Happy November, yall! The holidays are approaching! And, for many of us, that means more than trimming the turkey or tossing tinsel; it means painful reminders and interactions. To cope, we may adopt one of the following strategies:
Pre-game: scramble to get everyone dressed and everything packed
1st quarter: brunch at grandma’s and the annual forced-feeding of that iffy congealed salad. Somebody throw a flag on that!
2nd quarter: lunch at Aunt Lorraine’s and another of Uncle Jim’s political gabfests
Halftime: strapping everyone back into the car, managing a toddler meltdown, and finding an operable gas station
3rd quarter: coffee at dad’s and the ever-awkward reminders that he and mom are still not on speaking terms
4th quarter: mom's for more food, monotonous chatter, and toddler meltdowns
Post-game: crash on the couch for nine glorious seconds. Breathe. Until it hits you…six more weeks! Six weeks of list making, shopping, gifting, cooking, cleaning, comparing, people-pleasing, guilt feeling, Pinterest pinning, Insta-gramming.
What if you just called timeout?
You took on the role in childhood and swooping in to rescue became your specialty. As all good Heroes do, you pacified both offenders and offended. Years passed, but the plot never changed. Dysfunction. Unreconciled relationships. Blatant sin. Selfishness. The interactions are still dramatic, even tragic, but reverting back to this script no longer salvages things. The costume no longer fits. What if you just stopped the act?
Holidays have a certain way of billboarding things, don’t they? They advertise the life we do not have: a happy marriage, marriage at all, a thriving career, any career, financial stability, any stability at all. And, the thought of having to explain any of that with family members you see once a year is overwhelming. So, if you decide to join the gathering, it’s a brief pit stop, a dispensing of your obligatory duties and then speeding right on through. But, somewhere on the road between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, that caution light flashes on the underlying pain. What if you just pumped the brakes?
One reason the holidays are so challenging is because our expectation for safe and meaningful relationships is unmet. Again. Our longing for love and acceptance remains unsatisfied. Still. We feel rejected. At some point along the way home the familiar thoughts and feelings return: “you’re too much,” “you’re not enough,” “you and you alone are unlovable.”
But, what if the family member is not saying you’re unlovable or unwanted or insufficient? Maybe they’re simply saying,
“You’re asking for something I cannot give. You’re asking for something that scares me to death. And, in order to survive – emotionally, socially – I need distance.”*
Their coping mechanism – whether it’s withdrawal or lashing out – is not an outright rejection of you. It’s self-preservation. And, your sadness over that is actually a personal invitation from the Lord to come home and discover unconditional love. My prayer for each of us, dear ones, is to live at home in that love. Amen.
“I cry to you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’” [Psalm 142.5]Henri Nouwen
* Adapted from Henri Nouwen, "The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom" (DoubleDay: New York, 1998), 13.