It’s the time of year that most of us have come to associate with food, friends, family and fellowship. Perhaps we all share similar experiences of sitting around the dinner table, passing the potatoes to distant relatives we only see once in a while, saying why we’re thankful, reading the Christmas story or chatting pleasantly about the latest events in our lives. That’s a nice scenario, right?
Not for everyone. Many are hampered with contrastingly unpleasant memories of the holidays. Some of us may remember having to be nice to certain relatives who were difficult to like, or trying to avoid awkward conversations or family dinners filled with fretting and fighting, rather than feasting and festivities (threw in a few more words beginning with “f” just to be Dr. Seussical). Why do we so often seem to take the time we have with our families for granted? My personal story may provide some insight.
Being single and relatively close to my immediate family, I haven’t experienced the stereotypical dread of making uneasy plans with the in-laws, but I still know what it’s like to have ambiguous feelings about family time. It was only recently, that I was able to move out of my parents’ house and get a place of my own with the help of a couple of roommates while beginning work on a post-graduate degree. So, for a long time, I had to accept living under my parents’ roof, like it or not. For a while, I had the comforts of home along with the love, care and wisdom of my parents. I’m thankful that they raised me in the ways of the Lord and helped me to mature into the man I am today. But, I’ve also known the frustrations of wanting to escape from the well-intentioned doting of a nurturing mother. I’ve known the discomfort of trying to figure out how best to deal with a rebellious, troubled and distant teenage brother. I’ve sometimes felt trapped in my own home and been compelled to withdraw from my family in my journey to become an independent adult. A Christian family in a Christian home does not automatically render a perfect family in a perfect home. Despite all its good points, my family is naturally flawed, as are all families. So, I guess I get it.
Family time isn’t pleasant for everyone and some people have perfectly legitimate reasons for dreading family gatherings rather than anticipating them. Outside of my own experiences, I’ve heard stories from others which render my personal frustrations paltry in comparison. Some brothers and uncles refuse to attend family reunions or even talk to other family members. There are sisters out there who have left their husbands and children behind for other men. When we know or live with someone long enough, we’re bound to rub each other the wrong way at some point.
While all of this is true, we can’t forget the fact that families are important and need to be cherished, along with all their flaws. Early in Genesis, we learn that a man is intended to leave his family and join himself to a wife (Genesis 2:24). Eventually, it’s perfectly okay—for most, even preferable—for one to desire independence from family. But the Bible also makes clear that we are to honor our parents and are to live in fellowship with our families, as with everyone. As Paul says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
The problems that many of us have had in our family relationships can be very difficult, yet God’s unconditional love for us all can be a great source of strength helping us to treat others as we should in every circumstance.
Since moving out, I’ve tried to make sure that I haven’t completely abandoned my family. In fact, since I go to school in a small town only about five minutes from where my parents and youngest brother still live, it’s not at all uncommon for me to see my family at church on Sunday mornings. Sometimes, I even stop by for a meal on someone’s birthday or whenever my mom reminds me to pick up my warm clothes for the winter. There are peers of mine who have told me that the relationships with their parents improved drastically after they moved out. Even though I’ve only been out on my own for a little while and had a decent relationship with my parents before that, I’m starting to see similar signs in my own life. It’s worthwhile to maintain fellowship with one’s family, even if we don’t live close enough for that fellowship to happen frequently in person. There’s certainly no shame in taking advantage of a nice, home-cooked meal every once in a while instead of having ramen or frozen pizza at the bachelor pad.
The holidays are coming soon. I, for one, will be blessed with a long and needed break from school. I’ll be glad to have some alone time to catch up on things that I’ve been wanting to do, but I certainly don’t intend to spend all of my holiday break cooped up alone in my townhouse. No, I’ll be spending as much time as possible over the Christmas holiday with my father and mother, my two younger brothers and possibly other family and friends, who are able to visit us. It’s going to be a good time.
We should all take advantage of the family God has given us whenever possible and enjoy them as the blessings they were meant to be. If that is difficult for us do sometimes, a good place for us to start might be to focus on being the blessing God has called us to be for our families.