When you think of the upcoming holidays, what words come to mind? Unfortunately for many of us, it’s likely words like stress, exhaustion, overspending, and family tension. But my prayer for this year is that we can get through Thanksgiving and Christmas with one word on our hearts—peace.
Scripture talks about peace often. First, we are to have peace with God through Christ and the forgiveness of our sins. Then we are to be at peace with others through our unity in Him. Paul wrote, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body” (Col. 3:5). The peace of Christ in us leads to spreading the peace of Christ through us. And what did Christ say that peace would look like? He knew we wouldn’t always have peace on earth because of the control sin has over so many. He said in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Because He overcame the friction, distrust, and disunity in the world, He is our example to do the same.
So as we move into the holiday season, let’s talk about what it will look like to have peace in our homes with our immediate family and our extended family. Every family is unique, but I’ve been praying specifically for God to encourage you through what He has taught me. Let’s jump in together with willing hearts.
For all of us there can be family tension. For some of us there can be family trauma.
If you have experienced trauma in your family, you may have to be a peacemaker in a more dramatic way than other families do. We are all called to forgiveness, but that forgiveness does not require you to continue to put yourself and your children in a dangerous situation.
In Gary Thomas’s book, When to Walk Away, (affiliate link) he addresses situations with truly toxic people. He says, “If you employ ‘normal’ methods of resolving conflict with a toxic person, they won’t work. Toxic people don’t respond to empathy, and they’re not afraid of shame. They have different motivations and different fears than ‘average’ people.” His advice is to “Admit the hurt—‘I really wish life wasn’t the way’—and then devote all your energy to making your current family life as healthy as it can be as you invest in reliable people and healthy relationships.” To move away from toxic people, especially those in your family, you may need to put up new boundaries.
All families need boundaries
The book Boundaries (affiliate link) by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend has lots of helpful, specific advice for those us who need to create better boundaries (which, I’m pretty sure is all of us). They remind us that we are not responsible for the actions of others. We can only control ourselves and our reactions. Family members may try to control you with guilt or anger, but healthy boundaries can protect you from both.
If you make a decision for your family that you believe is best, you may have to prepare yourself for that decision to be met with resistance (guilt or anger). For example, if you can’t make it to the big family dinner this year because it’s not what’s best for your child, your mom may respond with anger or by trying to make you feel guilty. But neither of these reactions are your responsibility—they are hers. Your responsibility is to do what’s best for your family. Drs. Cloud and Townsend write, “empathize with the distress people are feeling, but make it clear that it is their distress.” That may sound like this, “Mom, I know you are disappointed in our decision not to come to the big family dinner. But we have to do what’s best for our family. We are excited to see you on Christmas day when you come to our house to open gifts.” You are recognizing your mom’s pain, but not making it your own. And you are reminding her of what she has to look forward to.
Addressing tension when you’re all together
Your family may be the type that tries to ignore tension, hoping it will just go away. Or at least hoping family members will wait until they get home to get really mad. And honestly, this may work best in some situations. I have a niece and a nephew who were both born the same year as my son James (who has level 3 autism). When I’m around them, I sometimes resent the things they can do that James cannot. And I can be jealous of my sister and sister-in-law who don’t have to keep an eye on their twelve year old kids every minute we’re together. They aren’t still bathing them or holding their hands in parking lots. I know that’s my own issue to work on and isn’t one that needs to be addressed over dessert. It’s better to share my feelings with my husband later in the evening, when we can look at the root of my feelings and ask for God’s grace. If you also experience a family situation that can’t be changed by addressing it, finding a way to cope with it yourself may be the best plan. Remember, you can’t control others’ actions, but you can control your actions and reactions. Bearing with one another can help keep the peace (remembering that your family members are also bearing with you).
But sometimes we do need to do the hard work of peacemaking and not just peace keeping. I am the middle child of a middle child. We like things to be peaceful. But sometimes making peace means working through hard stuff. In the Beatitudes listed in Matthew, Jesus preached, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (5:9). Peacemakers are different from peacekeepers. Peacekeepers don’t speak up or speak out. They keep the status quo, worrying that change will disrupt the sense of peace that may be felt by the majority. But peacemakers do the work it takes to create and maintain actual peace for everyone. I remember the first time I had to decide between being a peacekeeper and a peacemaker. I was on the playground and heard friends making fun of people with disabilities, even using the r word. Would I keep the peace and stay quiet? Or would I make peace by speaking up in defense of my sister and others like her? I spoke up. And even though it was uncomfortable in the moment, I was more at peace with myself and the decision I made.
If there is a situation in your family that is causing tension for multiple people, especially your children, you may need to take steps to address it and bring peace. If the cousins are teasing your daughter or leaving her out, that’s worth addressing with their parents. If your in-laws are ignoring your son’s food allergies or restrictions and putting his health at risk, that’s worth addressing. If you decide a situations is worth addressing, first pray then talk to your husband about how to address it together (if possible). Feeling supported will help you go into the conversation with peace, and hopefully that peace will be felt by every family member who needs to be involved. If the tension remains even after being addressed, it may be time to heed this advice from Gary Thomas:
“I get that you want to have a positive relationship with your parents—who doesn’t?—but for some people, sadly, the spiritual condition of their parents makes is impossible, leaving one of two choices: keep spending time and emotional energy trying to salvage a dysfunctional family that doesn’t think it’s dysfunctional and will never change, or invest your time, energy, and care into your new family; grow it deep; cement it in love; and receive God’s new creation as a second chance to have the family you’ve always wanted.”
How you can maintain peace for your immediate family
No matter how busy the season gets, you can take steps to maintain peace in your home for your husband and children. Here are a few quick tips to focus on them and their needs:
- know their love languages and use them to show love (use Sharing Love Abundantly in Special Needs Families: The 5 Love Languages® for Parents Raising Children with Disabilities (affiliate link) as a guide)
- do something to bless each one of them each day
- lay down your own expectations and serve with generosity
- plan ahead as much as possible to decrease stress and surprises
- clearly communicate as a couple and with your children
I’m praying for you and your family as we move into the holiday season. I know God will give you the wisdom you need on how to deal with family situations that may bring tension. He brings peace to our lives and to our families as we learn from Scripture and receive help from the Holy Spirit.