3 Ways to Navigate Family Tension at Christmas

Hot cocoa, toasty fires, peace, and harmony are what we wish would describe our Christmas season. But reality has a way of crashing the party with things like budget worries, sugar overloaded kid meltdowns, colds and cases of flu, and a host of other stresses. It’s heartbreaking when the stresses blossom to become more than just everyday pressures, but into deep-seated family tension and relationship drama.

I used to be consistent at writing an annual Christmas letter. Then we had a year where I sat staring at the blank page with absolutely no idea how to appropriately describe the year we had just experienced with extended family drama. Just thinking about the events of the year left me with a shell-shocked sort of feeling. The drama was too intense and too personal. It went beyond “tension” to a true unraveling.

Christmastime became a really hard season of the year because of the profound loss I felt over family. People often asked questions or advised how the extended family situation ought to be handled. Still, no one knew all the details, and protecting my loved ones in hopes of future restoration meant not “airing all the dirty laundry,” as my grandma used to say. While I did my best to honor the Lord and my loved ones by speaking well of them and praying for them, nothing changed or fixed the situation. And nothing altered the tension that hung over my heart at gatherings with old family friends and extended family. Christmastime can bring a particular flavor of hurt to our hearts, but the Christmas story holds unique encouragement for those of us reeling from family pain.

If you read the gospels, you find two genealogies. If you follow the stories of the people in those genealogies, you find drama. When I set my mind on God’s work in, around, and through all the brokenness of people, my heart finds great courage and hope.

Nothing can thwart or spoil God’s plans - even our worst dysfunction or spiritual strongholds.

Abraham loved God and loved His wife, but when God’s promise for a child took a long time in arriving, Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands. Abraham took a servant who was willing to bear a child for him. Needless to say, it brought a lot of pain and disfunction to the family. And despite it all, God made good on His promise and brought their promised son, Isaac, to them some years later. Isaac’s sons fought bitterly with one another. One son, Jacob, had two wives that were sisters. The competition led to the sisters enlisting the help of their servants to bear children with their husbands. The family dynamics looked impossible, yet the Lord wasn’t overwhelmed with their sin or brokenness. He was still able to powerfully use Jacob’s son, Joseph, to save not only his own family but also countless others. Judah, another one of Jacob’s sons, is in the lineage of Christ, and his choices led his daughter-in-law to disguise herself as a prostitute in order to have a baby with her father-in-law. Yet none of this made God go back to the drawing board and start over! He was able to work through all their broken decisions to create good out of the mess.

David took another man’s wife for his own, and through that union (despite God’s punishment and displeasure over it), God brought King Solomon into the world to be a blessing to Israel, a figure in world history, and a part of Christ’s lineage.

We don’t know any specific issues with Mary and Joseph, but I’m sure the local community raised an eyebrow at Jesus’ birth. So even where there wasn’t a sinful mess with Mary and Joseph, there was the possibility of conjecture and judgment from others for the two of them to wade through.

God wasn’t phased in the least by people’s brokenness. He was coming to dive into the depths of it to bring us freedom and healing from it.

3 Truths to Comfort Your Heart This Christmas

So, if your heart aches this Christmas season over the tensions in your family, whether it’s a deep stronghold or profound brokenness that hurts your heart, or it has simply piled up stresses that color over your best-laid plans, remember that none of it spoils these truths about your Lord and your family.

1. God is with you!


Emmanuel, God with us, is with you and your family! He is in your midst, He is mighty to save, and He takes great delight in you! He rejoices over you with singing and will quiet your soul with His love (Zephaniah 3:17 - a favorite verse!). So, press into his embrace with your soul’s wrestling and look hard for His fingerprints over your situation. He’s with you! Don’t let the darkness of your situation cloud over the Light of Christ working in, around, and through your family.

2. God’s favor is with you!

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14 NIV

It brings great peace to my heart to think God sees you and me. That he sees our struggles and failings and in the midst of it all, His heart for us is to have peace and know His favor rests on us. If you’ve been abandoned, lied about or lied to, abused, and all the rest of the ways we can feel so broken down by relationships, let the comfort of God’s word speak over those hurts. God’s favor rests on you! Now you rest in His favor!

3. Take courage when the pressure feels impossible.

Christmas is a great time to be reminded of the Angel’s words to Mary from Luke 1:37, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Regarding our family situations, it is a special time of year to remember and pray those words over the long-standing issues that have caused pain in relationships. We can traverse family situations that most certainly feel impossible, and they may even require boundaries or actions that are severe, but we can always keep an open heart of blessing toward them through prayer. Forgiveness is always possible through Christ. And concerning our own hurts, we can take comfort in the truth that no wound is too deep, too dirty, or too old for the Lord to reach in and heal us! When the Angel said nothing would be impossible, he wasn’t referring to people getting fancy cars or some wishlist of blessings. He was referring to how sin had separated man from God, and God wouldn’t allow anything to come in between us - the impossibility the Angel referred to was our sin. So this is a great verse to cling to and pray over a situation when sin has created a seemingly impossible rift.

May you rest in His favor and let His work and His promises define you and your family relationships this Christmas season!

Photo credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/fizkes


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