An “emotional survival guide” for the holidays showed up on my facebook feed the other day, a sad reminder that not everyone has fun around the Christmas dinner table. Why is it that those we love have the most power to hurt us? People gather at the holidays, hoping for the best. Then out come all the old hurts and banish the joy.
What is the solution? Is there a solution?
Full disclosure: I don’t suffer much from this. I’m one of the lucky ones who truly love to be with family. But as I look back, luck hasn’t had a lot to do with it.
I have parents who taught my brothers and me to forgive: they demanded it, in fact. My mother modeled it by loving those who hurt her and refusing to speak ill of them. Grandma said, when someone shut us out with hurt: “Now just draw a larger circle” to surround the other one with love. My Dad’s solution? Bless the person who did you harm, again and again and again until your heart is changed.
That’s not to say it’s easy to forgive. But none of us is innocent, ourselves. And God forgave us when we didn’t deserve it. We love to hang onto the things others do to us, to nurse the hurts. But repeatedly touching a sore will make it worse, not heal it. Revisiting old grudges turns to bitterness inside and poisons our souls.
St. Paul says to “put away” your anger and bitterness and instead be kind, forgiving (see Eph 4: 31-32). Why? Not because the others deserve it; not just when they say sorry; but always: “because God in Christ forgave you.”
Thanksgiving gives us a perfect opportunity to do this. As we count our blessings this week, we can search our souls and count the ways and times God has forgiven us. Then we can ask the Lord to help us extend what he has freely given us, to others.
As you head into the holidays, particularly if you dread the time you’ll spend with some of your family, remember that while you can’t control that other person, you can take charge of yourself. Remember what God has done for you. Let go. Bless. Think of ways to “draw that larger circle” of love. And as St. Paul urged the Christians in Philippi:
“Have no anxiety about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding,
will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”
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