Christmas commercials are the best. During the month of December, there are endless replays of families gathered around trees and tables, laughing and passing the mashed potatoes. Everyone is in love and high on Christmas cheer.
And then there’s reality. Husband and wife bicker about the budget. Wife sulks on the way to the in-laws. Husband hides at his mother’s to avoid the drama. The grandchildren roll in too many gifts while their parents shoot crazy rays with their eyes at the indulgent grandparents. Happy holidays, right?
How do you recover the “happy” in the holidays with so much family conflict? Here are a few tips from some Old Testament greats.
Break Customs When Needed
Jacob and Laban (Genesis 29:1-31:55)
You may be familiar with Jacob and Laban’s drama. Jacob worked 7 years to earn a wife. His father-in-law tricked him with a bridal switch-a-roo on the wedding night. Laban uses a typical in-law excuse; he blames tradition.
It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one” (Gen 29:26, emphasis mine).
Customs can create conflict with extended family. We often follow extended family custom for custom’s sake, even when it elicits drama in our home.
Jacob eventually left the family drama (see Genesis 31:3, 13). You and your husband can prayerfully discuss what you want the holidays to look like for your nuclear family. Work with each set of in-laws to help them find their place in your new family traditions. Efforts can be made to respect tradition, but there are times you just have to leave the family drama.
Let Royalty Do the Talking
Mordecai and Xerxes (Esther 2:1-10:3)
This is a pretty familiar Bible story. Mordecai is the cousin-in-law of King Xerxes. King Xerxes signs an edict pronouncing a death sentence for the Jewish nation. Mordecai calls on Esther to go before her husband on behalf of her people. This act of bravery could cost Esther her life (Esther 4:11). While all the Jews in Susa are praying, Esther approaches Xerxes and saves her people from annihilation.
Mordecai knew it was best to let the royalty do the talking. Let your husband run interference with his family and you do the same with yours. In most cases, your parents love you more and his parents love him more. If your spouse is reluctant, follow the example of the people of Susa; drop to your needs and pray. Ask God to move in the heart of your spouse.
Show Understanding for the Hurting
Ruth and Naomi (The Book of Ruth)
This is, perhaps, the most beautiful mother/daughter-in-law relationship in the history of the world. After losing her husband and both of her sons in Moab, Naomi decided to return home to Judah. Naomi released both of her daughters-in-law to return to their families. Ruth would not leave her mother-in-law’s side.
But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!” (Ruth 1:16, The Message)
Naomi changed her name to Mara, which means bitter (1:20-21). She lost her husband and both sons, and she let all her ugly hang out. You may have one of those family members—one who is bitter because of something in her past. You may not know the reason like Ruth did, but you feel the sting of her pain.
Hurt people hurt people. If you are being wounded by someone, know that it likely comes from old wounds. I think Ruth understood this and it changed the way she dealt with Naomi. Ruth served her bitter mother-in-law tirelessly. She pursued a relationship with her, even when Naomi pushed her away. Ruth cultivated the soil around Naomi’s root of bitterness until it grew into the family tree of Jesus Christ (Ruth 4:11-22, Matthew 1:5).
Happy holidays are possible. It may take a few years and some difficult conversations to work the kinks out. But, peace on earth is possible. May the peace and love of God fill your home (and your in-law’s home) this Christmas.
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