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 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!