By Marlene Bagnull, Litt.D., Special to ASSIST News Service
LANSDALE, PA (ANS – December 9, 2016) — How fast the year has flown by, and as I have reflected on it, I took the photographs off the piano so that I could decorate it for Christmas. But then I cringed as I noticed a charred mark on the paneling behind one of the photos. That black area reminded me of a Christmas when our home had been anything but peaceful.
My mother and stepfather were visiting. We had been trying to get along with them even though the relationship was strained. But on Christmas Eve the tension erupted into a bitter argument. I was distracted from saying things I would have later regretted by the smell of burning wood.
A candle had tipped over on the mantle and was causing the paneling to smolder right near the thermostat. Trembling with fear of what might have been, I soaked the wall with water and later hung a photo to hide the damage. The damage in the relationship with my parents was not so easily disguised. Painful memories have a way of refusing to stay camouflaged.
At Christmas we are forced to face the fact that all is not always “calm” and “bright” in our relationships with a brother or a sister, a parent or a child, an in-law or cousin. This season of joy can turn into one of misery and animosity as we find ourselves having to spend time with people who go out of their way to avoid us the rest of the year.
When our homes are filled with conflict, what can we do to have “peace on earth, good will to men”?
l) Keep our eyes on the One whose birth we celebrate. The Gospel of John opens with the poignant words: “His life is the light that shines through the darkness — and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John l:5, TLB). The reality of that first Christmas was not just the angels’ song, but Herod’s decree that every baby boy two years old and under be slaughtered (see Matthew 2:16). The shadow of the cross was already hanging over the Holy Family as they were forced to flee to Egypt.
Jesus never promised us problem-free relationships, but He has promised to give us the wisdom to know how to love those who may be anything but lovable. Uneasy relationships do not have to spoil the joy of Christmas if we follow Jesus’ example and respond with love and forgiveness.
2) Try not to put unrealistic demands on ourselves. Despite my having 364 days to prepare for it, Christmas Eve generally finds me still racing to complete my “to-do” list. I overextend myself and end up too tired to enjoy Christmas much less to cope with difficult family members. We need to learn when to make a good night’s sleep a priority so that we’re able to handle added emotional pressures.
3) Avoid having unrealistic expectations of others. It is unlikely that people who have been less than pleasant throughout the year will suddenly become nice just because it is Christmas. Yes, I believe that God is able to work miracles, but it is just as great a miracle for us to learn not to set ourselves up to be hurt and angered through our unrealistic expectations of others. If I want peace in my family, it must begin with me.
There is no way I can remove that charred area of paneling without replacing the entire wall, but it can serve as a positive reminder to keep working at relationships before they are damaged seemingly beyond repair. Each visit with my relatives is a chance to lighten the tensions that exist between us. Truly, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor. 5:19, NIV). Because Christ came, we can be reconciled to one another.
Photo caption: 1) Piano decorated for Christmas. 2) Not all families get on so well as this one 3) Checking their phones on Christmas Day. 4) The real meaning of Christmas. 5) Marlene Bagnull.
Note: First rights sold to and printed in the December 1986 issue of Decision. Reprinted (1987 – 1991) in Our Family, Messenger of St. Anthony, Christian Standard, Sunday Digest, Family Forum, and The Gem.
About the writer: Marlene Bagnull is the author of five books including Write His Answer – A Bible Study for Christian Writers that has been in print for 25 years. She gives “Write His Answer” seminars around the nation, and directs the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference and also the Colorado Christian Writers Conference. Visit her website at http://writehisanswer.com. Her e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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