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“O-o-o Christmastime… We’ll all be fine in a week or two,” is part of the lyric of our daughter-in-law, JJ’s, new song Christmastime. “Wasn’t it just July?” she sings, “I was alone in my room without a cousin in sight.”

This is the time of year when families get together only to find out that nobody has changed and that their expectations of a joyful reunion were about as realistic as a second virgin birth. What can help you make the holidays work?

How can you spend time with relatives and also learn how to cope with holiday stress?

It’s inevitable that gathering groups of different people in the same room will cause some sort of stress, if not utter chaos. Differences in family or personal values, politics, and even sports teams can turn a beautiful family reunion upside-down in a hurry.

Every year for the past 32 years, my family congregates in Florida for a week with the Heller clan at Thanksgiving. My siblings and I are very diverse in terms of our values, politics, and even where we live… Arizona, California, Massachusetts, and New York. How do we, the Hellers from Phoenix, spend a week in close quarters with relatives who will argue passionately and articulately for viewpoints nearly the opposite of our own?

1. Understand Other’s May Not Share Your Faith

We recognize that they might not share the same strength in faith as Pauly and I. We’ve learned to not take personally what feel like attacks on us, even though they’re painful at times. We don’t expect them to embrace many of our values. We remember that they need a savior even though they don’t know it. Scripture says, “the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit” (1Corinthians 1:10-16). It’s important not to become overwhelmed with your family or close friends in a holiday situation when their religious beliefs are different than your own. This helps to avoid unnecessary conflict.

2. Be an Example of God’s Truth

Pauly and I have committed to stay connected with our families to be examples to them of God’s Truth, even when it is not comfortable, and to love them with the love of the Lord. We recently got back from two different trips to Boston for my Aunt’s 90th birthday, and from Baltimore for Pauly’s brothers 40-year retrospective on his photography work. We thought it was important to be a support to our family even though the differences are deep. We just want to communicate by our presence and sacrifice of time and money, that we love them.

3. Don’t Take a Vacation From Prayer

We pray a lot before we go and we get others to pray for us, too. We need God’s power to help us not react or judge. We need Him to help us say “I love you” in practical ways. To take time to listen, and talk, and do things with them. Praying before we go helps in remembering who we are and what He desires us to do. It’s also important to stay connected through prayer even while on vacation. The most stressful situations are when God can help keep us centered.

4. Focus on Time With Family

We try to look at what is good about being together and not focus on the differences that could drive us all apart. It’s not often that family can take time away from work to be together. Take advantage of this opportunity to be with the family God gave us. Make memories, laugh, play games, and break from life’s everyday stresses. There are other aspects of the holidays that are stressful too. For example, the cost and time spent flying or driving. Avoid this stress by ensuring you plan ahead and drive a car, truck or SUV that comfortably fit everyone. Preparing a big meal can be stressful as well. Try to focus less on the small stresses and more on the big issues at hand.

How do you cope with holiday stress and conflicts that arise when spending time with family?

We suggest asking the Lord to help you make the best of it, and thanking Him that you have a family to get together with, even telling them how much you love them (no matter how dysfunctional they may be).

You may need to establish boundaries with certain family members, or you may need to just “hang in there” and look for God’s purpose for you to be with them. Perhaps God has put you where you are to be used by Him in their lives. May He use you and bless you this year with your family. And may you focus on those things you agree on rather than those things you differ on. Happy Holidays!

Comment below and share some of the coping strategies that work for you.