Holiday Family Gathering Coming Up? Here’s How to Let the Beatitudes Quell Your Attitudes

Many people look forward with great anticipation to getting together with their family over the holidays. But for many such gatherings are like going to the dentist: uncomfortable, inevitable, painful, disturbingly intrusive, and way too much about what you should and shouldn’t eat.

Basically, they’re both experiences in having your open nerves poked, jabbed, and drilled into.

Does thinking about an upcoming family gathering make you want to hide beneath a lead blanket and start spitting? Good time to be religious, then! Times of emotional stress are, after all, the very best times to call on the healing peace of God.

With that in mind, let us turn our attention to the famous Beatitudes, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, that perfect distillation of his overall message to the world. At the beginning of each beatitude, Jesus teaches us one aspect of who we should strive to become in order to more fully and consistently manifest the love he embodied. So let’s consider what role each beatitude might play in our attitude, in order to preclude our getting stewed, blued, in a feud (or booed!) when for the holidays we meet with our brood.

Don’t seclude; be renewed!

Annoy your readers, so they’ll attend St. Peter’s! (Okay, please forgive me; I have some sort of … organic rhyming dysfunction.)

Below is what Jesus teaches us at Matthew 5:3-12, accompanied with my ideas about how we might use that lesson to be a blessing to ourselves and our families when we meet with them this year over the holidays.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. We tend to go into family gatherings pretty keyed up. We feel intense, alert, and super-sensitive to everything everybody says and does; when we hear, “You’re here!” our nervous system kicks right in. But that’s exactly the opposite of being “poor in spirit”; that’s being too rich in spirit. At its core, being keyed-up like that is all about protection of your ego. Before stepping into your family gathering, take a minute, take a breath, and consciously fill yourself with the Holy Spirit. That will replace your grubby, score-keeping ego spirit with the very spirit of Jesus. And if there’s one thing Jesus showed us, it’s that it’s all about extending the spirit of God to others, and wanting nothing for yourself.

Blessed are those who mourn. Again, this is about the Holy Spirit filling you with the understanding that everything of this world—including your family—is temporary. Centering yourself within that truth will give you the clarity to appreciate that every member of your family is just like everyone else in the world: in need of constant, absolute, and perfect love. That’s a love they can’t get met on earth. And that no one ever gets the complete, unbroken love they were born craving does inform the universal human experience with a very great sadness. Know that. Be with that. Let the truth of that flow through you, so that you treat the members of your family not as people with whom you have your own specific, tangled history, but as co-travelers through this long, hard veil of tears.

Blessed are the meek. Don’t fight. Don’t provoke. Don’t defend. Don’t insist that your thoughts and opinions are given their full due. Let every last bit of all that go. Allow others in your family to go before you. Let them have the floor. Let them be right, strong, firm, and clear in whatever way it’s important for them to be so. Support them in an unqualified way. Instead of saying the words your ego-self is first inclined to, say what you know would most please them. Why not? If Jesus can sacrifice his life in order for you to be reconciled with God, you can surely sacrifice a bit of yourself to promote harmony within your family—especially during the Christmas season.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Always look to, highlight, emphasize, and celebrate what’s good and right with whatever’s going at the moment with your family. Forget everything else; for the time that you are with them, allow any and all of your family’s negativity to roll right off your back. Align yourself with what’s right and true and just. Listen to the Holy Spirit, who will always carry you to where God is most fully manifested. Maybe that manifestation will your awareness of hard your mother has always worked. Maybe it will be in the physical grace with which your father or brother moves. Maybe it will be in the musical sound of your sister’s laugh. Whatever and wherever it is, find it. There’s God! Be with Him—and then be with them.

Blessed are the merciful. No mystery here. Forgive, forgive, forgive till it hurts. Why shouldn’t you? You’re no angel. None of us is. We’ve all done more wrong things than there are numbers to count them. Forgive everyone in your family, straight up. When it comes to our proper relationship to our family members, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” should be tattooed on our hearts. They didn’t know. They couldn’t. None of us can. Our only hope is to mercifully forgive each other, the way Christ mercifully forgave all of us.

Blessed are the pure in heart. Don’t let the negative stay with you. If one of your family members says or does something that is nasty, snarky, or meant to hurt or insult you, step aside, and let that negativity galumph right past you. Wave to it as it goes by—and then turn your attention back to the Holy Spirit within you. That is God—who, the Bible tells us, is love. And that, right there, is the sure and constant source of your perpetually renewed purity.

Blessed are the peacemakers. It’s not possible to feel truly loving and forgiving without then acting upon that feeling. Show that the peace of the Lord is upon you by becoming the means by which others find peace between themselves. You can’t force that sort of thing, of course. But if you keep your loving heart open to it, you are guaranteed to find among your family members constant little revelations that, like all people, what they want most in life is to exist harmoniously with those nearest them. Where there is any fraction between them, guide the members of your family back together. Carefully and sensitively minister to their desire for reconciliation. Be bold about it, too: don’t be afraid to out-and-out suggest to someone whom they should forgive, and why. Sometimes you really do have to make peace. Whatever it takes. But you be the one to do it. And you begin it, too: share with a member of your family why you’re so pleased to take full responsibility for something that in the past went wrong between you and them. So what if it’s not really that cut-and-dried? It’s close enough. Let go of the wrong that tries to claim you as its own. Make peace.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. Being truly right and loving can be truly lonely. So what? You don’t serve God because it feels good, or because of the great personal or emotional rewards that come with sacrifice. You serve him because you know that’s the right thing to do. And sometimes serving God hurts. And it’s fair that it should: a sacrifice that feels good, after all, is no sacrifice at all. That you will be persecuted as a result of aligning yourself with righteousness isn’t in question. The question is whether or not you can continue to feel blessed whilst that persecution is under way. And the quickest, surest way to do that is to remember how terribly Christ was treated. The simple, healing truth is that we are most like Christ when we are being persecuted the most. So don’t worry if your family, for instance, in any way derides you for your belief and faith in God. Just smile—and laugh, even, as you acknowledge the validity of how your relationship with God must look to them. Just remain with the Lord, and like day follows night he will lead you back to calm waters.

All right! Good luck! Have fun! Happy holidays!

*****

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • http://megaloi.blogspot.com Redlefty (Michael)

    Dangit John, you just had to get all personal and pragmatic here, didn't ya.

    Thank you — I will be reviewing this again in gearing up for my own family's holiday visists.

  • http://www.myspace.com/whitenoisemetalpodcast Brian Shields

    I think I've told you this before John. If Christianity was really primarily about the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount instead of (what seems to me as) the whole death/resurrection mumbo jumbo, I would be much more likely to sign up

  • Greta Sheppard

    Funny thing John, is, that you make those sweet sayings of Jesus finally come to life, in us. I too have lately seen in the Beatitudes the characteristics one must have if they are going to follow Jesus and live in the Kingdom of God….it's like he was saying to the new desciples: "Listen up boys….if you are going to follow me, this is how you're gonna have to be."

    And did you know, John..that when he went on to say" You are the salt of the earth" he was really saying: "You are the integrity of the earth."

    Salt had buying power in those days. If a family had no salt, you were poor. Business deals were sealed with dipping into a bowl of salt and throwing a pinch of salt over your shoulder. In other words, it was as good as signing your name like we do today. That's where we get the saying: "You're not worth your salt." Integrity of character is important to God….

    Good word, as usua,l John…thank you so much for saying it!

  • RogerC

    Sometimes it seems Jesus hopes for me to be the polar opposite of what my natural self expects of me. I so often hear the phrase “just be yourself”, but I hear Jesus say “don’t be yourself”. However, he gives me the liberty to truly be myself, just the myself he sees. I guess he sees potential that I don’t. That is what I hear in the Beatitudes.

    Good job again, John.

  • onemansbeliefs

    Good words to live by… I would like to add the following advice, which was not spoken by the Master on the Mount of Olives…

    When it comes to people, expect nothing… Be grateful for everything…

  • http://thom-signsofastruggle.blogspot.com/ Thom Hunter

    Oh . . . alright . . . I’ll try. But it sure would help if my brother would read this also. Just kidding. As long as we stay away from politics and conspiracy theories, we do pretty well. Our family is very big on forgiveness. We all want it, need it, extend it. We tend to be a little shy on the meekness however.

  • http://theskinhorse.wordpress.com theskinhorse

    Great post. IMO, you hit the nail on the head with a lot of your observations about family gatherings and the holidays as well as many ways to foster balance in one self and be open to change, love and things of life.

    It's really interesting to me how many teachings in right-hand path faiths are very similar. Many eastern religions emphasize suppression of the ego and detachment from desire (this particular point often gets misinterpreted in modern day western society however). The temporary nature of the physical/material world is emphasized so that one may realize the bigger picture, the higher Self on the spiritual plane and the ability to radiate love and compassion when aligning more closely with one's wiser, more evolved, more forgiving and accepting Self. In the context of Christianity, Jesus is the example of this.

    These particular passages stuck out to me illustrating similar principles: "But that’s exactly the opposite of being “poor in spirit”; that’s being too rich in spirit. At its core that’s all about ego. Before stepping into your family gathering, take a minute, take a breath, and fill yourself with the Holy Spirit—which eradicates your grubby, score-keeping ego spirit, and brings in its place the spirit of Jesus."

    "Again, this is about the Holy Spirit filling you with the understanding that everything of this world—including your family—is temporary. Centering yourself within that truth gives you the clarity to appreciate that everyone in your family is just like everyone else in the world: in need of constant, absolute, and perfect love. That’s a hunger that can’t get met on earth. And that fact does inform the human experience with a very great sadness. "

    The portion that starts with "That's a hunger…" really reminds me of the cyclical human struggle on the physical plane, which can be said to be linked to attachment, keeping humans from finding peace.

    Holidays definitely tend to amplify emotions, and I agree that it is important to not get consumed by the whirlwind, but instead to remain balanced, warm, and grateful. Often times, when one diligently exemplifies these traits, others will follow.

  • Tamara

    John

    Every time I think you can't possibly impress me more with your amazing insight, and profound ability to tear away all the outer layers of Christianity and even basic humanity… and get to the core importance of it…you stun me again.

    God truly has gifted you as a writer and as a human being…and I am thankful , as I'm sure many are, that we get to be the recipients of your creativity …and moments of humble clarity…reading your writing is a blessing indeed… ..an inspiration ..and an encouragement…

  • Jennie

    This will be heavily on my mind as I travel away from my family to my in laws for Thanksgiving. What a joy to have tools to prepare myself for such a time as that! Thanks

  • Mary

    Thank you for your words of encouragement. Do you have advice for those of us dealing with mental illness in our families? In particular the mental health issues that are often confused with simply bad behavior or poor decisions, non compliance with medications types of issues. the siblings of my 35 year old seem to think that most of the behavior is simply attention getting behavior. The siblings don't want to share the holidays because of the "drama". I have told them that I expect them to endure a little discomfort for the opportunity to see their family, their siblings and their nieces/nephews. We are one family- separated geographically from both sides of the family- we are all we have….. thanks for listening.

  • myrline

    So helpful…Thanks GOD BLESS YU


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