My friend held her phone away from her ear, as her mother gave a screeching lecture about how families should spend more time together during the holidays. My friend shook her head incredulously and mouthed, I hate the holidays,” as her mother droned on and on.

What is it about the holidays that can bring out the worst in mothers (and fathers)? If our holiday expectations aren’t met, it’s tempting to give out a little frustration and guilt along with our gifts.

I’m fighting this temptation myself, this year.

For the first time in his life, our twenty-three-year-old son will be spending the holidays with his girlfriend’s family in Florida, instead of with us. It feels odd. Our family table won’t be the same without him. And I have to admit it’s tempting to push him not to go, but after witnessing what happened to my friend, I’ve decided to avoid these seven holiday mistakes:

1. Guilting. Too often the biggest “gift” given during the holidays is guilt. The most loving gift we can give our family is freedom. Freedom to come or to go. Freedom to give a respectful opinion. Freedom to let their hair down. Whenever I attempt to control my family, I’m not really showing love to them. I’m thankful that the Lord loves us enough to grant us freedom: “Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” (2 Cor. 3:17). I want to grant freedom, too.

2. Striving for the ideal, instead of accepting the real. Sometimes, I want the holidays to be picture perfect. But that rarely happens. Someone decides to go to Florida, instead of our house. Aunt So-and-So makes something inedible. Cousin Bob is annoying. Accepting people and circumstances as they are, instead of how I think they should be is a much healthier choice. This verse helps me remember that I should accept others because Christ has already accepted me. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God,” (Rom. 15:7).

3. Insisting on tradition. I love the holidays, but I don’t love them more than my family. I love traditions, but I don’t love them more than the ones I share those traditions with. Thankfully, the holidays do not have to be Pinterest-worthy! We can eat pizza instead of turkey or ham. We can have breakfast for dinner, use paper plates, or go out. The most important thing is extending our love to each other. I want to celebrate in a way that serves the majority best, rather than merely serving tradition. This verse sums it up: “Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well,” (Phil. 2:4).

4. Making war instead of peace. Holiday plans can turn into a battlefield or they can be an opportunity for love to grow. Making peace a holiday goal can prevent needless battles. This year, I’m praying to use words that bring peace. Holiday gatherings are never the time to criticize; rather, they are occasions to build others up. And if insulted—which sometimes can happen, even during the holidays—I can choose to turn the other cheek, as Jesus often did. Proverbs 15:1 gives this great holiday advice: “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”

5. Complaining. We can’t complain and be grateful at the same time—I’ve tried it. While complaining can give temporary relief, it prevents us from having a joyful holiday and a joyful heart. I’ve found that writing down three good things about each family member before I go to a holiday gathering helps me have a more grateful attitude. Gratitude miraculously changes our perception of others. The Apostle Paul expressed gratitude for others even in his prayers: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,” (Phil. 1:32). I want to do the same.

6. Keeping Score. Saying things like, “Last year, you went to Florida, instead of coming home” or “You spend more time with your in-laws than with us” is simply off-limits. Holiday scorekeeping—and really, scorekeeping in general—usually backfires. It can drive our families away. God wants so much more for our families than that. I love the VOICE version of 1 Cor. 13:5: “Love isn’t easily upset. Love doesn’t tally wrongs.”

7. Not keeping our family’s needs in perspective. As our children grow up, their relationships and sphere of responsibility increases exponentially. I’m trying to remember it’s no longer “us four (well, five) and no more.” The older my children get, the more people they are responsible to. The holidays are a good time to show them how much I appreciate where they are right now. It’s also a good time to be mindful of the changing needs of my parents and in-laws. True love is helpful, even sacrificial, at times. God rewards us when we show this kind of love: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Heb. 13:16).

You might be facing similar holiday challenges with your family right now, too.

Your mother-in-law is demanding that you stick to her schedule.

Your daughter breaks tradition because she is too busy to decorate the tree with the family.

Your grown son decides to spend his holiday with girlfriend in Florida (Okay, maybe I’ve mentioned this enough).

You may be feeling frustrated or even a little depressed. I’m with you! Remember you have a choice. Choose not to let holiday disappointment drive a wedge between you and your family. Pray. Be understanding. Remain flexible. Work to be a blessing to your family. Cling to the verses above—let them help you avoid holiday mistakes.


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