It’s been over 35 years since the traumatic Christmas Eve I wrote about below. Thank You, Father, for bringing Your peace to these strained relationships and for the assurance that my mother and stepfather are now home with You. Please bring Your peace – Your shalom – to families in conflict. Restore estranged relationships and help us to love others as You love us.
~ * ~ * ~
How fast the year has flown, I reflected as I took the photographs off the mantle to decorate it for Christmas. A charred mark on the paneling behind one of the photos instantly reminded of a Christmas when our home had been anything but peaceful.
My mother and stepfather were visiting. The relationship was strained, but we had been trying to keep the peace. On Christmas Eve the tension erupted into a bitter argument. The smell of burning wood stopped me from saying things I would have later regretted. A candle had tipped over on the mantle causing the paneling right near the thermostat to smolder. Trembling with fear of what might have been, I soaked the wall with water and later hid the damage with a photo. The damage in the relationship with my parents was not so easily hid.
Painful memories have a way of refusing to stay camouflaged. At Christmas we are forced to face the fact that all is not always “calm” and “bright” in our relationships with a brother or a sister, a parent or a child, an in-law or cousin. This season of joy can turn into one of misery as we have no choice but to spend time with people who go out of their way to avoid us the rest of the year.
When our homes are filled with conflict, what can we do to have “peace on earth, good will to men”?
1. Keep our eyes on the One whose birth we celebrate. The Gospel of John opens with the poignant words: “His life is the light that shines through the darkness–and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John l:5 TLB). The reality of that first Christmas was not just the angels’ song, but Herod’s decree that every baby boy two years old and under be slaughtered (see Matthew 2:16). The shadow of the cross was already hanging over the Holy Family as they fled to Egypt.
Jesus never promised us problem-free relationships, but He has promised to give us the wisdom to know how to love those who may be anything but lovable. Difficult relationships do not have to spoil the joy of Christmas if we follow Jesus’ example and respond with love and forgiveness.
2. Try not to put unrealistic demands on ourselves. Christmas Eve I typically am still racing to complete my “to-do” list and end up too tired to enjoy Christmas much less to cope with difficult family members. We need to learn when to make a good night’s sleep a priority so that we’re able to handle added emotional pressures.
3. Avoid having unrealistic expectations of others. It is unlikely that people who have been less than pleasant throughout the year will suddenly become nice just because it is Christmas. Yes, I believe God works miracles, but it is just as great a miracle to learn not to set ourselves up to be hurt through our unrealistic expectations.
I cannot remove that charred area of paneling without replacing the entire wall, but it can serve as a reminder that if I want peace in my family, it must begin with me. Truly, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor. 5:19 NIV). Because Christ came, we can be reconciled to one another.
The above article was first published in the December 1986 issue of Decision. It has been reprinted by Our Family, Messenger of St. Anthony, Christian Standard, Sunday Digest, Family Forum, The Gem, and ASSISTnews.net.
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