Bring goodwill rather than conflict to family times this Thanksgiving
There were a lot of times it didn’t feel like Thanksgiving or Christmas. Returning to Granny’s house for the holidays in the deep south meant it would be stuffy. If there was a chill in the air, it wouldn’t be because of the temperature. More times than not, we had the windows open so the heat of the stove could drift out of the house while we ate our turkey and dressing with sweat on our brow.
The hot stove and the warm Georgia fall weren’t the only reasons the room could be stuffy. Our family, just like many others, is made up of broken people. Even though it’s the holiday season, we’re still the same people. We bring unique personalities that grind against each other, our past hurts and unhealed wounds, differing points of view and various personal preferences to every family gathering.
It’s enough to cause some family members to avoid the whole scene. Others hope and pray there will be peace on Earth, at least while their family is together. Because of a Christian’s biblical worldview, we should expect difficulties like these. We can find hope and navigational help in God’s Word.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is written to a group of people being pressed by others. They’re feeling mental and emotional pressure under the strain of relationships. He encourages these young Christians to remember the power of the Holy Spirit as they endure this difficulty. Paul was the delivery man for the Holy Spirit’s fruit basket of attributes. These fruit of the Spirit provided welcome relief for them — and it will for us also.
Many Christians are quick to name love, joy and peace when it comes to this list in Galatians 5:22-23. The love mentioned in this verse is the famed agape love found throughout the New Testament.
One of the aims of this love is goodwill. When guests visit a home, many times they bring a gift. It’s meant to be a symbol of kindness and thanks. We can bring goodwill to our family gatherings to help them avoid hurt and conflict.
When preparing for a family gathering, especially one where you know there is a good chance of conflict, why not spend some time thinking about ways to bring goodwill? It could be in your attitude or demeanor.
Perhaps you can think of encouraging or helpful things to say to family members. It may be easy to spend time dreading a family gathering, but what if that time was used thinking of ways to deliver goodwill to the group?
When your family gets together, does it ever feel like you’re watching a movie develop? Are the same scenes played out over and over? Everyone expects this family member ‘to do this’ and that family member ‘to say that.’ It’s rare that family gatherings are unpredictable. Unfortunately, many families experience the same hurt and disappointment year after year.
If we’re going to pursue peace at our family event, we have to be ready to act. It takes work to make war. We fool ourselves if we don’t believe it also takes work to have peace.
Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness will need to be fully implemented if we hope to have a peaceful interaction with those we love. Seeking the goodwill of all doesn’t mean we ignore problems; it means we deal with them graciously and wisely. We realize the family gathering may not be the place for a conversation that needs to happen in private between a few family members.
The goodwill you brought was more than a warm greeting at the door. To maintain it may require action. Kindness and goodness are the tools you need. Faithfulness and gentleness will provide the strength you need.
The thought behind kindness in Galatians 5:23 is mellowing. Think of it as deescalating a situation that would lead to a volatile event. Kindness aims to calm or diffuse a conversation or event that could be explosive. What could you say or do to help mellow harsh comments or outbursts? Maybe a simple comment would diffuse the situation, or you could help shift the focus of the room.
There are times, though, when a kind suggestion isn’t enough. That’s when goodness kicks in. It is time for more deliberate action. Scholar Warren Baker believes this form of goodness is what drove Jesus to cleanse the temple as he drove out the money changers. In Matthew 21:12-17, Jesus returns the temple to a place of prayer where the sick and hurting could receive care. In this instance, Jesus did more than speak. He acted.
At a family gathering, there are times for words and there are times for actions. When a family member is going too far — for the sake of peace — someone needs to intervene in a kind way, offering gracious and specific direction. That may sound like, “That will be enough of that…,” or, “Can I speak with you in the other room?”
You know your family. You know the possibilities. Will you be prepared to intervene if necessary? Maybe you’re wondering where you’ll get the confidence or wisdom to do something like that. These last attributes of the fruit of the Spirit provide what you need.
Faithfulness and gentleness are rooted in the Lord’s provision for His people. We can risk being embarrassed by a family member because we know the Lord has acted on our behalf through the gospel. The Christian’s identity is rooted in more than their family name.
It is rooted in their faith in Jesus.
His work in us moves us to action and shapes the way we act. Not out of weakness — but out of courage — because our confidence is in Christ.
All of these attributes lead to self-control. Before we assume someone else is going to ruin the family gathering, we better make sure it isn’t us. Bringing this important fruit basket to the get together, we can join with God in helping to deliver goodwill to all during this holiday season.
Brandon Porter is communications director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.