Dealing with the Holidays: Family
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We’re going to be talking about spending time with the family, with an emphasis on the holidays. We spend a lot of time during the holidays.
Here’s God’s point of view on families: He made them to be a great blessing. He made families to be a source of happiness and fulfillment in our lives. Now, some of us don’t have too hard a time believing this. Others can’t believe anything good could come out of families.
Now obviously, God is creative enough, he could have designed things a different way. He could have made us so that we grow on trees, or we divide in two. There are a hundred different ways he could have designed proliferation. He could have created each one of us from scratch. But he didn’t. He decided that working through the family was the best way.
Requires human interaction
One reason I can see is that a family means that you have to have very meaningful and impactful relationships with other humans. The very structure of things–that we’re born into this world helpless, and we can only grow up with the help of others–means that we have to have some serious relationships that matter.
Even if you try to get out of it, if you try to run away from your family, it’s too late. You’ve already been exposed to their influence in a very powerful way. And the same is true of them.
Some folks feel like this is totally unfair. And I can’t blame some people. I know that there are some seriously raunchy familes out there. But on the whole, God’s view is that it’s better to have things this way than not. God’s view is that even with the defects and problems that the system has, it’s good.
This is where the whole idea of “honoring your father and mother” comes in. It’s one of the ten commandments. It’s found many times in the Bible. For example, in Eph. 6:1-3,
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
To “honor” your father and mother means to esteem them highly. It means to consider them worthy and worthwhile. It means to be grateful for them.
So God is saying that they are worthwhile. They are good. They are worthy. We may not feel that way, but God does.
Now we know that God is not ignorant about defective parents. He is realistic. He knows what really happens behind closed doors. For example, in the next verse, Paul says to fathers not to exasperate their children. He means, “Don’t drive them crazy.” He knows that kind of thing happens.
But, the point is, more good is done by the institution of the family than bad.
In fact, by far the greatest damage being done today is not from families. We hear about terrible families and the damage they do. I agree. There are some rotten things being done out there. But the greatest damage is being done by people who reject the family. That’s where things are really getting screwed up. Parents who say it’s not worth it. Kids who hate and reject their parents.
It’s a rejection of the family structure that is really hurting people.
But the point here is, “Consider your parents, consider your family worth-it. Esteem them highly.” And it’s interesting that he says, “If you do, your life will go well.” I think there are a lot of reasons for that. But our concern here tonight is how to better get along with your family.
I am going to give two thoughts about getting along better.
Coming to serve
The first is connected to this idea of Eph. 6:2, honoring your parents. This isn’t just some kind of attitudinal thing, “Hey, I think my parents are honorable.” It’s something you do. The idea is that you go to serve your family.
Example: For example, in one place, Jesus interpreted this commandment as applying to giving your parents money.
That is certainly one application. But the idea is that you are looking to serve your family.
Now let’s think about it. How do you go to hang out with your family? What are you looking for? Are you looking to serve them? I’ll bet a lot of us think we are.
Example: We were talking about this the other night and one of the guys said, “Well of course! Of course I go to serve!” So we asked him, “How?” Then came the blank look. What would have been even better would be to ask his family. “How does he serve you?”
If we asked people, “Why do you like to go home for the holidays?” They would have a variety of things that they get from their families.
“I like to go relax.”
“I like to get lots of food!”
“I like to get presents!”
All of these are somewhat self-serving reasons. But they aren’t at all uncommon. And I don’t think that they’re all that harmful.
The problem is when we get into the unspoken, more powerful expectations we have about our family.
I want them to make me feel better.
I want them to make me feel worthwhile.
I want them to make me feel important.
I want them to listen to me!
I want them to always be positive about the things I say.
I want them to change, because they bother me the way they are.
See? Now we’re getting into the powerful expectations that are also very common, but unspoken. And it’s these that cause a lot of trouble. Because of this simple fact: They will let you down.
There are parents and brothers and sisters that are cruel. And there is often no changing that. There are parents and brothers and sisters who are cold and indifferent . . .
But what makes this worse is when we go to them with an expectation! That’s what really causes a blowup.
Example: If I go to my father, and I feel like, “Your affirmation is what I need to feel good about myself,” and then he cuts on me instead! There’s gonna be trouble!
See, there are two things that cause trouble in families. The first is the fact that we screw up and hurt each other all the time. But the second is the fact that we won’t tolerate it when others let us down! We won’t forgive them. We blow up at them. We carry grudges. We react in kind, with various punishing behaviors.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have all kinds of expectations on our families, so that we could be set free to go to them and serve?
Example: I remember I lived with a guy who hated to go out to his family and spend time. He would avoid it for any reason. I started to get into it with him, “Why do you hate it so much?” “They do this to me and that . . .” What do you do to them? “Nothing.” “Well, that’s the problem. You don’t do anything to them! Why don’t we sit here and decide what would be good to do to your family . . .” He came back and said he had the best time he could ever remember!
But of course, if you are going to be able to do this with your family, then you need to be able to get the things you need from somewhere else. If your family isn’t going to be the source of good feelings, if your family is going to be the one you get affirmation from, then you need to get it somewhere else.
Example: To think of it another way, you need to fill up yourself first, before you go driving off to serve your family. You need to be built up.
And it’s here that Jesus came and taught us an amazing thing. Jesus taught us that God wants to be our Father. And really, that’s more impersonal than he said it. The term that he used was “Dad.” Or, if you can still say it, “Daddy.”
Look at the kind of intimacy Jesus taught that God wants with us,
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:29, 30)
It’s not just “father,” it’s “your father.” And he knows everything about you. And he wants to be involved in every aspect of your life. God wants the type of love relationship with us that should be between a parent and a child.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “I don’t need another dad. I’m fine. I’m fine.”
Well, God really disagrees. He says that we do need a relationship with him. And we need it real bad. He says in I John 4:7, 8,
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
And again in v. 19,
We love because he first loved us.
He’s saying that we don’t understand very much at all about love until we meet the love of God. We really do need him.
You can’t go to your family, or to anyone for that matter, and have a heart to really love them without first experiencing what God has for you. God tells us this is the missing piece. This is why families aren’t working. The love that defines them and energizes them is missing. People are trying to make do without it, and they’re failing.
Start by going to God and saying, “I need to know your love. I need a relationship with you.” That is what it means to become a Christian. It’s to come to God and say, “God, even though I’m unworthy, even though I don’t deserve it, can I have your forgiveness and can I have a relationship with you?” And God’s answer is yes.
And it’s here that we’ll find we’ll be able to begin–begin I say– having a serving relationship with family.
I can give you one more thought on handling your family. And that is, face the facts and take responsibility for how you interact with them.
We talk today about “dysfunctional families” like they are some kind of disease that strikes us. I’ve already said there are some real poor parents out there. I know that.
Example: But when you can’t look your Dad in the eye, that’s you who can’t do that.
Example: When you can’t bring yourself to say anything positive about your brother or sister or mother, that’s you.
Example: When I can’t do anything but hate being there with them, that’s me.
No one is making you respond to these people the way you do.
We deceive ourselves. We pretend we’re OK. But fortunately, families have been given to us by God to tell the truth.
Example: We say, “I’m not the one with the problem. It’s my dad who’s the jerk! When I’m with other people I’m OK!” Which may be true . . . until you get your own family! And then that person goes out and does the same thing!
We’re fine, as long as we can be a little island. As long as we can have our protective space. But God has given us families to invade our space and expose the real truth.
Today people are on the run from the notion of family. I’ll tell you why. Because they hate to see the truth about themselves. Of course, there’ll be a price to pay. Whatever their problems are, they’ll just grow and grow . . .
If you struggle with your family, if you can’t bring yourself to serve. If you can’t bring yourself to be positive. If you can’t bring yourself to exert any energy. If you find yourself getting angry and hard to get along with. Then be thankful. Because you just learned the way you really are.
“Thank you God, for giving me my family to show me the way I really am. I needed that.”
Thank God that he has given us families. I hope you’ll think about what God is trying to show you about yourself this holiday when you’re spending time with your family.