The holidays are such a confusing time of year. It’s become an entire season dedicated to drudging up emotions about family. For some, this time of year is blissfully happy. For others, it is a time to reflect. Many may find the holidays to be stressful and even depressing. For most of us, though, it is all of the above.
As if dealing with all of these emotions is not enough, I tend to pile on expectations for gift-giving, meal-cooking, and activity-planning until I’m at my boiling point. It’s all done in the name of love. But I get so busy trying to prove this love through perfect holiday planning and staging the perfect Facebook post that I forget to love anyone at all.
I’m far away from my family for the first time in…ever. Being far away has revealed just how much I took those relationships for granted. And it’s got me thinking about what this family relationship circle should look like.
First of all, who is in this circle? Parents and siblings – or anyone who fills those roles. It doesn’t have to be by blood, either. This circle includes in-laws, the aunt or cousin who is more like a sister, or the grandparent who practically raised you. The best friend you swear is a long lost twin. Whoever you think of when you hear the word “family”.
Who is not in this circle? Spouse and children. Remember, they get their own circles that really need to be in solid working condition first. Because let’s face it, being able to really enjoy the holiday awesomeness of an extended family gathering is only a possibility if those circles are happily humming along. My family wants me to bring the cheesy apples to the table, not my latest spat with my spouse or kids. (Yes, cheesy apples are a real thing, and yes, you should try them.)
Keeping in mind that God is central to all of my circles, I wanted to know what the Bible has to say about family.
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. ~Exodus 20:12
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. ~Proverbs 1:8
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. ~Colossians 3:20
It sounds easy and obvious, but was I living this out? The truth is, probably not. I was quite the know-it-all coming out of college and working my way up in my career. I often heard my parents’ advice, but I only half-listened. So that is one of the changes I’m making as I rebuild this circle. I’m striving to cherish the wisdom of my parents and in-laws, and see what happens if I actually follow their advice. I have a very good feeling they will not steer me wrong.
But then it gets tough. And personal. And real.
Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” ~Matthew 8:21-22
If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple. ~Luke 14:26
We are told to honor our parents, yet Jesus tells a man to not even bury his father before leaving to follow Him. Then we are told we must “hate” our family to be a disciple. I love my family so much that I cannot imagine the world without them. Why would Jesus, a pure example of love, make me choose? I’ve struggled with this one for a very long time.
Here’s what I’m learning.
Choosing to make God the center of your life is a big deal. It is a lifestyle choice that is different from how the rest of society is living. It has the potential to alienate us, and Jesus is trying to prepare us for that possibility. Our families may not be on the same page with us when we make this monumental change. It’s not that I don’t choose my family anymore…it’s saying “I’m following Jesus. Do you still accept me?” It means staying with Jesus even if their answer to the choice is “no”.
One of the main things I worried about when I decided to completely give my life over to Jesus was what my family would think. I worried they would think I didn’t care about them anymore, because I needed to take a lot of time to fix my inner circles to get right with God. To completely break free from the wrong path I was on, I had to physically move far away, which took me away from them. It broke my heart to break theirs. But I had to let go so I could refocus on God, knowing that I would rebuild our relationships, praying they would be patient and still love me.
I was worried that when I did resurface, they would see my Jesus addiction and think I had become a religious fanatic and stage some sort of intervention. On the contrary, my family doesn’t need to worry about this addiction – it’s the good stuff. And they need not be offended, thinking I don’t love them anymore. On the contrary, I am now free to love them more – the right way. It’s no longer a desperate need for them to save me or protect me or make everything perfect for me. In freeing myself, I have also freed them from the unfair expectations I had placed on them. I’m getting everything I need from Him, so I’m able to love my family purely because I want to.
My situation is much easier than those verses imply. I am surrounded by a family of love. Other people have to deal with much worse. When someone converts from Islam to Christianity, their family often disowns them. They may be beaten or even killed by their own flesh and blood. This is where words like “hate” come from. We must be willing to deal with the fact that when we choose Jesus, our family may not. Or they may not be on the same level that we are, or pursuing the same type of relationship. Filling up with God’s love first makes dealing with – or even letting go of – difficult relationships possible.
I feel so much more in sync with my family, even though we are now thousands of miles away, because I’m building these relationships based on my love for Jesus. Loving because you want to changes everything. It changes annoying to endearing. It makes old grudges melt away into forgiveness. It turns ruined cheesy apples into funny “I’ve been there too” stories. It removes the focus on presents and places the focus on presence. It makes an imperfect photo into a cherished memory.
While I can feel the old familiar stresses of the holidays creeping up, I can also more easily brush my people-pleasing desires aside and just focus on my family. My beautiful, crazy, funny, amazing family. And I mean it with all my heart when I say I cannot wait to see them this year. It’s impossible to forget to love them when Love is now the center of my world.