I watched an episode recently of Madam Secretary on CBS. Elizabeth (U.S. Secretary of State on the show) is having a conversation with her adult brother. Throughout the course of the episode, the audience gets a glimpse into their past. Their relationship has never been an easy one, to say the least. Elizabeth’s brother, Will, has never felt quite good enough when standing beside his sister.
Throughout the episode, Elizabeth and Will disagree about a major decision in Will’s life. Eventually they have a heart-to-heart conversation. Will has spent most of his life running away from these types of conversations. I found his words to be poignant:
“Last night when the three of us were fighting it felt distantly familiar. I thought, ‘This is weird to have these messy feelings flying around. What is it?’ And then I remembered, like going back in a time machine: ‘This is family.’”
Can you identify with Will’s assessment? It’s December, and for many this means there will be opportunities to gather with extended families. For some of you that might mean competitive card games, reminiscing, and late nights filled with laughter. For others of you it might feel more like distant memories of “messy feelings flying around.” And I suspect that for many, it will be a little of both.
So how will you survive this holiday season with family members that are less than perfect?
Let me offer a few suggestions.
Listen. I read somewhere recently that listen and silent are spelled with the same letters. People have a deep need to be heard. Can you bear to listen to your family member, perhaps the one you disagree with most? It might be challenging (okay, it will be challenging), but perhaps she just needs someone who is willing to take the time to listen. And remember listening to her doesn’t mean you need to agree with her.
Take a little time for yourself. If you have a houseful of company, find space for some quiet time alone. Whether it is a quiet cup of coffee alone while the rest of the house sleeps, a good novel to escape into, or an errand to the grocery store, find some time to get away and take some deep breaths.
Find healthy ways to deal with family stress. Go for a walk. Call a friend. Listen to some music that brings you joy. Try to avoid excessive holiday eating or drinking. It probably won’t leave you feeling better in the end.
Remember that all families are messy in their own way. It’s easy to believe that no other family is quite as difficult as your own. Consider the first families we meet in the Bible: Adam blamed Eve for causing him to do wrong, Cain killed his brother Abel, Jacob’s sons sold their brother into slavery, and David had an affair. (Maybe your family looks pretty good now?) The reality is this – all families are made up of imperfect people and messy relationships. You’re not alone.
Pray. Perhaps this is the most important one to remember … and practice. Find some quiet time to ask God for patience. When you feel yourself growing anxious in the midst of conflict, exhale deeply and ask God to guide your thoughts and words. When you feel weary, ask God for the strength to make it through one day at a time.
I discovered a beautiful quote recently:
“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
May the Prince of Peace fill your hearts this Christmas season as you navigate the joys, the challenges, and the messiness of being family.
-Pastor Lisa Kipp