When Holiday Family Gatherings Don’t Feel Like “Peace on Earth”

Five adults, one new baby, and a dog walk into a small, cluttered house. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it felt far from funny at the time.

It was our daughter’s first Christmas, my family had flown in from California, and everything had to be perfect! I had spent all of my already-depleted energy preparing our home: purchasing the best Christmas tree, putting up twinkle lights, finding the right decorations, wrapping the perfect presents, and ordering matching family Christmas pajamas.

Blame it on the new-mom hormones, the lack of sleep, or the stress of trying to figure out how to raise our first child, but my method of preparation was not a recipe for “peace on earth.”

It didn’t take me long to realize that there was something significant that I had forgotten to prepare: myself.

If you’re anything like me, your holidays come gift-wrapped in a nice big box of expectations. For some of us, those expectations are high. We’re hoping for a Hallmark-movie love story or Christmas carols sung around the family piano. For others, our expectations are low. Holidays mean family, which has equated to triggers for stress, anxiety, and even depression in the past.

Regardless of which way your expectations fall, if we don’t take time to prepare ourselves for this holiday season, we may find that we’re missing the true joy and peace Jesus brought with Him as He made His quiet entrance into our chaotic world.

Here are just a few ways we can prepare both our hearts and our minds as we gather with family for the holidays:

Set Healthy Expectations

Our families are not perfect. Yes, I said it. Our families are full of messy, sinful people. That means that they’ll probably say the wrong things, ask inappropriate questions, push your buttons and disapprove of at least one life choice. If this has been the case in the past, it’s ok to accept it might be our reality again this year. Rather than expecting others to change, we can start evaluating how we can prepare ourselves to enter into our families with an attitude of grace and patience.

Prepare Your Answers

“Do you have a job yet?” “Why aren’t you married?” “Have you gained weight?” I did a quick poll on Instagram recently to ask for the most ridiculous questions people have received from family during the holidays. These were just the tip of the iceberg. If these questions sound familiar, there’s a simple way not to let them catch us off-guard this year. Let’s try preparing answers to some of our family’s favorite inquiries ahead of time so that when Uncle Frank asks us why we’re still living at home in the middle of passing the mashed potatoes, we can keep our cool and enjoy our meal!

Set Healthy Boundaries

Did you know that it’s ok to take a break from family? Take a walk around the block, go to bed early, book a hotel room instead of staying with family, offer to run errands to get out of the house. Boundaries will keep your mind and heart safe, healthy, and rejuvenated.

Let Yourself Laugh

Sometimes the chaos of family can be so overwhelming and unmanageable, the best thing to do is to simply laugh at it. We can laugh because we know God is in control because He knows our families, and He loves all of us regardless of the many imperfections.

Follow The Golden Rule

When we start becoming frustrated with how we wish our family would treat us, what if we flipped it around and surprise them by treating them that same way? Offer compliments instead of criticisms, ask questions that go beyond surface-level, offer to help the host.

Accept And Give Grace

Did you know that we can rest in God’s grace? That He doesn’t need us to do anything, give Him any right answers, look a certain way, or have a successful career for Him to love us? Did you know that He is a good Father? As we rest in these truths and accept His grace, let’s ask Him to let that same grace pour out of us onto our families.

What else has helped you experience God’s peace and joy during holiday gatherings with family?

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