin praying for those relatives that just irk you. Sure we’re called to hard situation, but we’re never called to tackle them alone, so ask God to help you through it. Maybe you need to ask the Holy Spirit to give you the right words, instead of the sarcastic responses you typically shoot off. Possibly you need God to work on your own heart, to soft the calloused areas from one too many jabs. Ask for peace. Cover the situation in prayer. Not just today, but everyday leading up to the feast.
In his book The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, author Stephen Covey states:
We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour.
So now’s the time to reflect on ourselves a bit. Sure, our family may have some irritating tendencies, but rarely can we claim no part in how the relationship is now. It could be that you’ve ignored a certain relative, over and over again, creating an invisible, cold wall. Sure there’s still whispers of the time you snapped at being asked for the millionth time about your dating life. Or Aunt Jane’s less than helpful input when you’re toddler was melting down several years ago, still weighs on your mind and is reflected in your attitude towards her. Whatever it might be, take a hard look at yourself, and then own your mistakes. It’s ok. We’ve all made mistakes, but if you really want to move forward, you’ve got to recognize your own missteps first and ask God to forgive you. Then, be willing, when the time is right, to ask for forgiveness from others. It could be something as simple as saying to your step-mom, “I know I’ve been a little distance the last few family meals. I’m sorry for how that may have come across, and hope you’ll forgive me.”
I know, easier said than done, but taking the first step could cause the great thaw that changes the course of your relationship.
3. Be Realistic
So let’s be real, they might be our family, but that doesn’t mean we have to be close. You can’t change other people, you can only change your perspective and actions.
Yeah, but you don’t know my grandmother!
You’re totally right. I don’t, but God does. Whether we want to always believe it, we’re all carefully made in His image and beloved children of Christ. Yes, your cranky grandmother. Yes, your drunk uncle. Yes, your overbearing in-laws. All of them.
It’s ok to admit that you probably wont hang out with cousin Tim every week, but there’s nothing stopping you from asking him how is job (ever changing as it might be) is going. So set your boundaries. Decide in advance what your expectations are and what you don’t want. A goal of simply being present, and not quietly making snarky comments to your sister, could be a great one. Electing not to engage in the regular round of arguments might be another. If your overly-critical father begins harping on your career, commit to not fighting back but instead find a way to switch topics. Challenge yourself to spend 5 minutes with the relative you never really speak to, and spend those minutes fully engaged in getting to know them. After all is said and done, remember it’s ok that you may not still love to be in the company of some of your family. You can trust though, that in giving them your full attention for just a few minutes, by earnestly seeing them as a person, you are showing Jesus’ love. And that is powerful.
Truth time – you can do everything right, and difficult family members could still turn out to be difficult, at best. No, that doesn’t necessarily make the moments better with them. However, it is the truth we must rest upon. There’s no such thing as too much grace, and when dealing with challenging family members, grace is where we should come back to every time. After all, we need grace, so freely offer it up to others.
5. Pray Through!
I don’t know about you, but I often will send some time praying before situations, but when it comes to facing a tough moment, I take the stance of a warrior readying for battle. Yes, we need to approach the holidays armed with a plan, but we also need to remember that Jesus is with us always.
Which is why we not only should be praying before, but also through family gatherings. A silent praise when a 10 minutes conversation with your brother doesn’t automatically turn to a squabble. A cry out for patience when your 3rd cousin, twice removed, unexpected shows up to the party. A petition for grace when that rude comment was said not once, but twice. Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing” certainly fit here.
This world is a difficult place, but our job as believers is clear – love others just as Jesus loved us. So this holiday season, don’t avoid the difficult people in your life. Embrace them with love and grace, and a healthy dose of boundaries, just as Jesus would have.
 “Ten Reasons to Drink during the Holidays.” (December 2006). Forbes. Accessed November 29, 2017.