There’s nothing like a family gathering to raise the blood pressure. If your family is anything like mine, you’ve probably experienced your share of holiday drama (but that’s why we love our families, right?). Things are said and done—often not out of malice, but ignorance—but we can only take so much before the pressure becomes so great that we finally burst. When this happens, it’s not pretty.
The typical aggressive and passive aggressive ways of dealing with our frustrations (screaming matches and gossiping with others) are poor surrogates for true relief and only add fuel to the fire. But as usual, Christ shows us a more excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31). Here are a few things you can do to find peace with your loved ones (and even those you merely put up with!), not only during Christmas, but all throughout the year (after all, things like births, baptisms, birthdays, holidays, graduations, and funerals keep bringing us back together).
1: Acknowledge your own sin. Confess it, even. As the Apostle Peter says: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing,” (1 Peter 3:9). When others hurt or upset us, this does not give us licence to hurt them back. Nor is all anger holy anger. We forgive those who trespass against us even as our Lord Jesus Christ forgives us our trespasses. Christians are obligated to do everything possible to live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18). Granted, peace is not always possible, but with a little humility it would be possible far more often than it usually is. When we recognize that we are not innocent (even if we didn’t “start it”), this will go a long way to clearing up conflict. This is the point of Matthew 18:
Peter came up and said to [Jesus], “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart,” (Matthew 18:22-35).
Acknowledging our own guilt is a good first step. Better yet is to confess it. That’s one of the reasons God has given pastors to His Church. There’s nothing like hearing a called and ordained servant of Christ speak in His stead and by His command, with the assurance that your sin is forgiven by God in heaven and will never be divulged to another. If you’ve sinned against someone else, confessing it to them can work wonders. You can read more about some of the benefits of confession and absolution here.
2. Attempt to resolve the conflict. This means confronting the one who has sinned against you in humility. Granted, this is easier said than done, but nobody said relationships would be easy! Keeping your own guilt/fault in mind (as discussed in #1, above) will be quite helpful here. So would reading Walther’s Law & Gospel.
3. Pray for those who persecute you. This is what Jesus says in Matthew 5:44. Granted, most of our families do not “persecute” us (in the strict sense of the word), but when we find ourselves at odds with them, we ought to pray for them. After all, what better help can we give to someone than to seek the aid of God on their behalf? A former member of mine once shared with me how, during a time of conflict, a wise pastor had once counseled her to pray daily for the person with whom she was at odds every day for at least a month. I’m not sure if the conflict was ever resolved, but she did share with me that in doing this, her own heart began to soften toward the other person. Maybe resolving some conflict is impossible for us, but with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).