I bet you’ve seen it before. It is the iconic painting by Norman Rockwell known as I’ll Be Home for Christmas (also known as Freedom from Want and The Thanksgiving Picture). It shows a group of smiling family and friends, young and old, seated around a dinner table about to enjoy a bountiful holiday feast. This idealized image of the American family at the holidays has a special place in the American psyche. If your family holiday table looks like this, please say an extra prayer of thanks to your heavenly Father for such a wonderful blessing.
In reality, many family holiday tables don’t look much like this scene. Rather than an abundance of smiling faces, there are faces that reveal stress and sorrow. Some of the faces can’t hide anger and resentment, sometimes directed toward one or more of those gathered around that very table. Such is the reality for many at the holidays.
If this second description sounds more like your family, please know that you are not alone. Because we live in a sinful and fallen world, because people are highly imperfect, and because relationships can be complex and challenging to maintain, many individuals find the holiday gathering to be a source of anxiety and depression, not happiness and joy.
If this second depiction sounds like the scene at your last family gathering, what can you do to make the most of this and every upcoming holiday season? Let’s turn to God’s Word for guidance about how to proceed.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). How about using the holiday gathering as an opportunity to give a hug, share a smile, or hold the hand of someone who is hurting? How about taking advantage of the opportunity to pray with someone who is struggling emotionally or financially or medically or relationally? How about opening your Bible to find passages of Scripture that offer comfort and encouragement? Prayerfully ask God to show you how he might use you to be a blessing to someone in need of his comfort.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Perhaps this holiday is an opportunity to extend an olive branch of forgiveness—to begin a process of healing a relationship that has been damaged by past hurtful words or actions. Maybe this starts with a compliment to a relative with whom the relationship has been strained. Maybe this starts with a friendly comment about the weather, a favorite sports team, a cherished memory. Maybe it begins with a sincere question about what is new in their lives. Maybe this leads to a conversation in which forgiveness is requested and forgiveness is offered.
You might be thinking, “That sure sounds good for other people or other families, but if you knew the dysfunction in my family, you might have very different advice”—like advice about setting limits and boundaries to keep people safe emotionally, physically, and even sexually. If there is a history of abuse or neglect, alcoholism or drug addiction, abandonment or infidelity, then setting healthy limits and boundaries is likely very important and even necessary. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). If such issues are a concern for your family, perhaps it would be wise to consult with a Christian mental health professional about how to go about this process in a God-pleasing way.
I pray that you and your family have a blessed and peace-filled holiday season!
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