Turkey dinners, desserts for days, decorating the house, planning for parties, and power-shopping until the wee hours of the mornings — yes, it’s that time of the year. And just as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve come at the same time each year, without fail every holiday season, the very people you’re supposed to be cherishing are the ones who seem to bring you the most stress.
Unfortunately, the picture-perfect family dinner we see on television is not something that always translates to our personal situations. With crazy relational dynamics that can test one’s patience and sanity, there’s a bit of dysfunction in every family — and it’s often heightened during the holidays.
While on the surface certain family members may appear to be the enemy, they are people to whom God has connected you for a reason, and they’re often the first opportunity we have to learn to “love your neighbor.” As the old saying goes, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” With that in mind, here are five tips to help you navigate family drama during this most joyful season.
1. Learn how and when to say no. You can’t satisfy everyone in your family, and the quicker you realize that the better you and your family will be. Set boundaries for yourself and your personal relationships. With pressure to shop for gifts, attend holiday parties and family gatherings, as well as your usual everyday demands of work and family, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You have to remember that you’re just one person, you can’t do everything. You may not be able to go to every party that you’re invited to and you may even have to make adjustments to plans for traveling to see different relatives. Set priorities and stick to them.
2. Accept your family’s differences. We all have that aunt or uncle who drinks a little too much and lets their mouths get them into trouble. Or there’s the cousin who always comes late with the main dish — so the family is waiting for hours to eat. Whatever your family scenario, remember that we all have our own idiosyncrasies that can be irritating — and honestly we all probably have a bit of crazy deep down inside. It doesn’t mean you condone or agree with certain behaviors, but you just don’t let it hang you up. Don’t sweat the small stuff that you can’t change.
3. Keep it simple. Whether it’s with gift-giving, hosting a family gathering, or cooking a dish for a family potluck — make it easy on yourself. While you may want to stick to traditions, it’s okay to make adjustments. Instead of cooking, maybe you can buy a prepared dish. You may want to do it all on your own as your mother did back in the day, but know that it’s okay to ask for help. Get other family members involved with planning and preparing holiday meals or gatherings. When it comes to gifts, stick to a budget. Be real about your financial situation; if you can’t afford to buy everyone — or anyone — a gift, it’s okay. Your presence really is enough.
4. Keep conversations light. Avoid hot-button issues during the holidays. Keep conversations light and focus on the good. Trying to flesh out unresolved conflicts at the dinner table is probably not a good idea — especially because of the spirit of the season. Try to find things that you have in common with your loved ones and bring those elements into your conversations. Often tension and angst arise from misunderstandings and miscommunication. Find common ground, which will help in the end to build stronger bonds that last beyond the Christmas dinner at Granny’s.
5. Take time out for yourself. Focusing on everyone else, it’s easy to forget about yourself. If it’s no more than 15 minutes or an hour, take some time for you. Do something you want to do. Seeing a movie, reading a book, journaling, exercising — whatever you need to do to tend to your mind, body, and soul do it. Even Jesus needed some time alone.
The Real Reason for the Season
When it’s all said and done, remember what the holidays are really all about. Taking time to be thankful for the blessings in your life, celebrating the birth of Christ and looking ahead to the New Year, it’s a time to reflect and put things in a proper perspective.
After all, Jesus had supper with Judas (who betrayed Him) and Peter (who would later deny Him). If He can forgive and show love, shouldn’t we follow His lead and extend grace to those special relatives who annually work our last nerve?
So how do you survive the stress that the holidays can put on family relationships? Share your thoughts and tips for coping below.
Over the next few weeks, members of the Jewish faith will observe the High Holy Days in the month of Tishrei in the Jewish calendar, usually in September and October. These holidays commemorate concepts such as renewal, forgiveness, freedom and joy.
Of the two main High Holy Days, also called the High Holidays, the first is Rosh Hashanah, or the New Year celebration. It is one of two new year celebrations in the Jewish faith, the other being Passover in the spring.
The second High Holiday is Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.
In addition to the main Holy Days, there are other celebrations that occur as part of the festival season. One is Sukkot, or the Festival of the Booths, during which meals and rituals take place in a “sukkah,” or a makeshift structure constructed with a tree-branch roof.
The second entails twocelebrations, which in some traditions are part of the same holiday and in others occur on two separate, consecutive days: Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
Shemini Atzeret is Hebrew for “eighth (day of) assembly,” counting eight days from Sukkot. Simchat Torah is Hebrew for “joy/rejoicing of the Torah” – the Torah being the first five books of the Bible, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, believed to have been revealed to Moses.
Of particular interest for the High Holy Days in 2021 is that Rosh Hashanah also begins a yearlong observance known as the “Shmita.”
Commemorated once every seven years, the term comes from a Hebrew phrase that appears in the Bible in a number of passages. Some of these passages command that the farmer “drops” or “releases” his crops. Another verse associates the act with the forgiveness of debts. In another passage in the Bible, the Shmita is connected with the reading of God’s revelation in the law.
The exact nature of the action denoted by Shmita is debated, but the idea is that some portion of the food is left behind for the poor and hungry in society.
In this manner, the beginning of the High Holy Days in 2021 is a reminder to care for those who have been struggling.
Why celebrate these festivals?
The origins and reasons for the High Holy Days are in some fashion encoded in the Bible and in the agrarian and religious culture that produced it. The millennia of Jewish tradition between the Bible and the present has informed many of the celebrations as well, in ways that go beyond the biblical texts.
The first holiday, Rosh Hashanah, celebrates renewal. It involves the blowing of the shofar horn, itself connected to the ram sacrificed instead of Abraham’s son, as God had commanded Abraham to do. Important activities include attending synagogue to hear the shofar, as well as eating apple slices with honey, the former representing hopes for fruitfulness and the honey symbolizing the desire for a sweet year.
It also often involves a ritual of throwing bread onto running water, called a tashlich, symbolizing the removal of sins from people.
Rosh Hashanah is believed to mark the date of the creation of the world, and it begins the “Days of Awe,” a 10-day period culminating in Yom Kippur.
The term “Days of Awe” itself is a more literal translation of the Hebrew phrasing used for the High Holy Days.
Concepts of repentance and forgiveness are particularly highlighted in Yom Kippur. Its origins are found in the Hebrew Bible, where it describes the one day a year in which premeditated, intentional sins, such as willfully violating divine commands and prohibitions, were forgiven.
Intentional sins were envisioned as generating impurity in the heart of the temple in Jerusalem, where God was thought to live. Impurity from intentional sins was believed by Israelites to be a threat to this divine presence since God might choose to leave the temple.
The biblical description of Yom Kippur involved a series of sacrifices and rituals designed to remove sin from the people. For example, one goat was thought to bear the sins of the Israelites and was sent off to the wilderness, where it was consumed by Azazel, a mysterious, perhaps demonic force. Azazel consumed the goat and the sins that it carried. The term “scapegoat” in English derives from this act.
Yom Kippur is both the holiest day of the Jewish calendar and also one of the most somber, as the time for repentance includes fasting and prayer.
Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
The Festival of Sukkot likely began as an agricultural celebration, and the booths were shelters in which farmers stayed during the collection of grain, which was to be processed for the year.
Vestiges of this agricultural commemoration appear in certain passages in the Bible, one of which indicates that the festival is to last seven days to mark the time period in which Israelites dwelt in booths, or makeshift dwellings with branches, when leaving Egypt.
This feast was known as zeman simchatenu, or “the time of our rejoicing,” hearkening to the themes of gratitude, freedom from Egypt and the reading of God’s revelation as found in the Torah to all Israel.
Such a time of rejoicing contrasts with the somber repentance and fasting that feature in Yom Kippur. So vital was the Festival of Booths that it is also known as simply “the chag,” or “the feast,” a word related to the more familiar hajj pilgrimage in Islam.
This period of seven days ends with Shemini Atzeret on the eighth day, both a connected celebration capping off Sukkot and a festival in its own right.
The annual reading of the Torah ends with the final text of Deuteronomy. The beginning of the next annual reading cycle, starting with the first book Genesis, is also celebrated. This act of beginning a new year of reading the Bible is commemorated in the festival called Simchat Torah.
The observance of Simchat Torah was a later innovation, described already in the fifth century or so but not formalized or identified by this name until the medieval period.
Why do they matter?
Religious calendars and festivals can force people to encounter certain ideas in the year. For example, they can enable them to face the more difficult dynamics of life like repentance and forgiveness, providing avenues to reflect on the events of the past year and to find courage to live differently in the next year where needed.
In this manner, structuring the celebration of the new year around remembrances of a variety of human experiences, both sorrow and joy, entails a profound recognition of the complexity of relationships and experiences in life.
In the weeks and days leading up to Christmas, the average Christian spends a lot of money, time, and energy preparing for the holiday. While I’ve always considered that time of year to be a very special one, I’ve often wondered why we don’t elevate Easter–or Resurrection Sunday, to use the name that many believers prefer–to the same level. After all, didn’t Jesus come into the world for the very purpose of suffering, dying, and rising again to demonstrate His love and give us new life?
So why don’t we celebrate the day Jesus arose from the dead the way we celebrate the day He came into the world? Well, if I interviewed every believer I know, I’d receive a multitude of opinions. For example, some men and women of faith would say it’s because Resurrection Sunday is more somber than Christmas. When these Christians think about the horrific thing that was done to Jesus to save our souls, they can’t help but be sad. They don’t like thinking–or talking about–the demise of any human being, let alone the torture and death of the One they call Savior. So, while they honor the day Jesus was resurrected, they aren’t inspired to engage in the same type of festivities as the ones they deem appropriate for Christmas.
For other Christians, the difference in how they celebrate these two holidays stems from the fact that they aren’t constantly being courted by retailers that promise to provide just what they need to have a perfect holiday. In other words, as Resurrection Sunday approaches, they don’t feel the same kind of pressure or obligation to buy the right presents or hang the prettiest decorations. So, they don’t do anything special for the holiday. Still others would probably say that it’s simply because, other than Passion Plays or Sunday school programs put on at churches, there just aren’t that many religious traditions associated with the holiday.
But does it have to be this way? Couldn’t we begin today to create our own family traditions that recognize the fact that Jesus kept His promise that He’d die and then, on the third day, be alive again? Isn’t that very fact pivotal to our Christian faith? Isn’t that reason enough for a celebration or, even better, kicking off certain lifestyle changes that will last long after the holiday has come and gone?
Holiday traditions have a wonderful way of ushering in greater spiritual awareness and a renewed commitment to one’s faith. They can provide us with opportunities to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as share our faith with non-believers. And they can also help us make our faith more tangible in the eyes of our impressionable children.
One way to do this is to set aside time to pray and read God’s Word every day, particularly reflecting on verses that remind us of His Son’s sacrificial love for us. Among the verses you may want to read and meditate on are the following ones: John 3:16; Romans 10:9; Luke 19:10; Romans 5:8; and I John 4:7-10. Don’t feel as though you have to do this alone. Invite your spouse, a prayer partner and even your children to join you. If you already set aside time for devotions, you may want to use the time to not only read them but memorize them. That way, they’ll not just be counted among the many that you perused this year, but listed among those that meant enough to you that you chose to engrave them into your heart and mind.
Reaching out to others during this time is another way to take your appreciation of the holiday to new level. Some people do this by inviting unsaved relatives, friends, or neighbors to go to church with them. Others may opt to host an event–such as a brunch, dinner party, movie night, or even a dessert party–in their home for relatives and friends who appreciate Christian fellowship as much as they do. In addition, those that love giving presents on holidays could consider making homemade gifts–such as sugar cookies made into shapes representative of various components of the Gospel message (e.g., a cross, sheep, stars, etc.)–or purchasing small gifts at their local Christian bookstore.
You also could fill your home, office, and car with sights and sounds that are symbolic of Christ’s life. Little figurines displayed on mantles or tables in your home, as well as small ornaments, hung on bedposts, doorknobs, or even your car’s rear-view mirror could serve as perfect reminders of what God did for us through His Son. If you’ve been thinking about incorporating more faith-based forms of entertainment into your life and home, this is the perfect time to start. Check your local library, video rental store, or favorite bookstore for inspirational titles and schedule a few movie nights. And don’t forget to set aside time to be blessed by the ministry of music, whether you enjoy the gospel, contemporary Christian, holy hip-hop, or sacred jazz. Let it play softly in the background while eating dinner with your family, as you complete chores, and as you’re commuting to and from various places.
Regardless of which traditions you decide to infuse into your life in the coming weeks, what’s important is that you hold on to why you’re adding them. Celebrate the good news of Easter unabashedly so that you, your loved ones, and anyone who crosses your path will have the opportunity to experience a renewed appreciation for Resurrection Sunday and all that it symbolizes for God’s children.
The holiday season is a special time of peace, joy, goodwill toward others, and … job cuts.
Just scan the headlines of companies announcing layoffs.
It wasn’t always this way. But even before the pandemic, companies had become less gun shy about blasting employees around Christmastime. Shedding jobs in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year helps companies to balance their books and start fresh in January. For the jobless, it can make for a wrenching cheerless holiday. Meanwhile, those on the employment bubble are left thanking their lucky stars, that is, until the next round of cuts.
Heartless or just business?
Actually it’s both. The motive is certainly not about “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” This is why, ironically, losing your job during the holidays may be the best gift for you.
How do I know? It happened it me.
One November, a few years back, my supervisor called me into his office as if nothing was wrong, told me that my services were no longer needed and handed me a manila folder. This was just six months after I had joined the well-known company, relocated my family (with two teens in high school), and bought a home. As devout and God-fearing as I would like to think I am, I didn’t feel very spiritual at that moment. But the scripture is true: “What man means for evil, God can turn to good” (Gen. 5:20). I eventually chose to join God’s plan to use that dark moment to refocus me on faith, family, and a brighter future.
I got fired up.
How did it happen? My book, Fired Up, explains the four steps:
1. Talk About It. I immediately told friends and family what happened, instead of wallowing in shame.
2.Pray About It. Through daily prayer I reflected on my past accomplishments, which inspired and helped me plan my next career move.
3.Feel It. I embraced my emotions, but managed them. When anger raged and I felt like hurting the guy and cursing the company’s owner for the cowardly classless way they fired me, I let it flow. I also took a kickboxing class as an outlet to kick and punch out anger.
4.Forgive. These first three steps helped me to learn from the situation and reject the bitter feeling of wanting harm to come upon my ex-supervisor and the company’s owner. They weren’t thinking about me, and so I was cheating my family and myself by ruminating about them. I refocused on “Me Inc.”
Job cuts come with the territory. Especially if you’re an at-will employee (and not under contract), you can be slashed at any moment. For those who have gotten the ax, wanting to return the favor to your former boss is a waste of time and energy. The appropriate F-word is “forgive,” so that you can move up to what God has prepared for you.
As I mentioned, employers want to start fresh after the New Year, so December and January are actually good times to find your next job, if that’s what you want. Maybe God wants you to start that business he placed into your heart! Either way, stay focused, keep your head up and put your feet to the pavement. For those who are dealing with a jobless loved one or spouse, particularly a male, here’s some advice to help them press on:
1. If you’re married, encourage your spouse. The Bible teaches that women have the power “to build up” or “pull down” their homes (Prov. 14:1). Wise women understand “death and life is in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21). The guy is already feeling inadequate as a breadwinner. Instead of tossing more dirt on his fragile ego, show that you’re in the trenches with him. Likewise, men must encourage their wives through a job loss and love her sacrificially (Eph. 5:25-27).
2. If you have children, include them in the recovery process. Together, tell the kids what’s going on. Too often we shield children from bad news because we don’t want them to be disappointed. Forget that. It’s a disservice to them. Children need to learn how to handle hard times because they will become adults who will have to handle hard times. So, there won’t be any expensive Christmas gifts under the tree this year? Tell them why and that the holiday is about Jesus the giver not Santa the credit card debt creator. They’ll survive, and you will too.
3. Cut expenses and eliminate debt. Most of the economic pundits claim that America must spend its way out of the recession for jobs to return. Guess what? Those old jobs that required obsolete skills aren’t coming back. The banks — especially the ones that were bailed out by our tax dollars — are cutting expenses, investing and reaping huge profits. Do the same.
4. Pray together. Job losses often trigger divorces. God allows us to face challenges so that we can shed the excesses and distractions of daily life in order to refocus on Him — the source of our increase. Losing income is a wakeup call to recognizing who your Provider truly is.
It hasn’t been easy, but these God-directed steps worked for my family and me. None of us have been hungry or without shelter. I moved on to better employment. I have my own radio show. I’m pursuing a doctorate. My book and consulting business are doing well. (These things likely would not have happened had I remained in that old position.) Our two teens are in college. My wife and I remain on the journey.
Losing your job is never easy, but it’s not a death sentence. What you do afterward is an opportunity to grow in your relationship with God and think more creatively about the days ahead.
The Christmas season is about faith, family, and future. Don’t let a job loss — a painful but temporary thing — take your focus off of what really matters.
Flowers, candy, and cards are nice, but for moms, the best Mother’s Day gifts of all are the people who make us mothers.
Usually, when Mother’s Day comes, we think of the women in our lives who nurture, teach, rear and comfort us. We think of blood mothers and other mothers who love us with an unselfish love that is its own brand of insanity. And a grandmother’s love is quintessential radical love. However, Mother’s Day is also a day to consider the gift of love that our children are to us.
When my son and daughter were still children and old enough to cook some basic things, they served me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day: sliced hot dogs in scrambled eggs with fresh fruit on the side. When our dog was a puppy, he tried his best to get into bed with me and share my breakfast. But mother did not play that. No doggie in my bed. On Mother’s Day morning, my bed became our breakfast table.
After breakfast we got ready for church while listening to Mother’s Day music on the radio — Bill Withers singing “Grandma’s Hands” and Dianne Reeves singing “Better Days.” The songs reminded us of mother wisdom that counsels patience. “You can’t get to better days unless you make it through the night.” My Aunt Sarah usually came to church with us, since we lived in Philadelphia and my mother lived in East St. Louis. After church we went to dinner. The day became a treasure, a precious memory gem that a mother hides in her heart.
The Bible speaks of such a moment when Jesus’ parents find him in the Temple in conversation with the teachers. He tells his parents that he is compelled to be in his Father’s house, to be about his Father’s business. The Bible tells us: “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).
We watch our children grow and they amaze us. Through laughter and tears, through achievement and disappointment, we watch them grow as Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and humanity. Even those episodes that make us think they are creatures from another planet beamed down to Earth by some evil genius with a singular mission to pluck our last nerve become a part of the mix of events that is accumulated wealth, no matter the amount of money we have in the bank.
Our children are the reason we get up every day to work to earn a living and work for social justice and for peace. We want them to live in a more beautiful, sensible, and happy world. We work to demonstrate the praise of the glory of God, because it is through what they see us do that they will know their own moral responsibility to Creation.
God shows his love to us in a multitude of ways. God’s presence in our lives is present in uncomplicated gestures, simple and pure. God’s love loves us through our children. It is a blessing for which I am truly grateful.