When I was a kid, I looked forward to every holiday with great anticipation. I loved the food, as well as the opportunity to be with extended family. And when Christmas was in view, I really, really loved the idea of getting presents—lots of presents! Lol!
However, once the actual holiday approached, my dreams and desires were often dashed by the way my mother, in particular, reacted. Very often she took on too much and delegated too little. Her anxiety and perfectionism tripped her up time and time again.
When I went into marriage, I was determined not to carry my mother’s drama into any of my own holiday gatherings. And I don’t know if it was because I arrogantly thought I could do better, or if I was deeply imprinted by her choices …
But I almost always did the very same kinds of things at every family feast that she had done before me.
At least, at the gatherings I hosted.
This caused damage in my marriage and certainly must have damaged my children’s hearts as well.
So here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from my mom’s and my own mistakes at holiday times. I hope they will help you to avoid some of the pitfalls present during the holidays.
Steps to Do Days Ahead of Time …
1. Identify the pitfalls and pray about each one.
Set aside time far enough in advance of the big day to brainstorm all the potential things that could go wrong. Also, be sure to draw upon the past problems you’ve encountered or caused here as well. List each one, then write out beside them the ways you can avoid them or deal with them better.
Begin to pray over this list leading up to the holiday gathering—asking God to strengthen you in each challenge.
2. Communicate about a “game plan” with your mate.
This isn’t about discussing which football game you’re going to watch later that day! Sorry, NFL lovers!
Instead, walk through the plan for the day, so that your mate knows in advance what you need help with.
This means not expecting your spouse to read your mind. And try not to pop these expectations on your mate on the day of the gathering. Give your mate time to mentally prepare.
3. Don’t just adjust, but surrender your expectations.
During your prayer times up to the day, remember to ask God to reveal any of your unrealistic expectations. I’ve been guilty of wanting to impress my family with my cooking or decorating more than making quality time with them my focus. Wow! That confession hurts!
Remember how Jesus responded to this when Martha was His hostess?
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ —Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)
Like Jesus, my family only wants me to hone in on them—being with them, and not just buzzing around them.
Surrender any attitudes or practices that put the tasks of the holiday celebration above the people in your life
Steps to Do the Day Of …
4. Make time for Jesus before making time for others.
With a busy, full day on the docket, you might be tempted to forgo your time alone with God. But don’t give in to this thought! My quiet times have become my “gas station”—allowing me to fuel up for the demands of each day.
If I skip this, I run out of fuel and end up operating in human weakness rather than God’s strength.
And on a day when you and I need more of God’s power, not less, this can spell disaster!
Been there? Oh, my! I certainly have!
So get up just a little earlier than you normally would, to get this refueling time in. Even Jesus, in all of His power, knew the importance of meeting alone with God before facing the demands of the day.
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” —Luke 5:16(NIV)
5. Pray with or for your spouse on the morning of the holiday.
My husband and I have been praying every day (not just holidays) for the past 7 years. Since we began this commitment, we’ve seen a drastic drop in the amount of arguments we have.
I think that’s because it unifies us by keeping Christ as our focus rather than on ourselves.
If your spouse is not willing or is uncomfortable praying with you, be sure to pray on your own for how you want to respond to your mate. And don’t spend near as much time praying for your mate’s attitude as you do praying for your own!
6. Communicate well with your mate on the day of the gathering.
This means communicating to them with grace and patience in place. It also means being clear about what you need from them instead of expecting them to know when or how to help.
This also involves knowing when you need help. Stay self-aware—allowing your feelings to be acknowledged, not only to your mate but also to yourself.
Steps to Do When Meltdowns Happen Anyway …
7. Take a break to pray.
Sometimes we do all the right preparations, but the demands of the day end up breaking our resolve. We end up being snippy or, worse yet, losing our temper with our mates. Before it gets out of hand or after you’ve blown it completely, take a break to pray.
Don’t feel bad about running off to the bathroom or bedroom for a moment of solitude. Everyone will thank you for it! Simply take five or ten minutes to pray about how you feel, as well as asking God to empower you in this weak moment.
It’s also a good time to reflect on the grace Jesus has extended to you.
This will give you the motivation to do the next step …
8. Extend grace out of the grace you’ve received from Christ.
I don’t have the ability to extend grace to others unless I remember how undeserving I am of Christ’s forgiveness and lean into His grace. It is then that I gain a proper perspective that equalizes me with my mate and opens my heart as no other practice can. After all, there’s no sin my husband can do against me that is worse than my sins against Jesus. Yet Jesus still forgives me.
That’s when a holiday about thanksgiving comes more alive than ever before!
I thank God for His grace given to me, and let that same grace flow through me to my mate.
I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll avoid a meltdown in your marriage during a holiday gathering by following my suggestions but …
Following these steps will help bring healing and grace where it surely would have been lacking.
What is one step you would add to my list of eight above?
What are you tempted to do that creates problems with your spouse and others at holiday gatherings?
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on messymarriage.com.
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