Chatting with a friend who was fretting over the stress of Christmas, I said, “At least we have those big family get-togethers to look forward to.” She told me that that’s what she was fretting about! She started popping Tums as she told me about her uncle.
Her Uncle Bob makes every family gathering a strenuous exercise. She rolled her eyes telling me of his bad jokes. She gritted her teeth relating how he laughs mercilessly while recounting every stupid thing she did growing up. She mentioned some pretty felonious thoughts about last year, like wanting to set fire to his barn. I reminded her no one wants a Christmas get-together that ends with a jail sentence!
We all tend to have an Uncle-Bob-type person in our lives who could use a remedial people skills class or two and who seems to be, shall we say, a few nuts over the fruitcake maximum. Maybe he’s bigger than life, storming into the room with noogies—with your name on them, even though you’re over thirty. Or worse, when you flip over the chair he backed you into after invading your personal space with his turkey-eating breath, he laughs mercilessly at this newest stupid thing you just did.
Some challenging relatives aren’t merely annoying. They’re offensive—and on the offensive, planning a Christmas attack. They use the guilt weapon or harshly disapprove of anything you’re excited about. Maybe they have a hair-trigger temper. Some relatives are real rascals who seem bent on offending.
And dare I say, sometimes it’s a church family member. At a church get-together.
What’s a nonviolent, non-noogie-lover to do?
The annoyances? We can rise above those—in the power of Christ. The attacks? We’re called to forgive—again, in the power of Christ. Colossians 3:13 instructs us to bear with one another and forgive one another, adding, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (ESV).
Christmas is the story of how Jesus came as a baby, lived a perfect, sinless life, then died a cruel death on the cross to pay a sin debt bigger than we could ever pay. How can we not forgive another person’s offense when we’ve been forgiven of every horrible thing we’ve ever done—and at such a high cost?
Jesus told a story about forgiveness. A king showed mercy to a man who owed him something like a gazillion dollars—more than he could repay in a lifetime. That man turned right around and went ballistic over a small debt he was owed, an amount we would compare to a few bucks. When the king heard that the guy refused to forgive such a piddly debt after he had been forgiven of so much, he tossed the guy into prison and essentially threw away the key (Matthew 18:21-35).
This really illustrates how Jesus concluded the Lord’s “model” prayer, For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing (Matthew 6:14-15). Wow!!
When we forgive the way the Lord forgives us, the battle is essentially over. Forgiveness is actually quite stress-relieving. Does it make challenging people behave any better? Sorry, no. It may not change the offender at all. But it changes the forgiver.
Forgiving doesn’t mean what the person did was okay. It means we’re choosing not to hold it against him. We choose not to become bitter.
Bitterness is a prison we condemn ourselves to. It is the destroyer of Christmas celebrations. It adds stress and annihilates joy. It puts happiness just beyond our reach and puts a dark cloud over even the nicest gift. It unexpectedly explodes out of our lives in all kinds of surprising directions. Even the Christmas fudge doesn’t taste as good.
We grieve our Father when we harbor unforgiveness. Remember Ephesians 4:30? And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. Remember the follow-up command? Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32, NIV).
We can send ourselves to bitterness jail without setting a single barn on fire. But when we forgive, we free ourselves from that prison and restore a right relationship with the Lord.
Maybe a deacon is on a mission to drag your husband down. Maybe your mother-in-law seems determined to slice and dice you at every gathering. Forgive. Decide not to let anyone hinder Jesus’ birthday celebration for you. If you’re struggling with a difficult person, remind yourself that while that person may not appreciate you, God loves you dearly. Focus on God’s Christmas love more than any other distraction. Stay on guard for bitterness and you’ll be guarding your Christmas joy.
You might want to stay on guard in other ways too. A “noogie watch” couldn’t hurt.
Rhonda Rhea is a pastor’s wife, mom, speaker, and author and is a regular contributor to the Missouri Baptist Pathway. She and her husband serve at First Baptist Church, Troy, Missouri.