Before you spend the holidays with family

Family can be great.

Family can also be stressful.

The issue is that it’s easy to let our guard down when we’re with family. I believe that subconsciously we think that we can say and do whatever we want, and the people that are close to us will love us regardless.

And this is why Christmas can be stressful.

We’ve eaten excessive amounts of refined sugar, we’re secretly dreading the impending post-holiday bills, we’ve stayed up too late watching Boy Meets World on Disney +, the kids have been acting like wild orangutans, and you’re about to have to put on the fake faces of appreciation when you open that sweater.

As much as family can be great, they also can be overly honest (let’s call it what it is, opinionated). “Have you put on weight?” “Have you lost weight?” “Are you ever going to settle down?” “If that were my kid, I would give them a smack.”

As much as family can be great, they can also be stressful.

What we must remember is that we are to be like Jesus. We’re to love indiscriminately. Maybe your family aren’t your enemies, but if we’re supposed to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), then we need to love our family too.

Love is a nice sentiment, but what does it mean?

1 Corinthians 13 spells it out perfectly,

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

While this may be an ideal we may never live up to this entirely, this Christmas when we reflect on what it means that Jesus came to start a kingdom of love let’s keep 1 Corinthians in mind. It may be hard but, this is what love looks like.

When your mother asks you again when you’re going to give her a grandchild, remember, love is patient. When you have to drop the kids off at the ex’s, remember, love is kind. When your husband gives you a spatula for Christmas, remember, love keeps no record of wrongs. When everything is going wrong—things aren’t adding up—remember, love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

When we can remember that love is a choice—a choice that is sometimes hard with those close to us—it can revolutionize our relationships.

Maybe your parents, spouse, kids, aunt Ruth, or grandma give judgemental stares and weighted nuanced comments that drive you completely nuts! You just want to react. I know I’ve been there. I’ve even done it. But there is a better way.

That better way, is to choose love. We choose to be patient and kind. We choose to love because it is what God chose for us. Romans 5 says it,

“While we were still sinners, Christ gave up his life for us.”

In a small part, we are now to do the same. Essentially, while your mom still judges your life, love. When your grandma comments about your weight, love. When you Dad disapproves of your life choices, love. When your ex is being difficult about seeing the kids, love.

If God does it when we oppose him and gave up his life at that, we can at least try this holiday season to pass the gravy in peace, loving despite the family drama, and demonstrate why there is good news for all people.

What I learned in Africa… and it’s not what you think.

Most people when they go to a foreign country, especially those that have lesser means then their own, are impacted by the poverty, lack of opportunity, and many times, the hopelessness the local people have of ever pulling themselves out of their situation.

For me, it has always been different.

It is not that the aforementioned doesn’t enter my mind, how could it not. It’s just so often we go on these experiences which have a tremendous impact on us, and while we are on the ground, there is an emotional change in us! It’s deep. It’s powerful. It’s potent. However, the effects often diminish over time. It wanes, and it’s completely normal. We return, and our reality instantly begins to shade our experience. We say we will never forget the feeling, but how can we genuinely help it! Our cultures consumerism slams us in the face everywhere we go.

Heck, you can’t even use the bathroom at most restaurants without some tv screen on the urinal wall flashing advertisements in your face.

I have led a few trips and each time, knowing the “life change” amnesia can set in, I’ve tried to take simple life lessons that are easy to apply. When these lessons can be implemented, though they are simple, they can be revolutionary in the long term.

While I was in Malawi last year, I was talking with my missionary friend Jef when he said something that has changed my life, and those around me’s lives, for the better.

“You realize when you come to Africa that they do things on their own schedule. It is hard at first to get used to it because we are always go go go but….”

And this next little comment changed my life.

“You eventually realize that there isn’t a whole lot that actually has to be done right now. Most things can wait.”

WOW. This stuck with me. This lesson did need some help to set in.

Before we get into what came next you need to understand something about me, I’m a high energy, get things done on time, anal, church planter… What that means, I’m not totally sure. What I do know is that Sunday mornings stress me out (I write about this in chapter 9 of my new book Hidden Faces). So often, stressed out of my mind, I can be found storming around making sure everything is perfect as if the seam on the drape facing out is the deciding factor on someone accept Christ…

I needed to hear that lesson Jef taught me.

However, it only sunk in a little. I should say that I had been working on this for nine months, but sometimes we need a few impactful experiences to help expedite the process.

Right before I went, and increasingly after I had severe pain when I found myself in stressful situations. I pushed through. Why? Because weakness is the enemy! About two weeks after I returned from Africa, I started getting tingling in my hip, which turned into a numb spot about the size of a quarter. Then it slowly expanded to a hip that was completely numb with this intense pain that I spoke of earlier. This lasted for about a month until I was bedridden with pain, and small lesions appeared on my back.

I had shingles.

Stressed induced shingles.

I had two months laying in pain (only getting up to do the necessary) to reflect on Jef’s words, my patterns, and where I wanted to go.

“There isn’t a whole lot that actually has to be done right now. Most things can wait.”

Tony Stoltzfus, while coaching a pastor, observed,

“Let’s say that the people you lead follow your example instead of what you say – that they imitate the way you live. Say that everyone in your congregation worked your hours, had your stress level, spent the amount of time you do with your wife and kids, and had your exercise and eating habits. If the legacy of your ministry was that your people took on your lifestyle, what would you think of that.”

If I were helping someone in my congregation who happened to have my stress level (due to anal tendencies and a need to get everything done ASAP whether it needed to be or not), I would tell them to relax, breathe, gain perspective, realize you’re not God. I would ask them to look at Jesus. Was he stressed out?

The Gospel of Mark tells us,

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

The New International Version. (2011). (Mk 1:35).

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray

The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 14:23).

It seems to me that Jesus took time to relax and refresh his Spirit. It appears Jesus took care of His soul. There were times when He dismissed the crowd, took too long to get to appointments, and went off script and had a meal or a party instead of rushing to His next thing.

For Jesus, as it turns out, most things could wait. Jesus demonstrated for us what the correct life/work balance looks like.

Africa changed my life. It helped me gain perspective. It’s been over a year since I was there, and while I have moments of regression I can honestly say, the cadence of my life is dramatically different.

It’s all thanks to what I learned in Africa…and it’s not what you thought.

Check out the resources used in this post