Summary: In order to model Jesus and bring healing to family relationships, you must practice: 1. Humility 2. Forgiveness 3. Being an agent of reconciliation
The holidays are fast approaching, and it is a time for families to come together. For many, this will be a wonderful time of shared love and fellowship where people can get caught up on the latest of what is happening in each other’s lives. It will be a good time of support and caring. But for others it will not be a pleasant time. Already some of you are feeling your stomach beginning to churn at the thought of being with family over the holidays. You may have some really annoying and irritating relatives. There is potential for conflict, and there may even be some there who are just looking for trouble. It is encouraging that the Bible reports that even Jesus had trouble with family relationships. The Bible tells us that for a long time his own brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5). As we read in the Scripture today, there was one point where they said he was out of his mind. So if your family thinks you are nuts and doesn’t have faith in you, rest in the fact that you are in good company.
Human relationships are the best part of life. They are also the most difficult part of life. They can be so rich and rewarding, and they can cut you to the bone and be a source of agony. In my own family there was always someone who was stirring up conflict. My childhood memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas with our extended family are all good, but mainly because I was too young to understand a lot of what was going on. Some people in the family would not show up to special occasions because certain other people were going to be there. My mother would try to make peace by having two different celebrations — one for those who could not get along with group A, and another for those who did not like group B. I naively thought that when these older troublemakers died off that peace would come to the family, but guess what, the people in the next generation picked right up where the older generation left off. We are going home to Indianapolis for Thanksgiving, and already the seeds for conflict are being planted, or I should say being planted, watered and cultivated.
I have been talking with people this week about their families and the holidays, and I have been amazed at how many people have real problems in their extended families. Some of us are going home to minefields where our patience and Christian experience are going to be tested. As I have listened to people describe their extended families, some of the things I heard are that certain families have a pecking order — there is a fierce sense of competition and rivalry among them — who has the best job, biggest house, brightest kids. Some of those I spoke with deal with a lot of unnecessary criticism and sarcasm from family members. (My own extended family thrived on sarcasm.) To be in some families you have to endure a lot of negative talk and pessimism. You hear little else but how terrible people are and how terrible life is. Some families just bristle with tension. It seems like there is always someone who is just waiting to pick a fight. They thrive on drama and conflict. Then the rest of the family feels forced to choose up sides. There are those are super-sensitive and always seem to get their feelings hurt — they control the family by making everyone walk on egg shells. Other families carry a lot of baggage from the past. There are grudges and bitterness from things that have gone on before. Certain family members are always wanting to get even. Perhaps you can see your family somewhere in there. Maybe the things you deal with in your family would make Desperate Housewives look like Little House on the Prairie.
Unfortunately, sometimes it is our Christian faith that divides us from other people in the family. And it is not that we are judging people or feeling superior to them, it is the nature of what happens when some are following Christ and others are antagonistic toward him and suspicious of anyone who claims to be a Christian. Remember that Jesus said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53). Sometimes there is hostility toward us because there is hostility toward the One we follow. But, regardless, we are to try to do everything possible to bring peace.