When families get along and have good relationships, the holidays are enjoyable and fun. But when there is unfinished business, conflict or tension with certain relatives, the holidays can feel like you are on an episode of Survivor.
If you find that the minute you set foot in your mom’s house and the relatives begin to arrive, an old wound from years ago begins to fester, this is a sign of unresolved conflict.
Or, your ex has been invited to your children’s holiday performance. The only open seat is next to you. His new wife is with him. And you think, “Who invited her? It’s bad enough I have to interact with him!” As they walk towards the open seats near where you sit, your ex takes the seat next to you. His new wife grabs his hand and smiles at you. You feel nauseous and want to leave. Your reaction tells you, healing has not occurred but it may be time to bury the proverbial hatchet.
Maybe you have to visit the nursing home where your abusive father now lives and is beginning to show signs of dementia. Throughout your life, this man, now looking frail and pitiful, told you what a loser you were and how you would never amount to anything. Despite your worldly success, you feel 10-years-old again and still look for his affirmation. You know he won’t give it to you. Why don’t you feel grown up around him? It’s time to grieve the loss and put it to rest. He wasn’t the father you needed or wanted. Yet, here he sits, a shell of himself and not looking so powerful.
The scenarios of family conflict and wounding are many –family hurts stay with us and rear their ugly heads when families get together during the holidays. So how do we handle these rifts, the unresolved conflicts and family hurts of the past? Do we ignore them, sit through the uncomfortable tension and just tolerate the experience? Or do we try to make repairs?
I wish I could say, go ahead, ignore, avoid and don’t feel any obligation to be with these people. Some therapists would tell you that. But those of us from a faith background know the importance of forgiveness and repair when it comes to healing those old scars. Because Jesus chose the path of forgiveness for the unfair treatment he experienced, we must do the same if we want to heal.
Holding on to unforgiveness damages the physical body as well as the emotional and spiritual parts of a person’s life. Holding on to family hurts and unforgiveness leads to bitterness and an unhappy life. Letting go is a decision and a choice. It’s up to you.
If you choose to forgive, it helps to think of forgiveness as an act of obedience that helps you in the end. Don’t continue to ruminate on the pain or hurtful act. Instead, turn the pain over to God, knowing that Jesus understands our suffering. He was betrayed, abused, treated unfairly–he knows our pain. Take that pain to the cross and lay it down. Pray, “God, you know how hurt I am by (name the issue or person). I choose to forgive that person and release them to your judgment and accountability. I forgive (name). Now, give me the strength to deal with the person in your love.” The times I have been able to do this, I have been amazed at how well I handled that person or a difficult situation. It was the Holy Spirit in me that helped me treat that person with kindness and love.
Next, go to the person and say, “We’ve had this rift. I am willing to try and talk about it so we can put it behind us if you are willing to do the same.” This will either open the door for reconciliation or not. If the person responds in a negative way, forgive and say, “Ok well I have chosen to forgive you and move forward. If you ever want to talk, I am willing.” Then do your best to enjoy the holiday. You tried. That is all you can do. The ball is now in the other person’s court and you have acknowledged the problem.
If the person wants to talk, find a time and place for some privacy. If he or she is open to praying first, do it. Then, try to stay calm, don’t criticize, watch your defensiveness and try to focus on the issue, not the person. Try to come to an understanding even if you agree to disagree and call a truce. You will feel a weight come off of you once you do this.
If the issue is really big and hurtful, you may want a mediator like a therapist or a third party. The goal is to put the issue that is causing hurt on the table and deal with it once and for all. Then, everyone can stop walking on egg shells and enjoy the holiday.
None of this family help is easy, but it can break a negative cycle of dreading family holidays. And it can be the beginning of healing so you can start building on a positive foundation and actually enjoy the holidays.