Family situations can put us right back into our childhood roles. We walk into the house or pick up the phone hoping that those on the other end will have grown¬–they will have stopped the passive aggression or the guilt-trips or the emotional abandonment. But likely, they haven’t.
One thing that I find striking about the stories of Jesus early childhood is how early he seemed to have figured this out. Maybe it is the ultimate proof of his divinity that he didn’t seem to get easily caught up in expectations and family dramas. As a twelve year old, the text reports that he clearly drew boundaries and had clear communication about what his purpose in life was. Later, we see that he didn’t get sucked into the guilt trips and expectations of his family and those from his hometown. So this may all be psychologizing a 2000 year old text, but we need all the help we can get when it comes to the holidays.
In his masterful exploration of the prodigal son in Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen suggests that we are all called to grow into being the father in the story – the one who welcomes and waits. The one who refuses to allow his compassion to be swayed by competition between family members or unhealthy patterns. The one who waits with open arms, but doesn’t try to make everything okay. The one who realizes he has the capacity to offer forgiveness and create a space of grace.
So, this Christmas, be the adult in the room, even with those who are older, even with those who should know better. Act from that place within you where you know your soul is loved and held in eternal love, that place that can never be threatened by another person. Find that balance between telling the truth and telling it in love. When it’s all over, call a friend or find a safe space to honestly share your struggles, knowing that you did your best to offer Christ’s love in some the most difficult places we can find ourselves – inside our family.