The Messy Contemplative’s Survival Guide for the Holidays: 5 Practices for Peace During Holiday Family Dysfunction

My heart broke recently when several students with whom I’m in a Spiritual Direction relationship with told me they weren’t going home for the holidays. They were having “Friends-giving” instead of Thanksgiving. The litany of reasons ranged from post-election fervor, typical family dysfunction, or that passive aggressive relative who uses guilt as common currency. I posted a prayer for them on social media and thought I’d follow it up with a few practices before Christmas, in the hopes that home doesn’t become that place we avoid. Here are my top five practices in preparation for the holiday with family.

  1. Pre-prayer: My wife and I always prepare by pre-prayer. Because the middle of a family argument is not the time we typically are moved to prayer. But if those tense times are a real possibility, what could we be praying in advance that would help the hearts of all involved? Pre-prayer roots us in our relationship with God. Besides, it’s hard to harbor resentment for people you have bathed in prayer.
  1. Own your emancipation: God never intends for us to live in toxic environments. It was never God's intent for us to dwell in oppressive spaces for long. The 23rd Psalm does not read, "Yea, though I camp in the valley of the shadow of death". Quite to the contrary the call is to walk through it. Be willing to go to family space that could get contentious. Be willing to go there with the intent to seek the good and encounter the sacred. We go acknowledging there are everyday miracles that can and will pop up in the most contentious of spaces. But we also go knowing God intends for you to go into those occasions as light to shine in darkness not to get your candle snuffed out. As I walk with God I don't know that the intent is to shine your light at the expense of your flame. Be willing to own your emancipation. You are free to shine in dark spaces and free to leave as you tend to your own flame. No drama. No stomping out. Just gracefully exit for your own sense of peace.
  1. Be Willing to Be Wrong: A practice that fosters acts of peacemaking is being willing to be the one who is wrong. I know this rings a dissonant tone in our western ears. Because around here we protect, fight and demand our rights. As well we should. But as we look at the way of Jesus and His cross we see a being willing to relinquish his right to be right in order to bring a greater sense of rightness to all. So in personal relationship, if it does not diminish your personhood or your dignity, be willing to be wrong in a situation. It may be the thing that brings a greater right to the relationship.
  1. Humility through Inquiry: One of the best things we can bring to holiday gatherings is humility. Nothing causes more family conflict than everyone living from their egos and false selves. I've found inquiry to be a great fuel for humility. Remember humility is not so much about thinking less of yourself but is about thinking more of others. So going into family gathering equipped with questions to ask others about themselves gives you a means of really pouring attention and therefore intention into others. Asking healthy and affirming questions of others places you squarely in an orientation of humility.
  1. Go rested: If at all possible, go to holiday gatherings rested. It ain't nothing worst than going to a space that is filled with conflict when you are exhausted. Being rested gives us greater mindfulness, presence and patience. Rested eyes and hearts see at least the possibility of peace.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.