When we choose to engage our holiday season in healthy ways, we will get out of it what we put into it. You reap what you sow, therefore we will grow what we tend. Tending to our family relationships, no matter how dysfunctional they can be, is the mark of a caring, maturing Christian.
Reconciliation is a big word that doesn’t come easily for most of us. At least one party must swallow his or her pride for there to be any forward movement in healing and restoration.
Here are some ideas of what you can do to start a strained relationship on its path to healing and growth:
- Set healthy boundaries first.
We’ve all heard about them and know of them but putting them into practice can be more difficult than it appears.
Take time to review what boundaries are, and if you need to, practice them with a spouse or close family member. It’s always easier said than done.
When you may need to establish these boundaries, it’s better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them under your belt.
- Engage in a dialog, but don’t bring up the past unless necessary.
For strained relationships with other family, you could ignore them and set up distance between you, or you could engage with them and hear them out.
One of Dale Carnegie’s Top Ten golden rules in winning friends and influencing people is “listen to and be genuinely interested in the other person.”
Everyone loves to talk about themselves. Without judgmental attitude, ask them open-ended, meaningful questions and see where that leads them.
Who knows, you may find you have more in common than you thought, or you may open the door to a means of reconciliation.
- Offer forgiveness and mercy if you’ve been wronged.
If they offended you, you may want to clear the air. If it’s not an obvious offense, like they never replied to your Facebook event invite, let it go.
If it’s something more straightforward like a blatant rumor they started, said something insincere and insensitive to you outright, ignored your hospitalization in the psych ward, haven’t seen you in years and you have an obvious (to you) gap in the proximity of your relationship, you may want to take it a step further.
If you can’t move forward without some kind of closure or reconciliation, approach them in a kind and loving way.
Start off with speaking with them one-on-one if it’s something more personal, and pray for wisdom and the words to say.
- Ask for forgiveness if you have wronged another.
If you’re the one in the relationship that may have done something wrong—and sometimes it’s harder to tell if it goes unspoken—but if you have doubts or concerns, say something.
Maybe you didn’t do anything wrong by them, best case scenario, and maybe you did do something wrong.
If you did, ask for their forgiveness. Admit you have offended them and hurt them. Apologize intentionally and meaningfully.
It’s so imperative that you get one to one with them and in as private a space as possible (within reason) to resolve the offense.
- Place the relationship in God’s hands.
God knows we are weak, near-sighted, and a lot of times blind toward our own faults. Within ourselves we are faulty, so it’s likely our brokenness with another will have a byproduct of broken and faulty relationships at times.
Whether we are the ones pulling more weight or not pulling enough of the yoke, there is never a bad time to put the relationship into Christ’s healing hands.
Remember Peter, who denied Jesus three times? Remember how Jesus asked him three times if Peter loved him?
Jesus wants to restore our relationships with others just as His and Peter’s was. No matter how destructive a person has been, so long as God’s mercies are new every morning, we are able to give each other second chances, within healthy limits.
And when we are at the end of ourselves, He has it under control. When it seems helpless, God makes a way.
- Pray and wait for growth.
Good habits and healthy behaviors take time to learn and adjust to. The other party may be aware that they need to change, now that you’ve cleared the air.
Pray for them, and pray for you, to grow, to change, to become more like Jesus.
To take it a step further, suggest praying together.
- Optional step: document your journey
The neat thing about keeping journals or documenting our story is that when you look back at it, you eventually get to see how much you’ve learned, grown and changed!
It’s amazing that it not only hones your writing skills, it develops your sense of introspection, and you see just how far you’ve come.
Maybe by next year, the holiday season will be more of a welcome time with those family members that otherwise got under your skin.
Maybe you’ll look forward to the gatherings more.
Maybe you’ll love more.
Isn’t that something we all can work on?
I hope these suggestions encourage you to approach your holiday season with family in a deeper, healthier and God-honoring way. May God grant you grace and patience to handle the holidays and family gatherings.
About the author: Hey there! I’m Katie Dale, familiar with the storms of mental illness, and I blog about my faith and how it has informed my brain-based disorder at KatieRDale.com. I also have a memoir out about my journeys through the psych wards and how I found peace of mind with psych meds (by the grace of God) – you can find it on Amazon here. Come find me and say hi on social media @KatieRDale.
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