In a few days begins the most intensive family month of the year. Hundreds of millions of Americans will gather together to do whatever family and friends do celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.
What is somewhat different about this year is we are about two weeks removed from a bitterly contested election. A Gallup survey reveals a record 77% of Americans perceive the nation as divided. ABC News ran a story Sunday claiming 38 percent are stressed over the discussion of politics at Thanksgiving. A friend of mine shared that Thanksgiving with their family is off because a political debate turned bad several weeks ago. The family is not speaking. For a lot of people this season of peace looks like anything but.
When it comes to family, it is often easy to see ourselves as a victim, unwillingly drug into a difficult situation. It does not have to be this way. As Christians we have been empowered and equipped to live victoriously in every circumstance. Rather than being victims, we can rise above, even if it requires a little humble stooping. We are commanded in Romans, “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone.” (12:18)
Here are five ways to live at peace during the holidays with those family and friends who voted for the other candidate:
1. Be Proactive: One of Jesus’ more interesting instructions is, “Behold I am sending you out a sheep among the wolves. Be wise as serpents but innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) If you are a Democrat in a Republican family or vice versa, that may sound like a pretty accurate assessment! A little pre-planning might not be a bad thing. Where are you going to sit around the table? Is there someone you should avoid being near in a captive space for an hour? Is there a place you can retreat to catch your breath and get quiet? Pre-planning what to talk about may also be helpful. In the Seinfeld episode, “The Junk Mail” George shares that he plans a list of conversation topics for his weekly Sunday phone call to his parents. It’s the only way to get the through the call. Keeping a mental list of “change of conversation” topics can help steer the discussion away from whether or not we are better off with the Trans Pacific Partnership or the merits of the Electoral College. Collectively remembering and re-telling family stories re-directs the conversational flow as well. Of course the best way to be proactive is to pray. If you are concerned with what might happen at your upcoming event, pray for the fruit of the Holy Spirit to be on display in your life especially during a difficult conversation.
2. Be Gentle: In Proverbs we are taught, “A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.” We are also cautioned in First Timothy to not rebuke an older man harshly. When we get into a charged discussion, our instinct is to fire back and win the debate. If we cannot get out of a discussion or if we choose to be involved despite our stress, we can always select our words carefully. Set the tone by offering, depending upon the context, “I am sure you are excited for President Trump. I really hope he is great for the country” or “It must have been hard to watch the election. It sure looked like Hillary was going to win.” Assume we all want the very best for the most people. Also, at all costs, avoid ad hominem (against the man) arguments. Don’t criticize someone’s character, thoughtfulness or intelligence because of a belief. This is the rock upon which relationships break. Treat your debate opponent discussion partner as someone well informed and insightful despite all evidence to the contrary! If someone attacks you personally for your beliefs, do not participate. End the debate. A great way to do that is to say with a smile, “I love you too much to have this conversation now.” Then default to another topic. Don’t return evil for evil but instead bless with the blessing you have been given. (1 Peter 3:9)
3. Be a Servant: There are a lot of ways to serve at family events. Help in the kitchen, clear the table, do the dishes, offer to run out to get a bag of ice, move chairs, entertain the children (please!), clean a bathroom or rake leaves. Do whatever it takes! If you see a need fill it! Being a servant does two things. First, it keeps us busy. People often bring up uncomfortable topics, like politics, simply to fill the void. If we are busy serving, we mitigate the risk of being in the room when the silence collapses. Choosing to serve also sends a clear message about who we are and what we care about. It’s a little tougher to get into an angry discussion with someone who just cleared your plate from the table or handed you a generous piece of pecan pie.
4. Be Grateful: I had a brief exchange with a friend who is spending Thanksgiving alone. He has very little family left because of death and divorce. It will be a hard day. There are no relationships that are stress or pain free. To love someone, to be caught up inescapably with them due to kith and kin is to give up a certain amount of freedom. It’s a good trade because we are hand crafted by God for relationships. If we are stressed because of someone we love, this is a trial we should consider pure joy. The alternative may be simpler but it runs contrary to our nature. Finding gratitude in being included in a celebration will help us face even a roomful of people whose beliefs seem incomprehensible.
5. Be Humble: Jesus promised in the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) The meek, of course, are not weak. The meek are actually quite strong because they are humble. If we want to inherit a good Thanksgiving dinner, we’ll follow suit! As much as we believe the opposite, none of us have a monopoly on the truth. Jesus, who does own that monopoly, displayed His meekness by asking questions. We don’t always need to make assertions. Sometimes the best way to be in dialogue is not volunteer opinions, solutions and answers. Let others talk their way through it. Also, coming up with a handful of criticisms of our own position can go a long way toward defusing conflict. Not only does it demonstrate we understand our position, it also shows we are not simply a blind, unthinking partisan. If you need some help coming up with criticisms, spend 30 minutes reading a website or a blog from the “opposite side.” If you can’t name any or you simply cannot bring yourself to do it that could be an indicator that you indeed might be a blind partisan! This could be part of the problem. Also be humble before the Lord. Ask Him what He wants to do with your conversations during this season. Is His greatest purpose for you to win a debate or put your opinionated uncle in his place? Probably not. His greatest purpose, always, is for you glorify Him by displaying His character. What better way to celebrate the gift of abundance and the gift of Jesus than by giving ourselves over to that great purpose!