Loving Your Family During the Holidays
Most of us can relate to experiencing the pains and sorrows of family tension and drama. There is no such thing as the “perfect family,” in fact there is no relationship we have with anyone (family, friend, or spouse) that is going to be perfect this side of eternity, however, as Paul David Tripp puts it, relationships are still “a mess worth making.”
When the Lord rescued us, He called us to two things: to love Him and to love others (Matthew 22:37-40). That is the simple goal of life. However, the fall has complicated both our vertical relationship with our Redeemer and our horizontal relationships with others. For many of us, the holidays are a time where we come into close proximity with the complexities of our human relationships, and it hurts and it’s difficult and it can feel overwhelming.
PREPARED TO LOVE
When we go into these situations this holiday season, we need to be prepared–prepared to love. What does that look like? It looks like saturating our minds with truths from God’s Word. Here are eleven truths to arm yourself with as you seek to love your family this holiday:
1. Our battle is not against flesh and blood; Ephesians 6:12
It is no accident that right after the apostle Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit) provides instructions on family relationships in Ephesians 6, that he then reminds his audience that our real struggle is not against flesh and blood. There is spiritual warfare happening all around and we are told to be “strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). What we see as family quarrels are really cosmic opportunities for Satan to keep people in bondage and to keep us from doing as the Lord has commanded us. There are no off days for the follower of Christ. Just as we are called to be His salt and light in the workplace or on our campus, we are also to model Him in our own homes and with our own families.
2. People are both sinners and sufferers; Romans 3:23
All have sinned–we have sinned against God and against man. When we sit across the table from a brother, uncle, or cousin that has hurt us, we need to remember that like us, they have also at one point or another been sinned against and wronged. This does not excuse sin or the need to ask for forgiveness, but it does help us to feel compassion when we are tempted to feel none.
3. We are called to love even our enemies; Matthew 5:44-47
Often times we might feel people in our family are really our enemies and not our friends. If that is the case, then how does Scripture tell us to treat them? We are called to love even our enemies, and there is no greater testimony to the world of God’s kindness and love, then when we love those who hate us. The greatest picture of that kind of love took place on the Cross of Christ. The Word tells us that before our redemption, we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10). So your sister that is an unbeliever might really be your enemy as she might be hostile to you because you represent the things of God, however, this does not change God’s commandment and we are still called to love. From Charles Spurgeon:
"Ours it is to persist in loving, even if men persist in enmity. We are to render blessing for cursing, prayers for persecutions. Even in the cases of cruel enemies, we are to 'do good to them, and pray for them.' We are no longer enemies to any, but friends to all. We do not merely cease to hate, and then abide in a cold neutrality, but we love where hatred seemed inevitable. We bless where our old nature bids us curse, and we are active in doing good to those who deserve to receive evil from us. Where this is practically carried out, men wonder, respect, and admire the followers of Jesus."
4. We are dependent, not independent; Galatians 5:16
Having this kind of love for people is a Supernatural act, one that is only available through dependence upon God, who is the Source of unconditional love. We walk by His Spirit and not our flesh. Don't go into your family's home this season and think that you, in and of yourself, have the power to love them well and serve them. Instead, commit yourself to prayer ahead of time, asking the Lord to do and accomplish in you what you apart from Him cannot. You are His vessel, whom He has redeemed for His glory and your joy:
"My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." John 15:8-11
5. We cannot control the actions and attitudes of others; Ecclesiastes 9:1
As you seek to be the hands and feet of Christ to your family members, remember than you cannot control their actions and attitudes towards you or anyone else. What Ecclesiastes 9:1 is saying, is that we can be the best towards someone and they can still turn around and hate us, and the opposite is true as well. No doubt you've seen this play out in your own life. We cannot control people. While in some ways this truth might scare us, it is actually liberating. We don't have to live a life walking on eggshells afraid of upsetting those around us–when we live that way, we make people big and God small.
6. We can control our actions and attitudes towards others; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10
While we cannot control the people around us, we can control our own actions and heart attitudes, in fact, we are accountable to God for the way we think about and treat people. I get to choose how I think about and act towards those around me.
7. He gives us all we need for every situation; Ephesians 6:10-11
The reality is that God can command us to love and serve and show kindness toward others (even our enemies) because He has given us the ability and means to do so. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us that, "His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." When we fail to love and serve and show kindness toward others, it is not just a failure, it is a choice we have made not to do so–it is rebellion against God. When the thought comes into our minds, "God, I cannot love her, she's hurt me so much." We are really saying "God, I will not love her, my hurt is greater than Your commandment and what You have called me to is impossible."
8. We will face persecution and division; Matthew 10:34-39
We are promised persecution in this life. Christ tells His disciples that His coming brought the "sword." Even family members will have division with each other because of Christ. Your faith and devotion to the Lord might cause your family to turn on you or even cut ties with you. As we discussed earlier, our battle is not really against our flesh and blood. Warren W. Wiersbe writes,
"We will be misunderstood and persecuted even by those who are the closest to us; yet we must not allow this to affect our witness. It is important that we suffer for Jesus’ sake, and for righteousness’ sake, and not because we ourselves are difficult to live with. There is a difference between the 'offense of the cross' (Gal. 5:11) and offensive Christians...Each believer must make the decision once and for all to love Christ supremely and take up his cross and follow Christ.
While we make every effort to love our family members, we must not be surprised if persecution comes, for, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).
9. We can have peace even when there is no peace; John 16:33
We live in a world of tribulation and sometimes tribulation finds its place in our own homes. Christ brought us a different kind of peace, one unlike the world's view of peace. If this holiday season, you experience conflict and tension with your relatives, you can still rest in the steady, sure, confidence that you have peace with Your Savior and that He has overcome the world. No one can take that peace from you, even if you dwell in the midst of hostility and hatred, you can have Christ's peace in your heart. In Christ, we have it all.
10. Nothing is too difficult for God; 1 Chronicles 29:11
Our God is Infinite in everything that He is, including His power. There is nothing too hard for Him. That family member you've been praying for that seems so far from God, the Lord can bring them near. He can save and use anyone. The situation you've been dreading, He can give you the strength to endure it. "He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power" (Isaiah 40:29). Jesus tells us that with man, things are impossible, "but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Lean on His might this season.
11. We are never more like God than when we forgive; Matthew 6:14-15
Maybe you are facing a family member this holiday season that has hurt you and you've never been able to forgive them. When we refuse to forgive others, not only are we going against God's commandment, but we are opening the door for bitterness and resentment and hatred to reign in our hearts. The heart of the Gospel is forgiveness. God has reconciled us to Himself at the price of His Son. As those who have been bought with His blood, we cheapen and spit on the face of Christ when we choose hate and vengeance rather than extend mercy and forgiveness to those who have wronged us. John MacArthur describes the effects of unforgiveness:
"unforgiveness then produces bitterness... it creates distorted memories which create a distorted view of life. Anger becomes out of control. Emotions become unchecked. People entertain ideas about revenge, every conversation becomes a forum for slandering the people who have supposedly harmed you so profoundly. Every conversation becomes an opportunity for defamation, exaggeration and outright lies. On the other hand, forgiveness frees a person from both of these categories of tragedy. Forgiveness frees you to enjoy all relationships and to live with peace and tranquility in your own heart. Forgiveness is a very freeing reality."
The fact is, you and I have sinned against the Holy and Perfect Creator of the Universe and He, in His love, sent His Son to suffer for our sake on the Cross so that He could forgive us and make us His. If God can forgive, how can you not forgive?
Holocaust survivor, Corrie Ten Boom, shares a touching personal account of forgiveness in her book, The Hiding Place:
"It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture...'When we confess our sins,' I said, 'God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.' The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe...People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room. And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were! Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent. Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: 'A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!' And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. 'You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,' he was saying. 'I was a guard in there.' No, he did not remember me. 'But since that time,' he went on, 'I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein'–again the hand came out–'will you forgive me?' And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. 'If you do not forgive men their trespasses,' Jesus says, 'neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.' I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. 'Jesus, help me!' I prayed silently. 'I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.' And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. 'I forgive you, brother!' I cried. 'With all my heart!'
Begin to pray for people in your family. Be specific and ask the Lord for His grace and mercy to love them well. If you have been living in the joy-less life of unforgiveness towards someone, ask God for His heart to forgive and for restoration to take place. Remind yourself that He can do anything, and that where He has given us a command, He has also given us the means and ability to obey.