Sunday, November 24, 2013

How to respond to difficult relatives this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time for family, but what is family? For many it is your most beloved humans on the earth, the ones you adore and cannot imagine living without. For others, it is a gathering of people who are connected by genetics only, or marriage, or divorce. Black sheep of the family return. Prodigal sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. Joy and love and hugs may abound in some families, but in others, dread or guilt or annoyance may fill the day.

So what should our response be to this day of unexpected outcome? Let's look at Joseph and how he handled his brothers who had sold him into slavery when he was young.

Joseph was his father Jacob's favorite. For many of you, you know what this is like. Maybe you're the favorite. Maybe your brother or sister is. The fault lies in Jacob favoring Joseph and letting that be known. To make matters worse, Joseph told his brothers that someday they'd all bow down to him. Not the best choices. No wonder the brothers were mad. But, they didn't have to sell him into slavery, did they?

Years go by and Joseph has been in Egypt for so long and found favor with God, that now he is the number two man in the country. And there is a famine. The brothers come to Egypt for help and long story short, they come to Joseph, although they don't recognize him. In the end, this family reunion can go one of two ways. Joseph can get revenge on his brothers, or he can forgive them and help them.

I think he struggled with this. I really do. In fact, he messed with them just a little bit before he told them who he was. The brothers were terrified when they realized they were face to face with the brother they abused. Especially when their father was dead, they thought there was no more reason for Joseph to show them kindness. But here was his response:

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said to one another, “If Joseph is holding a grudge against us, he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him.”
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. 21 Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:15-19

Joseph responded in comfort and kindness because he saw that God had turned what they had planned for evil and used it for good. He recognized that although they sold him into slavery in Egypt, God used this as a way to get Joseph there. He had a long, hard road in front of him as a slave and prisoner, but eventually, he rose to a position of power with God's help. Joseph saw that God USED the evil of his brothers for GOOD. He didn't cause it, yet he used it.

So what does this mean for us? Well, none of us may be the number two person in the country. But we've all had some evil done unto us by a loved one, I imagine. And here comes our big family reunion. How are we to respond to these people who have wronged us or others in the family? Should we be kind because they have changed? What if they haven't changed? What if they're just as lousy and miserable as always? What is our response?

First and most importantly, we must turn to God through Christ Jesus. We must look at our lives, the ups, the downs, all of it, and realize that God is all-powerful. Even those things meant for our harm by people have been used for GOOD by the God who loves us. Yet we may not see the good...yet. We may still be in our long journey. We may not be in our position of power yet. We may still feel like slaves. Yet, our heavenly father has plans to prosper us and not to harm us. And rest assured, he can use your messed up childhood-messed up relationships-, etc, for GOOD. Trust that that can happen. Trust that when our time comes and we look back on our life with the eyes of Heaven, we might see how it all worked for GOOD.

And then get that goodness started by your actions and attitudes this Thanksgiving. After all, it's a time for family. We cannot keep our brothers from selling us into slavery. All we can do is turn to God, ask him to walk with us and to give us insight into how He is using everything in our lives for good, even the bad stuff...if we'll just trust him and give him the time to complete his plan.

I pray for you true peace in your heart when your relative gets drunk this Thanksgiving and criticizes you. Or when he/she badmouths someone or cries hysterically just as you're about to serve the meal you've worked a week on. I pray for you peace and an other-worldly understanding that this, too, can be used by God in your story of redemption (and yes, even your nutso relative's). And most of all, I pray you will have true love in your heart for your most unlovable guest around the Thanksgiving table. That in the quiet of your heart, you might actually offer up a prayer of thanks to God that he has put this most unpleasant person in your life. For a reason.

Trust that there is purpose in it. And respond accordingly in Thanks. One day you might look back and see how this Thanksgiving was a turning point. When you stopped being enslaved by your past and emotions, and began to rise to a place of true power and peace in your own life and in the life of your family.

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:27-29

I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:12-14


doziergirl said...

Thanks, Nicole. A wonderful and timely insight. We all know how hard it is to love those who seem so unloving, but we are a forgiven people and not the judge of others and their actions.

Shellie Tomlinson said...

Great post, Nicole and overflowing with wisdom. I love your heart!