Colossians 3:13 “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”
Let’s be honest for a minute.
We all have one, or maybe a handful of family members who can make the holiday dynamics a little bit more challenging. People can tend to fall back into the habits and roles they grew up with when they visit their family home, or they have a few drinks and start saying things that a hurtful, or maybe there is unresolved conflict that resurfaces and leads to fighting that spoils the intended quality time. Things get awkward and “eggshelly” fast. The laughter and joy dwindle. Most saddening is the fact that the story of Jesus’ birth often gets overshadowed and even… forgotten.
We have probably all experienced at least one of these (or similar) scenarios. Some have brought such deep pain that they break our hearts all over again when we reflect on them.
There are certain personality traits and behaviors that can lead to negative emotions, division, and tension in the context of a family gathering. These categorizations “seem” to be deeply ingrained; we may even say to ourselves or others, “they’ll never change. That’s just the way he/she is.”
I personally cannot afford to think like this. And neither can you!
It causes us more pain and emotional sickness to put people into these boxes and to interact with them based on the fear we feel when we interact with them. We MUST realize that they (we) are only acting this way because of some hurt or trauma in their (our) lives. God has given us a renewed perspective or lens through which to look at people, even our frustrating family members. When asked why Jesus’ speaks in parables, he says, “Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear” (Matthew 13:16). He has offered us the ability to view the brokenness and darkness around us from His victorious viewpoint! We need not be offended by or sucked into the pain and drama that our family members are dealing with; we get to challenge ourselves to be present, to listen, to create boundaries, to maintain awareness of our identity in Christ, and above all to “be Love” to that individual. One of the best goals of Love is to reveal/call out/expose the value of another person. When we do this, their false defenses and negative compensating behaviors fail to have the power to negatively impact us. We are in control of ourselves in this moment and don’t allow their “stuff” to control our perspective or behavior
Can you identify some of these family members below? And/or, do you yourself fall into some of these tendencies? Here are some common descriptions of destructive behavior, followed by a statement at the end to address each of these scenarios with loving boundaries and the eyes, ears, and mind of Christ.
“The Lack of Self Awareness Uncle” who curses around your children and seems to have no filter in his interactions with others. His crude language, sarcasm, and condescending comments can lead to irritation and hurt.
“The Short-Fused Aunt” who displays anger that is disproportionate and inappropriate in response to a trigger that she may or may not be aware of. Her outbursts and yelling put others on edge and can cause them to feel uncomfortable, scared, and/or intimidated.
“The Overly-Opinionated Brother in Law” who seems to intentionally bring up controversial issues over a fancy meal with an agenda, not to listen and learn from others, but to assert his perspectives in a forceful, judgmental manner that leaves those caught in the cross hairs feeling an unfair pressure to either agree with him (in order to appease him) or risk the chance of sharing an alternative perspective (disagreeing) and be lectured or bludgeoned with rigid intensity. His behavior leads to feelings of shame and condemnation.
“The Needs-to-be-the-Center-of-Attention Sibling” who interrupts constantly during conversations, makes jokes at the wrong time, distracts from meaningful connections shared by others, brings every story back around to himself, and/or acts out if he is feeling excluded. His actions annoy, frustrate, and cause others to, ironically, want to distance themselves from him.
“The Entitled Cousin” who can’t be bothered to help with dishes or makes a rude, unappreciative remark when they received a gift that falls short of what they were expecting. They request special treatment and chronically highlight perceived slight injustices or acts of unfairness. Their unreasonable demands, lack of consideration, and ingratitude lead to feelings of anxiety, frustration, and disrespect in others.
“The Wound Collecting Parent” who holds grudges, struggles to forgive past wrongs, stockpiles injustices, and accumulates the mistakes, regrets, and injuries of either themselves and/or others. They open the arsenal of unresolved pain gone by and use this as ammunition to cause pain and hurt for those around them. Their failure to forgive and reconcile their own hurt ends up wounding others and leads to significant rifts in relationship.
A Few Thoughts
You may be asking… how to I practice “making allowances for the faults of others” while also communicating that the negative behavior being exhibited is inappropriate, unwelcome, and needs to stop? Really good question. Imagine with each individual that you get a moment of private, “pulled to the side,” one on one time with them. The goal here is to make connection (rather than disconnection) and to engage in conversation that could lead to meaningful change. Here is a statement that you can tailor to your unique situation to reinforce your boundary, but also call out the value of your family member:
“I need to let you know that (insert behavior: the way you’re talking, what you’re doing, what you’re not doing, what you said) makes me feel (insert emotion here: uncomfortable, frustrated, confused, nervous, intimidated, worried, guilty). Unfortunately, it can cause me to feel like I need to distance myself from you. I don’t want that to happen. Is that something you’re aware of? (give space and opportunity to respond. Don’t be surprised or caught off guard by a defensive response. Remain calm and actively listen by giving good eye contact, showing your listening with your nonverbal behavior, and saying things like “I hear what your saying” or “I understand this might be tough to hear” or a simple validation like “I can see how you might feel that way”).
This is not who you are. I’ve seen you be (insert descriptions of behavior that are in direct opposition to the negative one they’re displaying (i.e. calm and kind, thoughtful and considerate, brave and strong)).
Remember (insert past scenario when you saw these positive descriptors being exhibited. This takes creativity sometimes as your mind is often flooded with all of the hurtful/negative memories you associate with this person. I promise you that there is at least one small, positive (or at least neutral) memory available to access.)?
I really respect you when you act more like that. It makes me want to (insert activity you would genuinely enjoy doing in the context of a family function (i.e. play games, go hiking/on walks, hang out with you, cook, watch movies, walk the dogs)) with you more often.
Are you doing okay? Is there anything you need to get off your chest? (give space and opportunity to respond. Use more active listening)
I’m going to ask that you please stop (insert aforementioned negative behaviors) or (communicate your boundary (i.e. take a break from the group until you can engage differently, we won’t be able to allow you to stay for dinner, etc)).
This is all “easier said than done” but it is super powerful and when you communicate this way, you demonstrate the importance of the relationship that you have with this person. You are essentially communicating this to them: “I am willing to bring this up and potentially have conflict with you right now because I care deeply about and love you enough to not allow this behavior to continue. I am interested in having a healthy relationship with you and seeing you become the best version of yourself.”
Many of us celebrate the birth of the one who came to forgive a multitude of sins (1 Peter 5:8) at Christmastime. God entered into the Earth as a human to sacrifice his life in order to forgive our family members, but also our faults, shortcomings, negative habits, and frustrating tendencies.
It is not okay to allow the previously described behaviors to perpetuate; it may even be considered by most to be a form of “enabling” which can cause those negative traits to strengthen, which increases the likelihood that they’ll be repeated again and again.
We have a choice in how we react and respond to others this Christmas. Let’s ask ourselves, “What does love look like right now?” (Heidi Baker) Let’s be willing to speak up in the name of Love to bring restoration to our relationships and work to redeem our family connections.
* NOTE: As with any discussion about forgiveness and repair in relationships, it is important to note I am not advocating for repair attempts or “enduring” in a relationship where perpetual physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse is present; interacting with the offender the way this article describes is likely unsafe. If you are the victim of abuse and need help, please call the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) at (800) 799-SAFE (7233).