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This is the time of year that we get together with family. I'm thankful for them, but sometimes getting together can be difficult for some. My PS got a little long, but has some helps for how to survive in difficult family settings during holidays. #thankful #thankfulforfamily #difficultconversations

Photo: Martha G. Brady

I am thankful for my family. I don’t say this lightly. As a child, I remember hearing my grandparents praying aloud at night for us (and others) before they went to sleep. We often stayed with them as young children when our mom was ill. As teens we stayed with them when our parents were overseas and we were in school in the US. Sometimes we were able to go home during the summer, but all the other holidays were with our grandparents.

At times, I also remember hearing my parents praying aloud together for us and others too. I’m sure they thought we had gone to bed and were asleep long ago. But I didn’t always fall asleep right away. I remember finding that comforting. Although we prayed for our kids, we didn’t do it aloud that they would have heard it. We were much more quiet and honestly, more irregular about our prayers together. But we definitely prayed plenty for our children.

I remember feeling that generational sense that GOD was working through the generations in our family through the prayers I heard. And I believe it be true. GOD has worked as a result of those prayers over the years.

This is when many families are able to get together to catch up. Sometimes it is for Thanksgiving, at others, it is for Christmas. As much as we love our families, there are times these get-togethers can be trying. Here are some tips… Click To Tweet

I remember the early days of our marriage, wondering what the years ahead held for us

I also have been remembering recently about the early days of our marriage. (A family friend is getting married soon. It always takes me back.) I remember wondering what was ahead for us as a couple. Would we have a family? Would I be widowed young like his mom was? Would we be truly happy together long term? You know, all those questions that come to mind as you think about getting married and in those early weeks after marriage?

I see our marriage now from a rear view mirror even thought it isn’t over, of course. Certainly, the majority of our married years are over. I have a pretty good overview of it.

Now I look back over our just over 52 years of marriage and am in awe of the blessings we have received! We have had an amazing life together. It has been far more delightful than I could have imagined. Did we have difficulties? Of course. But through the hard times and fun times, we learned more about Jesus and His ability to provide whatever we needed at the time. He always did…and then some. We also received a much more enlarged view of who GOD is. Oh my! He is so much grander and larger than I once thought…in my wildest imagination!

One of our early losses was our first daughter who was stillborn. The loss was difficult for sure. But we later went on to have 3 daughters who are now grown with families of their own. We now have a total of 7 grands. Tucked in among all the girls are two boys. (Our third and sixth grandchildren.)

My largest pain has been being far from most of our grands. I just don’t know how to do grandmothering from long distance. Actually, I don’t know how to do it well period. I’m trying to learn.

This coming Spring, I will reach the 3/4 century mark. It is shocking to me to be that age.

I’ve almost made it to 3/4 of a century of living and as I look back, I see what a wonderful life it has been. It has definitely been full of texture.There is no doubt of that! There have been times of plenty and times of want. But overall, we have survived it all. GOD has been good.

As I look back, I realize that what Tim Keller says about prayer is totally true…

“GOD will give you what you ask for or what you would have asked for if you knew everything He does.”

There were many times GOD didn’t give me what I asked for. Often, I had no idea why. But in the intervening years, I have often gotten glimmers of why those requests were best not answered in the ways I wanted. GOD knew things about either the future or about me or us as a couple or us as a family that wouldn’t have worked in some of those settings or situations in the ways I would have preferred. Often, I look back with relief that He didn’t answer those requests in the ways I made them.

In the process, I learned a lot! It seems I learn a lot the hard way. I learn some from watching the mistakes of others, but I learn even more from my own mistakes.

The truth is, I am thankful for the family GOD has given me. He has been good to us over the years and cared for us in ways we never dreamed possible. We are very thankful.

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come.

Psalm 71:17-18 ESV

During this time of Thanksgiving, what things about your family can you find to be thankful for?

 

I realize this is an important PS with family times coming up both this week and during Christmas

 

What things about your family cause you to struggle?

Especially during holidays when you all get together. Sometimes, it helps to think through the things that chronically irritate you and figure out why. The same old joke x says, the dumb stories y tells that bore you to death, the way z constantly complains? Whatever the list you have in your head is, think it through.

1. Are there consistent themes that irritate you? Why? Do you ever speak up? For example, is there someone who consistently puts another person down when the family is together? Does anyone ever speak up and say it is inappropriate and needs to change? Do you ever speak up for yourself as an adult?

So often, there is a desire to have peace at any cost and we pray too high a price for it. We allow bullies to get away with their work and don’t defend people who are being bullied, sometimes in subtle ways. This doesn’t keep peace. It only allows people who are behaving badly to continue their evil work. It is good to find these people irritating, but better to deal with them calmly. Injustice is never good, but lashing out rarely helps. It is better to have a calm plan when the incident happens so you can deal with it calmly.

2. There are times when we think we can’t stand getting together with our family one more time. We make the things we don’t like much larger in our heads than they really are…sometimes. It may help to look at the positives about the person/people we are struggling with. Is this a consistent problem or did they have an off year/an off few years? Are they going through a difficult season that could explain some of their behavior? Is there a way to steer the conversation to something more positive or to insert some encouragement into the conversation? It isn’t always possible, but when it is, it is great to see how a few positive words can alter a conversation for the good. Have we engaged them one on one to even know what kind of year they have had? Or have we been so put off by their negativity that we just stay away? Sadly, we often treat family members as if we know what is happening with them when we actually haven’t had a meaningful conversation with them in a long time. I’m not underestimating the difficulty of this. I’m simply stating that if you want to change the dynamic of some of the family dynamic, these are some of the things that may need to happen.

It is helpful to see how thinking ahead about a person or conversation pitfall beforehand can prepare you for the conversations that may arise. It helps to think through who the person is and where they are coming from when they get to that conversation.

3. Often, we love our families, but find some of them difficult to be around for extended periods of time. It’s important to think through our love for them and our ability to live with some of their irritating quirks. For a meal on occasion, we can’t expect someone to change everything about themselves for us, Inappropriate behavior needs to change for sure! But otherwise, we need to learn to adjust to who they are as people.

We can encourage more positivity by the questions we ask or the ways we word comments and questions. We can encourage family members by offering true, encouraging words in our conversations with them. Whether we will end up being the main instrument of change or not is not the point. By doing the things that need to be done, GOD will use them for good in the life of your family if done with a humble spirit.

4. There will be years when it will be wise to set up a rule for topics not to be discussed. For example, this year it may be wise to leave politics and political views off the conversation list. Why discuss something that is bound to cause friction? It may cause the family to have to think about other topics, but that will be good. Your family may have another topical downfall. Think about ruling that topic out for discussion this year. It’s not as if everyone knows the views of the others.

I felt I needed to give a balanced approach to the discussion of family and being thankful this year. Of course, it got a little long. But I have definitely been in the hard place with being around family myself. It is no fun! It is even less fun when you feel powerless to either speak up or defend yourself against  some of the comments. The family meals are always a tension. Managing the tension can be stressful because we do love our family.

5. Pray, Pray, Pray that GOD will watch your mouth and give you wisdom while at this family gathering. Maybe the best thing for you will be the side conversations you have with others in the family this year. Whatever comes of this year’s gathering, ask Him to keep you honest and wise, able to build up and not tear down.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

Romans 15:1-2 ESV