As Christmas approaches many people look forward with excitement to the possibility of getting together with family. Christmas would seem empty without mom and dad, grandpa and grandma, son or daughter, the children. For others just the thought of “together with family” is enough to create a great deal of stress. While still for others the thought of Christmas means “loneliness”.
I don’t know in what group you fit. For those of you in the first group, you are truly blessed! It is a privilege we should not take for granted.
For the second group, maybe we can begin with some ideas about what to do when you face the possibility of having or going to visit difficult family members for the holidays. You may want to start by asking yourself some questions, such as:
- What is the motivation for getting together on holidays? Do I really want to participate or do I feel pressured to participate?
- Can I/we begin new traditions?
- What is it that they say or do that is so upsetting to me?
- Is it one particular person that causes issues or is it multiple people?
- What am I doing that contributes to the problem?
- Is there anything I can change about my perception of them? If so what?
- Is it possible for me to create an atmosphere of appreciation for their visit?
How you think and perceive a situation can make a great deal of difference!
If you are the one going for a visit you might want to consider another set of questions:
- Are you just tired of writing Christmas cards, baking, shopping, taking the kids to church or school activities, and just want a break?
- Is it the people or the thought of dragging the kids, the dog, the cat, and the presents around that makes the season so stressful for you?
- Are you torn about which side of the family to visit this year?
- What would be the worst thing that could happen if you decide to stay home and just call “those other relatives” and tell them that traveling is just more than you want or can handle at the moment? You might say, that sounds easy for you to say, or they will not understand, will be disappointed, will get mad, etc. If those are the worst things that could happen, then it might be worth it for you and them to take the risk of staying home and celebrating the way you choose.
- If you feel you absolutely have to go, can you consider a hotel, so you can decide how to manage your time?
- Finally, remember you are not responsible for the happiness of others; each of us is in charge of handling our own emotions. We really don’t have the power to make others happy, angry, sad, or disappointed. We can allow them to express their feelings without having to fix them or feeling guilty about it. While you have the right to choose what to do, remember others have the right to choose their responses.
Often we take responsibility for things we cannot control, like the feelings or behaviors of other people. If you find yourself in this position the following quote from Dallas Willard in his book (pg. 21-22), “The Divine Conspiracy”, might be helpful. He writes,
“To gain a deeper understanding of our eternal kind of life in God’s present kingdom, we must be sure to understand what a kingdom is. Every last one of us has a ‘kingdom’—or a ‘queendom,’ or a ‘government’—a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens. Here is a truth that reaches into the deepest part of what it is to be a person…
Our ‘kingdom’ is simply the range of our effective will. Whatever we genuinely have the say so over is in our kingdom. And our having the say so over something is precisely what places it within our kingdom. In creating human beings God made them to rule, to reign, to have dominion in a limited sphere. Only so can they be persons.
Any being that has say over nothing at all is no person. …. Such ‘persons’ would not even be able to command their own body or their own thoughts. They would be reduced to completely passive observer who counts for nothing, who makes no difference.
The sense of having some degree of control over things is now recognized as a vital factor in both mental and physical health and can make a difference between life and death in those who are seriously ill…Obviously, having a place of rule goes to the very heart of who we are, of our integrity, strength and competence.”
Obviously we have the right and responsibility to exercise our choices in situations that are difficult for us to control but in doing so we are also responsibly to not harm others with those choices. You may want to consider how often you comply with the desires of others simply because you are afraid to hurt them, they won’t like you, or you have been taught that refusing something is unloving or disrespectful to others. It probably will be to your benefit and that of others to evaluate if you end up resenting others when you feel compelled to do what you don’t want to. In 2 Cor. 9:7 we are told, “…God loves a cheerful giver.” While we often consider this Scripture as referring to the giving of money, it would be helpful to include in this the giving of ourselves (our time). It is a terrible thing to be the recipient of something given grudgingly.
If you are in the last group where Christmas means “loneliness” you may be facing another set of problems, probably wishing to be in the shoes of the above two groups. If you’re lonely you might have to handle the situation quite differently. First of all, let me say that loneliness is a terrible thing. It is one thing to be alone because you want to, it is quite another to feel and be lonely. Loneliness is that sense that you are all alone in a world full of people and no one cares about you. Most often than not, while there may be some truth about “I’m alone,” it may not be true that no one cares. In some cases loneliness is something we help to create by withdrawing from people. Consider the following:
- Loneliness may be caused by depression and in such cases some people withdraw from activity they used to enjoy or from people. Somehow they may view the situation as something that is done to them rather than as something we help to create.
- When we are lonely and depressed the holidays seem to exacerbate the sadness. If that is your situation reach out, call a friend, a neighbor, a church, consider seeing a doctor, but talk to someone. Silence in such situations can be deadly.
- When the feelings of depression and loneliness seem to overwhelm you as though you are going through a dark valley remember the following:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.