“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” Matthew 18.15
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12.18
As the holiday season of many shared meals begins next week, I think primarily not of the wars occurring around the world. (Although addressed they must be, for the violence has been heartbreaking and hellish.) Instead, my head and my heart fear the impact of many other smaller in scale, but just as impactful wars that will occur time and time again around the tables we will share. Husbands, wives, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-brothers, step-sisters, cousins, and a host of many others will gather around tables to eat, celebrate, and enjoy one another’s presence. Sadly, for many families, peace on earth will be nowhere to be found. Instead, the larger scale wars being fought around the globe will be modeled over a shared turkey leg and cranberry sauce.
What do I mean?
Families rob themselves of loving and meaningful interaction when they carry hurts, heartaches, and grudges to the dinner table that could easily be addressed through honest and holy conversation. Instead, a daughter will sit down next to a father that she holds a deep resentment against because the father never encouraged her to pursue her dreams. Instead, he slowly but definitely dismantled her self-trust by not believing in her. A heartbroken wife will sit down next to a husband she longs to be intimate with and smile at him while she longs for him to hold her. She knows that he will retreat to the recliner and a nap after dinner, like he has done for the past five years. Two cousins will sit across from each other and refuse to make eye contact because Cousin A started a rumor about Cousin B that ruined Cousin B’s junior high reputation. Since then Cousin B has retaliated against Cousin A and now both of their reputations suffer. A loving grandparent will be seated at the head of the table and wonder, “Do I even really matter anymore? They treat me like an old person in an old aged home. I feel like a nuisance.”
Again, many of these hurts, heartaches, and grudges could be addressed through honest and holy conversation. Instead, our tables will resemble mini-cold wars where withdrawal and dishonesty-communicated-through-silence is present. Or, our tables will resemble hot wars where accusations and contemptuous comments are lobbed at those who have hurt us. The great move Christmas Vacation points out that some conflict is inevitable, but does unaddressed conflict have to ruin our holiday gatherings?
What if our tables instead became places of healthy and holy conversations? What if we practiced the principles of Matthew 18 and went to a brother and sister and actually talked through the pain or heartache they caused? What if we went to a family member we know we have hurt, confessed our wrongs, and asked for forgiveness? What if we actually strived to live, as Paul said, peaceable with all men, especially with those we share a chicken leg? I pray that our holiday meals will resemble the Christmas characteristics of peace, hope, love, and joy instead of the conflicts we see on TV.
How does one work towards peaceful resolution and healthy conversation? It’s not easy, but here are a few tips.
1. Pray for clarity of heart. Ask God and yourself, “Was I hurt by their actions? Did I the cause the hurt? Or, is this a shared problem?
2. Pray and process through what to say. I have found it helps to write down and practice what I feel like I need to say. I even take my written thoughts with me to stay on track when nervous or anxious.
3. Really strive to listen and understand what the other person is trying to say.
4. Focus on repairing the relationship more than being right or fixing the problem.
Daring to bravely address conflict in families is very, very difficult and scary. However, it is deeply necessary. May the Lord bless and keep you as you strive to live at peace with all those with whom you will share a meal this holiday season.
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Harrodsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.