As many Americans prepare to gather around the dinner table with family and friends tomorrow for Thanksgiving, many also are bracing themselves for awkward conversations, heated debates, and tension. There have always been jokes about that one crazy relative who says wacky things, but this year, especially after such an intense election cycle, there’s no telling who will say what or how these gatherings will go.
We rarely agree completely with others, even those closest to us, and there are often differences between us and our loved ones that can create friction or frustration. How are we to handle things like that? How are we to navigate the politically-charged conversations that are sure to arise somewhere between passing the rolls and serving up pie? How are we to love our people well if we find we hold opposing opinions about things that matter deeply to us?
“I think some of the best and hardest work God calls us to do is to love other people,” Lisa-Jo Baker says in her post on “6 Helpful Ways to Respond to Hard Conversations Over the Holidays.”
“We need to learn to be listeners with hands open rather than palms clenched in tight, frustrated, misunderstood fists,” says Baker.
Here a few helpful things from Baker to keep in mind this holiday season:
- “Ask yourself if you’re in the right place and headspace for a hard conversation.” I recently was gathered with family around a backyard bonfire when some hard and emotional topics came up. I had experienced a particularly stressful week and was running low on energy, and could feel the tears welling up quickly. I knew it wasn’t a good time to keep having the conversation that was turning heated fast, so I let my family know I couldn’t keep talking and that I needed to step away. It was challenging in that moment to remove myself entirely, but I knew for the sake of those relationships and that conversation that it wasn’t the best time to be having it. “Hard conversations deserve time and thought and sometimes neither are forthcoming in the moment,” says Baker. “Don’t be afraid to take the necessary time to process.”
- “Be quick to listen and slow to speak.” James 1:19 shares this wisdom with us, and it’s advice we should heed. We often listen only enough to prepare for what we are going to say or argue next, without really slowing down to hear what the person in front of us is trying to communicate. If we keep our mouths shut more and truly take the time to listen well, I have no doubt that these conversations would be more civil and constructive. Rarely (if ever) have minds been changed by hearing heated arguments or opinions, but hearts are often changed when they encounter somebody who cares enough to carefully and conscientiously listen and be present. “Listening is one of the most powerful tools we have when it comes to defusing a hard conversation,” Baker says. “Making someone feel heard helps take the sting out of their frustration and opens the door for dialogue. Defending yourself lights the fire. Listening to someone else helps put it out.” Let’s aim for more listening and less speaking, arguing, and debating.
- “Pray.” When we get caught up in all the conversations and chaos of gathering at the holidays, we can often neglect meaningful prayer. “Tell Him all the bad, shouty feelings you are having and let Him filter them through His hands and His words and His grace to you,” Baker advises. If you need to excuse yourself for a few quiet moments to center your heart, feel free to do so. The best thing to do while talking with a loved one might even be to stop and pray with them before continuing the conversation. Ask that the Lord would give you (and your loved ones) open minds, hearts, and hands. Ask that you would speak kindly, that you would show love and extend grace well, and that you would be humble in all challenging interactions.
For the rest of Baker’s advice, read her original article here.
Even before you ring the doorbell and hug every relative, I encourage you to pray about the time you’ll spend together and the conversations you’ll have.
Here’s what I’ll be praying before my family gathers tomorrow:
Lord, Thank you so much for this day when my family can come together and share a meal together. Thank you for the many blessings you have poured out on us all. May we pour our gratitude out to you and give you all praise. Be present with us, be near to us. Give us open hearts and open minds, and give us the humility to value relationships over being right or winning arguments. Guide our conversations, that they may be edifying and glorifying to You. May our love for one another be felt more strongly than our opinions, and may we extend grace readily to one another despite our differences. Thank you for your faithfulness, your constant presence, and your unending love. We give you the glory. In your name, Amen.
How are you preparing for any potentially hard conversations with loved ones this holiday season?
Photo credit: Thinkstock
Publication date: November 23, 2016
Rachel Dawson is the editor of BibleStudyTools.com.