Holiday movies tell us that family time during the holidays is a perfectly wonderful time. They tell us that there is no hardship or drama, and if there is, it gets quickly resolved and everybody is laughing together and sipping hot cocoa by the end of it.
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Unfortunately, in reality, there is brokenness in families. This brokenness is often highlighted and at its worst during the holidays. For me, the holidays are joyful and fun, but there is still brokenness. As I’ve been growing in my faith and navigating hard family relationships, Jesus has been reminding me that hurt people hurt people. It is up to me and the Holy Spirit working in and through me, to see my parents, siblings, and relatives with Jesus’ compassionate eyes and to recognize that they may hurt me because they themselves have been hurt.
There may well be brokenness, but with the gospel, there is no person or family beyond Jesus’ reach; redemption is possible!
God is using my marriage to heal wounds, to set a new foundation of a marriage built on Christ, and to bring hope to generations of painful stories. Through the Holy Spirit you, too, can change the pattern of brokenness in your family just by being an example of following Jesus.
Here are some ways to be emotionally and spiritually healthy during the holidays with your family:
- Coat your time with family in prayer and ask friends to pray for you — before, during, and after. Go to your Heavenly Father asking Him to fill you with His Spirit, humble your heart, and give you boldness and strength.
- Set clear expectations and boundaries. Have a clear plan of who you’re seeing, when you’re seeing them, and for how long. Communicate your plans clearly so that there is less room for confusion and so that you can depend on God’s plans for you instead of your family’s. As I’ve been more vocal about setting up personal boundaries with my family, there has been friction, but overall it has been very healthy and has allowed me to mature as an adult.
- Take up your identity as an ambassador for Christ. Second Corinthians 5:20 says,”Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” You may be the only Christian that your family sees up close. How can God use you to make His appeal through you? How does that change the way you act or what you say around your family? Could it be possible that the holidays are more about God’s glory and His name being known than about our own preferences or comforts? *You could offer to give thanks for the family meal, even if prayer is not normal.
- Be prepared to give an answer. Your family might be curious about your involvement with Athletes in Action. I’ve had several relatives question why I chose to do ministry, and the holidays are times these questions often come up. Instead of being fearful to respond, I’ve used it as a chance to share the gospel. First Peter 3:15-16 says, “...but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” Often the WAY we respond to family is just as important as WHAT we say.
- Be secure in your identity in Christ and in your position as a child of the King. I’ve grieved for my family relationships that are not as close as I wish them to be, and Jesus has taught me that His approval of me is more important than theirs. Where my earthly family has failed, my Heavenly Father has not: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1).
- Celebrate and be thankful for the family God has given you, your blood family and your friends, “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). As Christians, we belong to a BIG family! Who is a spiritual sister, daughter, mother, father, brother or son in your life? Press into those relationships.
If you have family who are not Christians or who have hurt you, this understanding of having a heavenly family doesn’t take away the pain or misunderstandings we have with our blood family, but it does allow us to place fewer expectations on our family to provide the comfort and love that we so greatly desire.
We feel free to love family as Christ loves us because we have an eternal perspective. As gospel-believers we can see the good and positive in our families, and we can celebrate those things! This will make time with family sweeter, and it allows us to truly embrace the people that God has given us.
As we head into the holidays, we can have hope that God will do far more abundantly than what we ask or think. The holidays are about God’s glory and about His name being known. With this perspective, we can prepare our hearts and minds with prayer and ask for the Holy Spirit’s leading.
How will God use you to change your family’s narrative from brokenness to redemption?