The Beatitude Attitude: 9 Tips for Avoiding Family Stress Over the Holidays

I’ve lately received a few emails from people looking for tips on how to remain in a healthy emotional space whilst visiting with family over the holidays. So I thought I’d revisit the below, which I first published about this time last year. It’s a way of looking at each of the Beatitudes delivered by Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount, and finding there wisdom anyone can use to make visiting their family over the holidays something they can not endure, but greatly enjoy.

So here we go:

Blessed are the poor in spirit. We tend to go into family gatherings pretty keyed up. We feel intense, alert, super-sensitive to everything everybody says and does. But that’s the opposite of being “poor in spirit”; that’s being too rich in spirit. What that’s about, at its core, is protection of your ego. But instead of defending it, this is a time to surrender your ego. Before stepping into your family gathering, take a minute, take a deep breath or two, 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 cannot find this side of heaven. 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 the universal unrequited love flow through you. Allow it to allow you to treat the members of your family not as people with whom you share a specific, tangled history, but rather 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 that your ego-self is first inclined to say, say instead (within reason, of course) what you know would most please them to hear. 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. Through the guiding grace of the Holy Spirit, align yourself with what’s right, true, just, forgiving. The love of God in your heart will unerringly carry you to the place where God is most fully manifested. Maybe that manifestation will be 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 through Him, 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. In our lives we’ve all done more wrong things than there are numbers to count. 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. Give it up. You resentments aren’t doing you any good anyway. Open your arms wide, and drop that dead weight.

Blessed are the pure in heart. Don’t let foul emotional intent find its target within you. If one of your family members says or does something that is hurtful to you, internally step aside, and let the arrow of that pointed negativity zip right past you—and then turn your attention right back to the Holy Spirit. Don’t let the poison of the world—as manifested through your family—sully the pure God within you. God really is love; and love really is a force so powerfully pure that it deflects, absorbs, changes and absolves all which tries to counter it. Let your heart be the burning crucible wherein that transformative process is never wanes.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Show that the peace of the Lord is upon you by becoming the means by which members of your family find peace between themselves. You can’t force reconciliations to occur, of course. But if you keep your loving heart attuned to it, you will certainly find among your family members constant little revelations that they (like all people) desire to exist in harmony with those nearest them. Do what you can to facilitate that blessed process. When friction occurs, smooth it over; when tensions mount, help them dissipate. Don’t be afraid to be bold about it, either—to suggest, for instance, why and how one member of your family might be comfortable forgiving another for some specific past offense. Just put it to them; ask them to forgive. In this lead by example: 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 it’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 in the midst of that persecution. And the quickest, surest way to do that is to remember how terribly Christ was treated. The simple, healing, and rejuvenating truth is that we are most like Christ when we are most being persecuted. So don’t worry if your family, for example, derides your belief 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.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Boom. There it is.

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://www.facebook.com/sspencerwolff Scott Spencer-Wolff via Facebook

    Great stuff… now shut up and pass the stuffing.

    • Diana A.

      Like.

  • Amy Michael Finnerty via Facebook

    At first I thought this essay would consist of one sentence: Don’t go. But I like your version better. :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevinmichaelwest Kevin Michael West via Facebook

    Go alone to Hawaii.

  • http://theprivilegedcontrartian.wordpress.com tana

    I agree with everything you’ve listed. Boom indeed. Also? Xanax doesn’t hurt. ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/dheiman1963 David Heiman via Facebook

    Tip 1: avoid your family; especially during this time of year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rickmcopy Rick Middleton via Facebook

    This is very convicting. I usually start dreading my “Red State Thanksgiving” about a week before the event. Good to realize we can rise above and be Jesus for everyone.

  • Cynthia Haug-West via Facebook

    I’ve spent a huge part of my 46 years on this planet trying to do everything you write here, John. It nearly killed me. I have had to make the difficult but absolutely necessary choice to preserve my sanity and my relationships with my sisters by removing myself from the toxic side of my family. It makes me sad…sad for my younger self, who tried and tried and tried, and sad for the toxic family members, who remain emotionally abusive and absolutely convinced of their own innocence. I drew my boundary and withdrew my presence respectfully and with love; the response was belligerent, sarcastic, and absolute. I’m done.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Good for you. Part of staying sane is knowing when to completely avoid the insanity of others.

  • John C Hoddy via Facebook

    The Gospel is so amazingly beautiful in it’s simplicty. Thank you John.

  • David

    Thanks John. For the last few years I have absolutely dreaded spending time with my family during the holidays. You say “we tend to go into family gatherings keyed up.” You’re spot on. I appreciate the reminder.

  • Allie

    Thank God my family has been pretty nice these past few years! I remember a Christmas some years ago when my parents were bickering and I broke down and screamed, “It’s Christmas! Can’t you two behave for just one day?”

    I am not usually the one who screams and I think it shocked both of them because they spent the day outdoing each other in hushed good will, and the bickering hasn’t really happened since. Now the superstitious part of me is afraid I’ve jinxed it!

    I also think that as our family circle shrinks we become more aware that each holiday spent with everyone still alive and together is a blessing. A close friend’s mother is slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s and that also reminds us how grateful we are for each other.

    One more thing about being poor in spirit – the poor in spirit don’t expect to be perfect, so they don’t flip out when not everything goes perfectly. So the gravy has lumps and the cranberry sauce won’t jell. Either you can flip out and be unhappy and make everyone else unhappy, or you can laugh about it, and everyone will laugh too.

  • http://christocentric.com/main/ Christocentric

    John, I usually criticize most of what you right on your blog but this time I’ll take a time out and actually praise you for a job well done! I truly enjoyed this peace and will think of Christ’s beatitudes thanks to your friendly reminder to us all!

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving to you, your family and readers!

    Carlotta M

  • Christi Kight Demuth via Facebook

    That is awesome. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    Thank you for this love, Christi Kight Demuth.

  • A’isha

    I like this, John. It’s good advice for most times of the year, but the holiday season especially. Personally, I struggle with holidays. If I didn’t have kids I’m sure I wouldn’t celebrate them at all. That’s how much I don’t like them. I’m going to take your advice though. Or at least try. At least I don’t generally spend much time with my original family, if ever.

  • Don Whitt

    HEY!! Leave my grubby, score-keeping ego spirit out of this, darn it!! What did it ever do to you?? Nothing, right?

    Oops…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amanda-Stonehouse/734955267 Amanda Stonehouse via Facebook

    true for any situation at any time of year.

  • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

    Since I was given an ultimatum (forgive your rapist brother or else you’re not welcome to any family gathering), I’m spending the time with my friend. One of the great things about not being a Christian anymore is that dang forgiveness mandate. I don’t have to forgive, I don’t have bend over backwards and let myself be destroyed by my family. It’s the hardest thing and probably one of the strongest things I’ve ever done.

    So tomorrow (my family is all busy on Thursday, so they’re getting together tomorrow instead) I’m going over to my friend’s house, going to curl up on her couch and watch movies with her, and make dinner with her. Try to get the “you are a hurtful and cruel person” messages of my mother out of my head.

    I can’t wait until I’m finally at a place where I can cut off contact with them entirely.

    • Diana A.

      “One of the great things about not being a Christian anymore is that dang forgiveness mandate. I don’t have to forgive, I don’t have bend over backwards and let myself be destroyed by my family. It’s the hardest thing and probably one of the strongest things I’ve ever done.”–To my way of thinking, even if you were a Christian, your family (certainly your mother) would not be owed forgiveness. Not only has the damage done to you been egregious, but it’s still going on. They certainly are not owed any forgiveness when there’s been no sign of regret, remorse, or repentence (change).

      “I can’t wait until I’m finally at a place where I can cut off contact with them entirely.”–I can’t say that I blame you for that. My hope is that once you get away from them, you’ll be able to heal and one of the signs of healing will be the ability to forgive–not because they deserve it but because you simply have no need to carry that burden anymore. Also, forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean reconciling with them, at least not in this lifetime. It means that you have let go of the burden of hate, rage, pain; have become whole in spite of the damage; have moved on. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. If they’re still toxic to your well-being, you have the right, maybe even the responsibility to stay away from them.

      Have a good time at your friend’s house. Here’s hoping you make your permanent escape from your family soon.

    • Hanna

      Hey. I am a Christian, and I’m still confused about the forgiveness passages. “Turn the other cheek”- does that mean being calm if a parent/spouse hits you? “If someone takes your cloak, give them your shirt as well”- does that mean continually giving money to your junkie brother? I don’t really understand what Christlike perfection means. Christ let others absolutely destroy him, kill him. Yet surely that is not how Christians should live.

      I’m spending Christmas far, far away from home, with my girlfriend. My family is not like yours- yours is obviously in the wrong, and you are obviously an innocent victim. Staying with a friend and rejecting them just seems like practicing survival. For me, half of my family is so innocently emotionally messed up, and I am so helpless in the face of it, that I would just rather stay away than enter their crazy, infectious, dramatic, emotional cesspool of anguish. My family is ignorant of how it is abusive, and I have to stay away to preserve my sanity…I don’t know how your family could be ignorant of how abusive saying that to you would be. You deserve so much better. My heart goes out to you. I hope you find peace this Christmas with friends who love you. Take care of yourself.

    • Donald Rappe

      The first thing we need to do with a soldier who has combat fatigue is remove him from the battlefield and praise God that he was not destroyed completely. In your case, not only the family, but, their conception of religion, and any segment of Christianity which supports it, is the battlefield. In your case, when your rapist has repented by turning himself over to the authorities, confessed his serial felonies, been tried, convicted and sentenced, and served his sentence, will be soon enough to forgive him, depending on his attitude when he seeks your forgiveness. This blog has reminded us that this is also the time of Christ the King (El Cristo Rey). I think you have nothing to fear. I visualize Christ pulling you out of the line and asking you to sit with him as he judges your assailants to help him understand.

      • Diana A.

        Good. Beautiful.

    • Allie

      It’s pretty darned hard to forgive something that’s still going on. Jesus apparently had the knack but I don’t. I have a tough time separating the sinner from the sin while the sinner is in the process of hurting me. And I’m not even sure it’s a good idea, if it means the sinner gets away with thinking he or she has done nothing wrong. It seems like the world, and the other people in it who may also be hurt in the future, is owed those who are hurt standing up and saying, “Hey, that hurts, cut it out.”

      Dogmatically we’re supposed to believe God has it, that if we just submit meekly, God will revenge all hurts. But, whatever God may do in the long-term, in the short term I have observed God doesn’t seem inclined to bother mostly. People get hurt and the people who hurt them flourish like the green bay tree. The hurters only stop when someone bigger and stronger stops them.

      For you, it was your brother who hurt you. Funny thing is I always wished I had a brother so he would beat up my father, who hurt me. I can remember lying on the floor as a seven-year-old trying to protect my head with my arms as my father kicked me repeatedly in the head. I used to read Superman comics and pretend Superman was my big brother who would kill my father.

      My father only stopped when at the age of 15, I got old enough and clever enough to hit him back when he was on horseback so that he was seriously injured and put in the hospital.

      I do forgive him – now, 30 years later. But I don’t think I could forgive him if he still had power over me.

      Are you and I sinners because we don’t put up with abuse? Is that the message Jesus meant to get across? I don’t know. I only know that when I contemplate a God who doesn’t want me to fight back, it breaks something inside my heart. It makes God into a big evil dad who kicks little children. I can’t believe in that God, and so I believe that’s not what Jesus meant at all.

      • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

        I didn’t forgive my father either. The day he died, all I felt was relief, and continue to feel relief, every time I remember that he’s dead.

        I guess the thing is, about my father and brother, is that I don’t really care. Whether I forgive them or not ranks very very low on my list of priorities. I care about feeling better, I care about working through my PTSD, but from my way of seeing it, it’s like having a big gash on your arm. No amount of “I forgive you” will make that pain go away or make you have to deal less with taking care of the wound. (which, interestingly, is exactly how my mother sees forgiveness. “Ow…that hurt” “why won’t you forgive me for it????”)

        I see forgiveness as exactly what I was taught in Christianity – something having to do with the other person – and frankly, I couldn’t care less about them and their feelings. I have never loved my family.

        • Christy

          somaticstrength, There’s a difference, I think, between forgiving someone (in the way in which we have been indoctrinated to think of it – “Aw, shucks. That’s ok. We’re all good now.”) and letting go.

          Letting go means you set yourself free from ruminating on and obsessing about and reliving and harboring the ill feelings we have for the people who have hurt and wronged us which consume us and keep us unhappy and stuck and miserable. Those emotions are normal and natural and are part of the grieving process. But Letting Go has nothing to do with the other person and what they do or don’t do. It has everything to do with us. It’s about facing and accepting reality instead of continuing to fight it: This happened. I’ve confronted it. I’m dealing with it. It completely totally sucked. They were completely totally wrong to do it. I didn’t want it to happen. I had no control over it happening. I cannot control them now or how they treat me. I can only control me and how I choose to react to the situation and to them.

          Remaining in the mental space of where we are wronged gives the power back to the oppressor. We have to take that power back and own what we are in control over. You can only control you. Wanting them to be different or react differently – we have no control over that. Expecting it to be different leads to disappointment every time. We have to stop wanting it to be different. We have to surrender to what is. We control ourselves and how we choose to react to what happens to us.

          Letting go and forgiveness are not the same thing. Forgiveness sets free the person who wronged you. Letting go sets us free from the negative emotions that ruin our lives.

        • http://www.worldlyannoyances.com sue

          I wasn’t abused, just consistently invalidated. And it’s very difficult to forgive those harpies. If they were reading they would do the usual – either sneer or call me an idiot PR both

          People who preach flowererly sermons never took crap from “family.” And yes I know Jesus is Lord and if I don’t forgive them hyenas, the Lord will deal with me.

    • Diana A.

      I’m glad other people are responding to you. I think we’re all saying basically the same thing, just in different ways

      May healing come quickly.

  • Nancy

    Thanks John for this. Such a beautiful way to look at the beatitudes as it relates to real life. I especially liked the last one. My family are not believers, but they are kind, good people. I always tend to “go in” to family events ready to hold my own with my beliefs and probably a bit on the defensive. The reminder to be a peacemaker, that I don’t have to make them understand why I believe, is good for me. I need to let go of my need to be the right one, and just be a model of Jesus’ peace.

  • Ann Hagler

    Thank you, John. May we all lived as we are called.

  • textjunkie

    Hey John, this piece and the comments together are beautiful–I was saying to my folks last week after having been to their bible study that the people there didn’t seem to have any scars–the interpretation of the reading was “oh, trust in God for everything and it will all turn out ok”. And I’m used to being around people who know damn well that isn’t true! So I was reading this piece and thinking, hmmm, it’s beautiful, but co-dependent much? and the first thing that happens is the readership steps up and gets explicit, adds a whole new dimension to it in the comments, where boundaries come in, how this is lived out, ways of taking what you already had as a rich piece and making it even more so.

    So yay! for the whole kit’n’kaboodle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dheiman1963 David Heiman via Facebook

    I won’t pretend to be someone whom i am not. merely for the sake of keeping peace. That is being inauthentic. It is not a Christian attitude to me. And, it sounds quite unhealthy for one’s emotional balance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/clatimer Catherine Latimer via Facebook

    i’d love to hear John Shore’s response to Cynthia and David!

  • http://www.facebook.com/clatimer Catherine Latimer via Facebook

    (b/c i’m stuck b/w both of those pieces of advice, as well)

  • Andrea

    This one is a keeper. Very nice.

  • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

    Happy Thanksgiving to you, John, & all your readers/posters

  • Ann Hagler

    Well, I just reread this and ALL the comments. My, my. We are messed up people, with some messed up families, and messed up ideas about God. Needing some grace here.

  • Marcey

    Amen!

  • Cher Floria Nelson

    John, I wish you would consider going back and re-writing your blog – working into it all the excellent answers you have given in the comment section. I am one who groaned while reading your original writing, because it sounded so simplistic. Anyone who could take that advice as presented and use it successfully wouldn’t have had much of a problem to start with. It IS what God said!! And it IS true. But the application of the truth is much more complicated than what I understood you to be saying. I am so glad you were challenged. AND that you answered!!! Please consider “extending and revising your remarks”. You will reach so many more people!! Cher (Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor, Certified Hospital Chaplain and Trauma First-responder.)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      I’ve barely said a word in this comment section.


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