10 Steps to Survive Holiday Family Drama

10 Steps to Survive Holiday Family Drama

When the holiday dinner scene freezes, as our ears digest reaction-inducing chatter intended to hurl us into a fury, everything in us wants to give in and let the lid off. Sometimes, even our efforts to back peacefully away from conflict end in a confrontational chase for answers. From new offenses to old skirmishes, reuniting with family over the holidays can be full of drama.

Family, “a group of persons of common ancestry.” (Merriam Webster) When family attacks, it’s hard to hide. They’ve known us our entire lives, and share fragments of the very blood that runs through our veins. What we know about God is that He places people in our lives purposefully, regardless of how difficult they are to be around. Exodus 20:12 commands, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”

“Honor,” in its Hebrew meaning, has a heaviness and a weight to it. The root of the word leads to another powerhouse …”glory.”  Though not all relatives are our parents, employing a similar thread of obedience can allow us to experience peace with in our extended families. Focusing on the fact that our relatives are a part of our lives, over whether we want them to be lends us a clearer perspective in how to get along as a family. In a sense, we are all drafted of the same ancestry, our immediate family line being the most reachable branches.

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  • 1. Prepare in Prayer

    1. Prepare in Prayer

    Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

    Prayer is our lifeline to God. He is capable of calming every anxiety we can muster, even that of the dreaded reunion with uncomfortable relatives. “Everything” is the word used in Philippians to aid our understanding in what we are to pray about. When Paul wrote that Greek word, he knew that it meant individually, and collectively. “Each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything,” and simultaneously the “some of all types.” (Strongs 3956)

    The result of addressing our concerns with prayer is that “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Only our great God has the ability to calm the racing of our hearts as we nervously anticipate the entire family getting together for the holidays. He can move through us with a peace that is beyond our understanding.

    We can prepare before we get there. Pray now, for peace leading up to, and in, those pressure filled moments when multiple personalities collide. Pray in the moments we sit gripped to our seats, and through the conversations that we we’d rather run over the hills from than be engaged in; and pray thanks and praise on the car ride home when it’s all over!

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  • 2. Get Wise

    2. Get Wise

    “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.” Mark 1:35 (NIV)

    We are to live by Jesus’ example, and I believe this means beginning each day in prayer as He did. Filling with the wisdom of God’s Word before breakfast allows Him to prepare us to walk through the day ahead. Leading up the holidays, God knows what lies ahead of us. He is aware of the difficult situations awaiting, and the hard conversations that we will have to somehow attempt to navigate with the grace and peace that reflects His presence in our lives. The waypoints are plugged in as we sit with Him in preparation of the days leading up to those moments.

    Prayer is our line of communication with God, thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Scripture is God’s guidance system, His response, and His method of preparing our hearts and growing our souls in holiness. There’s no shortcut to the work it takes to build a relationship with Jesus, but the joy we become acquainted to is worth every note of preparation. “All of Scripture is God-breathed; in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right so that God’s people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (VOICE)

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  • 3. Forgive

    3. Forgive

    “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13 (NLT)

    Christ took every sin to the cross. He took on death to wipe away all of our sin.  We sometimes hold onto the accounts of others, even though we have been forgiven in this dramatic way. The drama often lies in the apology that we believe we are entitled to by our offenders. We can look to Jesus’ example for the requirements to forgive. “But if we confess our sins to him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9) This is our relationship with Jesus. We confess and repent and He forgives. But, this is not the natural state of human relationships.

    We can try to conduct friendships and family relationships in that way, but our human nature bends us towards looking for proof of sincerity. Better to have a clean heart of forgiveness than wait on an apology. Jesus also told us that we should forgive our offenders ‘seventy times seven!” Who are we to hold back our forgiveness for an apology? It only hardens our hearts. Walking into family gatherings with a heart full of forgiveness, instead of one seeking an acceptable apology, makes for a better chance of peace over the holidays. 

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  • 4. Check the Guest List, Twice.

    4. Check the Guest List, Twice.

    It’s important to know what we will be walking into this holiday season. When plans are made and places are set, we might want to find out who we will be running into when we arrive. There are past tensions that spring up into explosion when we fail to prepare ourselves for a peaceful reaction. Find out who will be at holiday gatherings this year, and run each relationship through a systematic prayer to heal and prepare our hearts before approaching arguments blindly. Pray specifically, about specific situations and people, on the drive there or take a few days ahead a time to heart-fully prepare.

    “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.“ Galatians 6:3-5

    We have a responsibility to each other and to God to do the right thing by each other. Taking some time to prayerfully prepare our hearts and minds is an initiative that God hears. He hears our prayers, and answers. The VOICE paraphrase of Galatians 5:3 says, “Don’t take this opportunity to think you are better than those who slip, because you aren’t.” Praying for God to reveal the contributing factors of our hearts that beg to be healed is a healthier approach to surviving family drama this time of year. 

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  • 5. Build Healthy Boundaries

    5. Build Healthy Boundaries

    Healthy boundaries become hard to determine when they are family, who we know God has placed us with purposefully. We must be really careful that our “boundaries” aren’t “grudges.” Harboring unforgiveness and guarding our hearts are two different aspects of Christian attributes. Titus 3:10 instructs us on when it is appropriate to set boundaries. Paul communicates the extremes to us 2 Timothy 3:1-5 “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-having a form of godliness but denying it’s power.” And he reiterates, “Have nothing to do with them.”

    There are serious matters that require serious boundaries. But for the simple skirmishes that encompass most family feuds, a boundary around the conversation we will entertain is sometimes sufficient enough to survive family events in a way that honors our parents, our families, our children that are watching, and our God that loves the entire lot of us.

    Human imperfection to walk the line of humility sometimes prevents this accord from the realm of possibility, and it may be necessary to remove ourselves from situations that will raise our pressure points to boiling beyond what we can keep in check. Silence is a better way to honor someone than losing control of our tongues. It’s wise to pray this one out and cooperate with God’s will for our lives and this holiday season.

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  • 6. Be Nice

    6. Be Nice

    Fight the awkward urge to snub and ignore. The nature of the human heart wants to grip and twist offenses over and over again, even after we’ve put it through the cycle of forgiveness hundreds of times. Like chronic back pain that flattens us out of nowhere though we thought we were healed … mouths seal shut and awkward laughter causes even the hair on a cat’s back to raise an eyebrow of curiosity. Yet, we cannot stop ourselves, sometimes!

    How do we get through these moments? Put one foot in front of another and keep telling yourself to smile and say hi. Don’t give up fighting the awkwardness that threatens to turn a long silence into a severed relationship. When we allow God time to work in our relationships, He will surprise us by the miraculous way He can heal over time. We just have to keep trying.

    “The Lord’s love is with those who fear him,” Psalm 103:17. The VOICE paraphrase of this verse assures us, “for those who run reverently after HIm. He extends His justice on and on to future generations.” When we continue to obey Him, no matter how ridiculously we fail at first, it’s not only our lives that benefit from the healing hand of our Savior, but generations to come. 

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  • 7. Keep the Traffic of Conversation Moving

    7. Keep the Traffic of Conversation Moving

    “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

    When in conversation with relatives, each family has it’s own set of topics that fall in line directly after ‘religion’ and ‘politics.’ Whatever those topics are for our families, should be reverently avoided in exchange for peace this holiday season. If we’re having a hard time trying to figure out what appropriate conversation sounds like, we can imagine that we are the topic of discussion, and consider what we’d like kept off of the dinner table.

    Don’t park on hot topics, and if someone hits a pothole, push them out of it by redirecting the conversation with swift and saving grace. We all stick our foot in our mouths at times. Have a planned route of escape should a conversation of conflict start to rise up or drop out of a mouth. Some good go to truths are talking about how good the food is, the weather, current events, or a family member’s accomplishments. In an emergency, just pick the person sitting across from you and spit out a compliment.

    Let’s make a point to filler our vocabulary this holiday season. We all know the line we walk on when we’re not “really saying” what we are trying to say, but hinting at a dramatically explosive jab, nonetheless. “A tender answer turns away rage, but a prickly reply spikes anger. “ Proverbs 15:1 (VOICE)

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  • 8. Let the Showmen Have Their Moment

    8. Let the Showmen Have Their Moment

    “Those who bring trouble on their families inherit the wind. The fool will be a servant to the wise.” Proverbs 11:29

    There seems to be at least one showman in every family, whom everyone else observes on the edge of their seats awaiting the inevitable escapade. Not the stand up comedians of the family, but the ones who steal entertainment at the expense of others, and the peace of the holiday. Those who can’t keep the peace. The ones that seem to thrive off of the drama that sends a targeted member of the family out of the house crying. The NIV Study Bible explains the above verse, “Those who disturb the tranquility of their family will have no prosperity.”

    Deal internally with a showman by recognizing that the scene might be masking quite a bit of pain. It might be a cry for help. Or, maybe they are just plain rude. What comes out is a direct reflection of what’s going on within. There is good in that person, because Scripture assures us that we were all created alike and all in the image of our Father …and He is good. Though it might be buried in a pile of offensive garbage, find the good thing about that person and focus on it. If only it is that God made them, too. Finding a way to love hard people is the very thing Jesus walked around earth doing. We can at least try. When our hearts are set empathetically to rabble-rousing relatives, we are better equipped to defuse a hot situation than throw logs on the fire.

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  • 9. Pitch In

    9. Pitch In

    Helping out without being asked can be a great conflict dissolver. When dinner starts to end in disaster, get up and start clearing plates and cleaning up. Helpers will follow suit, and it might defuse the situation by starting side conversations. Heated arguments may not come to good conclusions. If a debate has taken a turn towards the endless abyss, take a break and help to help prepare the next course.

    Helping out might look different if we think we can lend a hand to someone that has a dilemma at the dinner table. Offering advice, or just a helping hand, can turn the table on tempers. “We love each other because he loved us first,” 1 John 4:19 reminds. We can go out of our way to help mediate our family, even if they are difficult, because Jesus deals with our difficult selves on a daily basis. Maybe it’s best to pull a family member aside and provide a listening ear and an embrace of understanding. Facing difficult situations with love is not easy, but it is possible. God will equip us, and perhaps reach out to a hurting soul, through us.

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  • 10. Embrace

    10. Embrace

    Jesus loves us for who we are, right now. He’s not waiting until we get out acts together, clean up, or pay off our debt. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” Jesus is love, and Love never gives up on us. Though we will never be able to master it like He does, we can surely try to pay forward the love we are lavished with extravagantly as children of God.

    The holidays are filled with reminders of Christ’s love, and surrounded by the blessings that God has granted us in this life. But so, too, are the challenges and hardships that we are faced with by this hard life we are promised to live out on this earth. The two seem to wage war with each other around this time of the year, especially when we’re surrounded by people who carry both the nostalgia of the past and the drama of the present. Seek to see God in all circumstances, and everyone. For when we embrace our family through it all, we bear witness to His love.

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    Meg encourages others to seek Him first through her life as a stay-at-home mom, career as a freelance writer, teaching Emoti-moms Weekly Bible Study, and leading the kids worship teams at her local church. She resides in a small, Northern lake town with her husband of ten years, two daughters, and their Golden-doodle. Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ on her blog, http://sunnyand80.org.