Ah, Thanksgiving: the season of warm homes and hearts, as loved ones gather in Rockwellian delight at God's bountiful provision...(at least the commercials show it that way.) If, in your family, the scent of pumpkin pie can't mask the odor of jealousy, or "turkey" somehow segues into a political debate, you're not alone.. For many, holiday drama causes more heartburn than Aunt June's spiced Turducken.
And why wouldn't it? For some families, it's a no-fail recipe for conflict. Start with one bunch of people who have little in common beyond blood or legal ties. Grind in conflicting personalities. Add decades of old scars and unhealthy dynamics. Mix in younger dates to replace ex-family members. Toss in a heaping spoonful of guilt, and season liberally with bitterness. Churn thoroughly, encase in immovable traditions, then cook over heightened expectations of a "perfect" holiday.
If you're a believer obligated to attend one of these feasts of dysfunction, what can you do?
1. Remember who you are, not just who you were.
Holidays are prime times for rehashing old fights, pushing buttons, drudging up the past. Yes, they may have been with you from the time you were born, but you've been reborn. You are a new creation, and you're identity is now in Christ.
It's tempting to spend the next few days steeling yourself for the fight. Self-preservation instincts urge you to put up your emotional walls, inventory all the slights and character flaws, and predict who will say what and what you'll say back. Instead of dreading what you'll be drawn into, mull over what Scripture calls us to do and to be.
We are ambassadors of reconcilation (2 Cor 5:20) who are peacemakers (Mt 5:9) and who use pleasant words (Prov 16:24). We are to love one another, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Pt 4:8). We are to forgive, as Christ has forgiven us (Col 3:13).
Be the missing salt in your family recipe. Resolve to be a missionary of God's grace, peace and love at your Thanksgiving gathering. If you're married or have kids, agree to be (and help each other be) who you are in Christ, beyond who you are within your extended family.
2. Resign from the morality police.
If you believe in Jesus, are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, read your Bible, live in Christian community, and pursue God's will, you probably stand out a bit among non-believers and cultural Christians. Good--you're supposed to. God has given you some supernatural wisdom and you've made choices based on your faith. You know the consequences of sin, and may have clarity that comes from the renewing of your mind. Wonderful! That's as it should be.
However, holidays are not your time to correct all the family members who aren't living as they should. Right now, some of you are thinking, "But you don't understand! I'm right--it's biblical." Uh huh, I know. I might even agree with your assessment of their sin. It's still not time to correct them.
Let's break it down:
If they aren't believers, they don't have the Holy Spirit. If they don't have the Holy Spirit, we can't expect them to live like they do, so the judgmental looks and comments aren't effective. There's a bigger issue than behavior, though: You may be one of the few representatives of Christ they have. If what they see is a judgmental frown and an unloving spirit, they'll transfer those images to the One you say you follow. Is that really the picture of Christ you want to portray? Is that really the method of evangelism you want to use?
If they are believers, it may be appropriate to confront them on their sin. The Bible explains how to do this, and it doesn't include an angry ambuse around the holiday table. Galatians 6:1-2 (among other places) reminds us the attitude and purpose of bringing the sin to light: it is to be done with gentleness for the purpose of restoration.
The biggest problem for the morality police isn't "that sinner", it's "this sinner". All our anger, pride, and self-righteousness pent up for decades rears its ugly head when we judge our family. It's not the right time, place, or method, and you might not be the right person to do it.
Of course, as a parent, you have an obligation to shield your kids from certain behaviors. If you're the host, you get to decide who is invited and who isn't. If you're at someone else's house, set up all the kids (your own kids aren't the only ones who don't need to see or hear certain things) in another room to watch a movie or play video games. Even better, bring a thankgsiving activity or take them into the backyard to play ball. As a last resort, you can always leave, but do so graciously. FInally, if your kids experience something you wish they hadn't, use it as a teachable moment, training your little disciple's discernment and teaching them to pray for others.
Let go of perfectionism. Don't put pressure on yourself or others to produce the picture-perfect holiday (If you want a beautiful, traditional dinner, feel free to have one of your own on a different day). Whether you're the host or a guest, let go of expectations and requirements. Enjoy what you can from the day. Connect with an in-law you don't usually sit down with. Get the recipe for that great dessert. Retell the good family stories. Your family isn't perfect, but it's not completely bad either. Letting go of expectations makes it easier to see the good that exists.
Finally, remember what the day's about. It's not about a beautiful table setting or wonderful food. It's not about the harvest or blessings themselves. It's not even primarily about family and friends. Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude for God's provision and protection.
Start your own God-honoring traditions of thankfulness. Whether it's in the midst of the familial craziness, at a soup kitchen, or at home after the festivities are all over, thank God for all he has given you including each ingredient of your strange, infuriating, God-given family recipe.