Day 4: Treat Tension As Natural - Hospitality for the Holiday Season

Day 4: Treat Tension as Natural

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14 (NIV)

A few years ago, the songwriter Adele released a song so gripping that the second it came on people everywhere felt compelled to drop what they were doing and sing along. As the holidays neared, Saturday Night Live made a sketch about a family sitting at the Thanksgiving table. Conversation about the turkey gave way to conversations about topics that were a little bit more fraught. Tensions rose and an all-out fight was just around the corner. Then the first few notes of Adele’s song “Hello” began to play. Everyone froze and began to sing. A few measures in and the fight had given way to an all-out family concert.

At my own family’s Thanksgiving table, a similar scene unfolded (though without quite so much drama). Conversation took a contentious turn. When the temperature of the room began to rise, the first few notes of “Hello” began to play. My younger brother had cued it up before the meal began, knowing we’d all seen the skit and would burst into laughter if he played it at the right time. Sure enough, we sang and laughed along, releasing the charge from the room.

It’s almost cliche to note that family holidays can be tense. Everyone has the aunt or the cousin or the sibling they believe has fallen prey to wacky ideas. It seems that the holiday table can bring all those ideas to the surface like no other place.

The truth is, tension is a natural part of any relationship—and its presence at the family table is actually a sign of trust. It’s just a reality of being human that we will all have different experiences and different convictions, which lead to different points of view. Anytime those differences rub up against one another, things can get uncomfortable. But when it happens among people we love, the discomfort can become painful. We want to be understood by those we love, and we want them to feel similar convictions about the things that matter most to us! The pain is a sign that we care deeply about the people we are in conflict with.

It’s tempting to try and avoid conflict altogether. We mistakenly take the call from Hebrews to live at peace with everyone as a call to avoid tension. But tension, when managed with care, can actually be a method of building strength. Tension is a method of building families or communities that can live at peace with one another because those within it trust one another to listen to and seek understanding of their points of difference.

Rather than dreading the holidays because of any potential tension, or even worse, avoiding holiday meals because of the potential tension, treat it as a natural part of relationships within loving families and communities. In the days leading up to the gathering, pay attention to your own emotions: are there any fears creeping in? Write them down and ask God to be present in each conversation. Prepare some questions ahead of time that can diffuse the tension when it emerges. Finally, take some time in the days ahead praying for each of the family members that are the hardest for you to get along with. Praying for each one by name is a way to remind yourself that they are beloved children of God.

Kitchen Tip: Pray this prayer in preparation for your holiday gathering. God, you created us in your image, reliant on community. Even when things get messy, the people around us open our eyes to the beauty and truth of your love for your world. Guide our conversations around the table today. May we remember the love that binds us together, may we extend to others the grace that you extend to us. Bless the food to the nourishment of our bodies, and the gathering to the nourishment of our souls. Grant us rest and surround us with joy as we give thanks for your delightful world. Amen.

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