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    Christmas in Conflict

    How to survive difficult family relationships during the holidays. December 20, 2019 by Darryn Oldford
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    Christmas is coming, and that means time with family. I am blessed to be part of a group of people who look forward to seeing as much of our immediate and extended family as possible. I recognize through talking to friends, however, that not everyone can say the same.

    For many families, there will be someone sitting at the table who is acting more like a turkey than the one on a platter. All of us have someone in our lives who can get on our nerves, but the problem is amplified when it’s a family member and they are difficult to avoid. It could be a sister who criticizes every area of your life or a brother who always speaks in an argumentative tone. Sometimes the relationship can be acrimonious in both directions and sometimes a person is just exhausting to be around.

    If you feel alone in not looking forward to family get-togethers over the holidays, remember that the Bible is filled with more family feuds than daytime television. Some examples include Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, David and his father-in-law, Saul, and, most notably, in my opinion, Job and his wife. It is telling that when the devil was torturing Job, he couldn’t think of a worse punishment than keeping Job’s wife alive and letting her continue to hound him. This is echoed in Proverbs 21:9: “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” Some of these examples are more extreme than others, but the truth remains the same: family drama is as old as the Bible itself.

    Scripture tells us to “show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17). Families should be respected even more, but how this respect is put into practice can vary. For me, respect means helping out whenever I can and listening to their advice. For others, it may mean sending a birthday or Christmas card once a year. And for others still, it may mean silence, recognizing that reaching out would only cause a fight.

    I am not a family counsellor and suggest seeking help for serious issues. What I can offer is insight based on countless conversations I have had with friends who have difficult family relationships, but still want to get together over the holidays.

    1. Don’t curse them. As Christians, we are held to a higher standard than the world and should not exchange evil words with one another. This is doubly true when it comes to your family. If all else fails, fall back on your kindergarten education and remember that “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Repaying hatred with hatred just makes everyone angry and upset.

    2. In gentle humility, do your best to prevent yourself from being attacked. If you do find yourself on the defensive around family, it’s acceptable to disengage. Don’t let yourself be the scapegoat. Often, the most loving thing you can do when someone is being combative is to simply walk away.

    3. Draw healthy boundaries. Even the most well-meaning relatives can push your buttons the wrong way. It’s best to figure out how much contact you are both comfortable with, and then make those boundaries clear. This may also mean limiting your visit to an hour or two.

    4. Remember that you are an imagebearer of the divine, of infinite worth and value. God loves you and wants you to take care of yourself. Regardless of our relationships with our earthly families, we have a heavenly Father who loves us and wants what is best for us.

    For those trying to keep their head down and get through the holidays without arguing across the dining room table, I am praying for you. Proverbs 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” Seeking out counselling, whether religious or secular, is vital to help deal with present or past pain and learn better communication skills. But for the time being, I wish you a Merry Christmas and, when necessary, silent nights.

    Darryn Oldford is a senior soldier in Toronto.

    Photo: AntonioGuillem/iStock via Getty Images


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