Years ago I was serving in a church in Tennessee where a male leader in the church wanted to meet with me.
It was the Monday after Thanksgiving.
He had told me that he and his wife just had the worst Thanksgiving of their lives and it was all of their adult daughter’s fault.
At Thanksgiving dinner, their daughter informed her parents that she was a lesbian and had been for quite some time and was seriously dating a female significant other.
And both mom and dad lost their minds in anger/fear/judgment.
There was shouting. There were derogatory remarks. And their daughter ended up leaving the Thanksgiving holiday, mid-meal.
As she grabbed her coat and purse, her dad yelled out, You’re going to go to hell, you know that!?!
The father telling me what took place was being this brutally honest with me, and not because he felt shame for how he reacted to his daughter’s news of being gay, but because he thought he was preaching to the choir. He thought I was with him in the way he reacted.
I was only with him in two ways: One, I loved him because God loves him. Two, I also have had moments where surprising news came to me from family and I did not react well either.
May Christians have the continual prayer that while we can’t control the comments of those around us, we can still choose to respond to their news in a God-honoring way. Self-control, kindness and gentleness are fruit of the Spirit that never go bad. They are always ripe.
But I was not with him on how he thought Christians should treat those in the homosexual community. To him, his daughter became an enemy. In an instance what was going to be a great family memory turned into an us-verses-them relationship.
Fast forward a year later, a couple weeks before Christmas. This same dad comes into my office still stressed and still angry.
At this point I hadn’t seen him in a year – at all. After our meeting the year before, I asked him to step down from church leadership unless he was going to apologize to his daughter. He refused to apologize and left the church abruptly, blasting me on social media.
But he reached out to me again 13 months later, and since I wasn’t a legalist like him, since I believe in the action of grace, I was willing to meet.
He told me that on Christmas Eve his daughter was going to marry the woman she had been dating for over a year. He and his wife had been invited to the wedding (which was in a state that permitted same-sex marriage at the time).
The wedding was two weeks away and he and his wife had not made travel plans. Not only had he not talked to me in over a year, he hadn’t talked to his daughter in over a year (his wife had a few times).
They weren’t going the wedding of their child.
His reasoning was this: If he and his wife attend the wedding of his daughter to another woman, then he would be sanctioning what he considered their lifestyle of sin.
I asked him if he had ever been to a wedding before. Obviously he had.
I asked him if each wedding he attended, if he knew all of the shortcomings and sin of both the bride and groom-to-be. He obviously hadn’t.
But he attended each wedding. He dressed up, bought gifts, supported the couple, had a good time.
I told him that not attending the wedding of his daughter would be something he would regret for the rest of his life and that it would sever their relationship.
I encouraged this father to view his daughter through the lens of God the Father. I wanted him to see how God still pursues people even when they run from him. And I reminded him that his judgmental sin put him on the same level as any sexual sin he assumed his daughter was doing.
Two weeks later, he didn’t attend the wedding.
I don’t know if this father and his daughter have reconciled to this day, but think about how the holiday season feels each year for this family. When Thanksgiving comes, the memory of a daughter crying on her way out of the home as her dad yells she’s going to hell will be felt every year.
On Christmas Eve, the memory of her parents not willing to attend her wedding will be felt every year.
This is why I do not talk about Jesus around the holiday season.
It’s not just Jesus I don’t talk about around the holiday season. It’s anything political. It’s anything racial. It’s anything personal that is a historical bad memory in the family. I prayerfully vie to be all smiles and support and acts of service no matter what this time of year.
The holidays are a very sensitive time that any topic that polarizes (which the topic of Jesus does), is going to be a lose-lose situation.
Civil rights activist and poet Maya Angelou said this: People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
What is more important than talking about Jesus around the holiday season is being Jesus during the holiday season.
If your loved ones feel rejected and depressed, give them a listening ear taking some serious one-on-one time for them to make sure they definitively know how loved they are.
If your loved ones have hurt you in the past, let them know you forgive them and that you’re always with them.
If your loved ones have news that surprises you or opinions that you adamantly disagree with, there is a time and a place to state your case and the holidays are not the time to do it. Usually our first emotional response in conversations of disagreement are not the most God-honoring responses that we have.
They will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. They will never forget how you made them feel.
Choose acts of humility and service over acts of having to be right this holiday season.
There will be more than enough of opportunities to talk about Jesus, share the Gospel, pray with someone, share a Bible verse, speak truth, invite a loved one to worship throughout the year (and if a loved one is asking about Jesus willingly, yes, please shout the Good News from the mountain tops), but when someone isn’t in the humble spirit to hear about Jesus, the holidays are definitely not the time to bring Him up.
But the holidays are definitely the time for Him to show up through you.
Jesus says that your love for one another will prove to those watching that you are a Christian (John 13:35).
It won’t be your opposing comments. It won’t be your opinions of disagreement. It won’t be your frustration. It won’t be your obsession to be right. It won’t be your addiction to control others. And it won’t be your hope for a perfect holiday season in the way you expect it to go.
It will be your love.
Think back to the father who refused to attend the wedding of his daughter.
When she told her parents that she was a lesbian and had been FOR QUITE SOME TIME, that meant it was brand new information to her parents but something she was scared or uncomfortable to bring up to her own Christian parents.
That tells me there wasn’t a culture of grace and belonging no matter what someone does or who they view themselves to be in this household. Instead of love, there was fear. Instead of compassion, there was control.
One daily action I have been doing every morning is praying through the fruit of the Spirit over the day at hand.
The 9 fruit of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Each morning I have been praying specifically, God, give me Your joy so I can give it to others. Give me Your patience so I can give it to my children. Give me Your gentleness so I can be gentle when things don’t go my way. Give me Your self-control when my emotional responses want to bring separation.
The reason these fruit are from the Spirit is because you cannot manufacture them on your own will-power. And since the holiday season is already an emotionally-charged time of year, trying to approach holiday events with others on your own strength with no preparation of prayer is going to be disastrous.
Run through the fruit of the Spirit in earnest prayer before any holiday gathering this year and prepare yourself to be Jesus.
You can’t control what others say or what news they give, but with the Spirit’s help, you can react like Jesus to whatever conversations occur.
Thanks for reading, you are so loved.