This blog was written in winter of 2020, but is evergreen in its utility. I was just thinking about the ups and downs of holidays and how to build family and household unity all year long. Thanks for reading!
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Winter holidays are great for many things:
Enjoying food, giving gifts, hoping for the best, (possibly) resting more, slowing down and reflecting on the new year and the year we are ending. Some of us get more time off, we might an extra nap in, or enjoy some food with family we only have during the holidays. Winter holidays, if we have a warm home, can be times of bonding, sitting under blankets, talking, and sharing great food.
Winter holidays are terrible in other regards:
Mental health challenges, depression, and self-harm increase, we can be at several parties and feel ultimately lonely, and we might consume more social media that will trigger envy, comparison, and depression.
Whenever you read this, there is a way to recapture time with family, refocus your household, and build unity. Here are some quotes to consider with your household or circle of friends whether you are married with kids or living alone. We all have relationships, and the Bible is jam-packed with advice, examples, and stories of living well in all our roles. The bible also has examples of living foolishly and terribly in those same roles. If you are a parent or spouse, here are some ideas to improve life in your household, based on discussing some brief passages filled with lots of wisdom.
So, in no particular order, here some of the top words of wisdom, in my opinion, to build family unity and relationships, starting now, during the winter of 2020 holidays (or whenever you read this):
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“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 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 4:29-32 NIV
What is critical is that this scripture tells us and our children exactly what to say to each other: Only say what is helpful for building others up and anyone who might be listening. This is such a good focus for bickering siblings (or parents... or roommates). A good lead question for folks who are bickering is: What would you like for the other person to know, understand, or be able to do (that is helpful or beneficial). Whatever the honest answer to this question is, even if corrective, is aligned with this scripture and should be okay for siblings, spouses, roommates, and parents to say to their loved ones.
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"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" James 1:19
The best way I've found to process through this scripture is to do so in a calm moment and to ask each household member which one they most need to work on: quicker listening, respect, or obedience; slower speaking/retorts/comebacks/cutdowns; or slower anger overflow. It is also critical to talk about anger as a cover or protective emotion. It is usually easy to spot as a symptom, not the key problem. Anger isn't bad always, but it is powerful and escalates quickly. Our kids need to understand how to handle anger, see it's consequences, and learn to slow down the anger process. This is so empowering if/as we keep talking about it. You could do weekly check-ins on this one scripture for years, and have plenty to grow in. This is tough for all--parents, children, siblings, roommates. This is definitely in my top three of guiding wisdom passages.
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Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." Deuteronomy 6:1-7
I love talking about going all out in our love for God as first priority. Everything we have, money, time, commitments, schedule... God gets first priority. We must model this. Our children can give us input on what they see: What are mom and/or dad's first priority, as they see it? Our children must know that we are going to God as the first appointment in our days. They must hear us talking with others and with them about what we are learning, considering, even (sometimes) wrestling with. This scripture allows us to open several conversations with our kids using questions like: Which area are you strongest/weakest in loving God: heart, mind, soul, strength? Why do we talk about wisdom and bible passages? Why is a weekly worship service or occasional outbursts of devotion a problem?
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'This is the first and greatest commandment. Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ' Matthew 22:37-40
As in the previous scripture, we can discuss many angles on loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, then we can pivot to talking about our love for God reflected in what we say, do, and think with other people. If our loved ones are more given to depression, or self-deprecation, we can also talk about how loving others requires loving ourselves and receiving God's love. Loving others means finding out what makes those folks feel loved. It does NOT mean giving gifts or quality time to others because those are what we like.
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"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." James 4:7
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'Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. ' Ephesians 6:10-17
As noted just above, this is another passage about spiritual warfare, and all that I wrote there applies here. Our struggle isn't against flesh and blood, yet it is so easy to go to the person and what they did or said. We need to learn and help our loved ones learn: Yes people do bad things, but there are also evil spiritual forces in the world. We are in a war for our souls and for our focus on God! Again, as above, if there is no spiritual interpretation for horrible things like sex trafficking, the terrible posts you can read on social media and that terrible feeling we have after interacting with some people, then we either believe the darkness coming our way, or we try to deny that we are experiencing it. Neither are true. The darkness is very real, and we must acknowledge we are in it, and we must do something effective against it (resist, fight). Avoidance isn't an option. Finally, it is fun to consider what the pieces armor of God in this passage imply and indicate, and how to use them. We need to analyze the analogy with our loved ones. This would make a great passage to discuss with older children and precocious kids in about 4th grade or higher.
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While the previous passage is good for older elementary kids, we could start talking about this passage as soon as our children are born! They can talk about their wonderful parts (physical, mental) and about what they love in their fellow family members (smiles, hair, strong arms, running, etc.). We humans (and all of nature) are amazing! So many nature shows to watch and either precede or follow a dialogue about this passage.
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24
Jesus is unique in myriad ways. And storms will come in life, regardless of how much we love or obey Jesus. The key is not simply to admire him, though, but to FOLLOW and obey him. If we fail to practice what he preaches, we build our lives on sand. Our foundations fail when they are not on Jesus' teachings. Our hearts are more steady with a habit of holding to Jesus' teachings. And, not everything bad is our fault or because we failed to obey Jesus. This is critical to discern: Following Jesus means we will still experience storms. Damage is simply decreased by following Jesus, not eliminated.
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'Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. ' 1 Corinthians 13:7
This is a critical passage to return to in good and bad times. In good times, we admire God's love and character for us, the good in others in our lives and families. We also can appreciate the past painful times as times of God being with us in the pain. In bad times and hard times, or when we just can't stand others, we need to return to love. We need to remember we are made to love to be patient, to always protect, hope, and persevere. We were not made to boast, keep track of wrongs and resent others--that is perverted living, a twisting of God's purpose. We can explore our strengths and weaknesses relative to this passage, but we must focus on receiving and paying forward God's love, not trying to fake it or produce it. We are conduits of God's love, not generators of it.
I hope these passages inspire you, and they help you live well as self, sons, brothers, lovers/husbands, fathers, leaders, and followers (or the female equivalents of these roles).