Messy Families, Perfect Love
Christmas is synonymous with many wonderful things, but often it also gifts us with awful things like extra stress. As we search our heart we find that most of these are self inflicted like the stress of finding the perfect gift, the stress of baking the best Christmas sweets, the stress of designing the most festive meaningful holiday experience for your children, the stress of attending the multitude of the seasons’ parties and events. Then there is the specialty stress, the one that Satan thrives on this time of the year - the stress of families. As you read those words I’m sure there is a twinge in your heart of what's to come next week, a brief negative thought that enters your mind and grows from a mild stress to Santa-sized sack full of irritation, resentment, anger, and bitterness.
For the most part we set out with the intentions of tidings of joy, telling ourselves that this year will be different. This year I will be different. I will chose anticipation over anxiety, joy over judging, grace over grumbling, peace over passive-aggressiveness (ouch, that one stings for me), love over loathing, forgiveness over fault finding. Sadly, all it takes is one misconceived slight from a family member to shrink my heart three sizes. It can be a simple wrongful glance, a sharp tongued word, a hushed secret, or a past hurt re-lived. Love is bigger with families and so are the hurts. My heart aches for perfect love in our family relationships, but on this side of heaven a more real love will have to do. So how can we grow our hearts to achieve this Christ-like love during Christmas with our families?
Accept that people are messy. Fortunately for us, this issue wasn’t a surprise to God. Families are messy, because people are messy. We come adorned with our own big expectations, preconceived ideas of how Christmas should look, and selfish desires. Our flesh is limiting because loving others is contrary to our human nature. (Galatians 5:17) Even in our best intentions we aren’t successful. Many times these expectations are hidden, like a shameful secret, yet we all have them. Instead we clothe our best intentions, like our Christmas best dress, sometimes even disguised in people pleasing desires that leave us exhausted. God gives us big love in the smallest gift. A baby born to live out the perfect life, a life of showing us what holy relationships with messy people should look like. 1 John 4:7 says, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.” Part of accepting others’ messes in love is forgiving. This is something we might have to do again and again this Christmas. We spend too much time stepping on each other’s toes and not enough time washing each other’s feet. (John 13:12-17)
Acknowledge that you are messy. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Psalm 139:23. Before I even step foot inside the house of one of our families,I am praying this verse over my heart. Only then can I face my own mess. I completely miss the point of Christmas when I fill my thoughts with impending doom and disaster that I think these family festivities will bring. As these thoughts are brought to light, I can combat them. I can ask God to humble me when my selfishness grows too big. I can ask God to give me extra patience as the anxiety of dealing with people overwhelms me. I can ask God to cover me in peace when chaos fills the house. I know I will fail multiple times over this next week to do as Ephesians 4:2-3 asks, “Always be humble, and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” This time I will check my selfishness at the door and root my desires in Christ. I will take the time to apologize for getting too wrapped up in me.
Refocus on the Love. So you get through the door, selfishness left standing alone in the cold and you make it all the way through dinner loving your family well, but then it comes time to start cleaning up and someone says something that makes your heart as dirty as the dishes you're scrubbing. It is never too late to refocus! Stop, drop and pray. Simple as that. We don’t have to let the grumpy attitude fester and ruin our Christmas.
Celebrate. Celebrate each other. Celebrate Jesus. This might be the only time of the year you get to spend with your whole family. Don’t dwell on the hurts and pains, use this as a time to remember the things worth celebrating that happened the past year. Did someone get married? Celebrate love. Did someone have a baby? Celebrate life. Did someone graduate? Celebrate success. Did someone beat an illness? Celebrate healing. Did someone move? Celebrate new adventures. Did someone estranged come back to your family? Celebrate redemption. Celebrate the big and small. Celebrate people. When our focus is on the joyus parts of one another, the yucky (as my 3 year old would say) fades away. Above all, we are meant to celebrate Jesus at Christmastime. Love came down and the world rejoiced. We should celebrate Jesus like the angels, like the shepherds, like the wise men. The heartbeat of heaven came as a baby to give life to our aching hearts. To give life to love.
I know this season can feel anything buy joyful when we gather as families, but we can’t let the enemy take away the gift of loving each other. Give our families the gifts of forgiveness, patience, and kindness this Christmas. Battle the bitterness and genuinely enjoy one another. I am looking forward with eager anticipation of celebrating Jesus this Christmas with my family, not because I am inclined to love, but because I’ve been gifted perfect love in Christ.