The conversation grew louder and louder as family members gathered. With every word stated, every bottle opened, and every argument begun, my heart ached more and more. Christmas was here again, and I knew the days ahead would not all be filled with joy and gladness.
I know that difficult family dynamics may come to the surface during this season. But subconsciously, I expect a different outcome. I arrive at family holiday celebrations expecting perfection, joy, and a merry and bright Christmas, but I quickly become disappointed, hurt, and angry when faced with imperfection.
In the middle of what is meant to be a joyful season, the contrast of pain, loss, brokenness, and sin is stark.
This looks different for each of us. Some experience the pain of broken relationships, divorce, or strained parent-child dynamics. Others suffer the impact of chronic illness, hospital visits, or mourning the loss of family members. All of us belong to imperfect families made up of sinners in need. So when our family circumstances disappoint us, we need to place our hope in the gospel, especially in this season.
Imperfect Family Members
Each of us comes to the table with expectations. We buy into the idea that Christmas should be picture perfect: full of shining lights, expertly-cooked meals, timely guests, and the wonderful smell of freshly baked cookies. Although none of these things are inherently bad, misplaced hope can lead us to expect and even demand perfection from our family members’ behaviors, reactions, and attitudes. But we will be quickly disappointed if we expect perfection in others.
Each individual gathered is a sinner in need of grace (Rom. 3:23). Only the Savior we celebrate meets the standard of perfection. Jesus Christ is without sin, and there is no deceit found in him (1 Pet. 2:22; Isa. 53:9).
An accurate understanding of our sinful condition and the unmerited grace we’ve received enables us to have accurate expectations for our family members. This also allows us to show grace in the middle of difficult and hurtful situations. You will sin against your family, and your family will sin against you this season. When it happens, don’t be surprised. Instead, imitate the Lord Jesus Christ with humility and forgiveness. Be humble, recognize your sin, repent, and ask for forgiveness when you wrong your family. When sinned against, remember that your sins have been forgiven because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. Forgive as you have been forgiven (Eph. 4:32).
Since the fall, all of creation groans and the earth and everything in it is impacted by the consequences of sin (Gen. 3:17–19; Rom. 8:22). Nothing is as it should be! This includes every circumstance that our families are going through. Individual sin and the impact of sin on all of creation corrupt our relationships, our health, and the order of things. During the Christmas season, we are acutely aware of this. Instead of experiencing despair, we can experience hope as we remember Jesus’ incarnation, his taking on flesh to rescue and redeem us, knowing that it meant subjecting himself to the imperfect circumstances of this world.
Our circumstances are not how they should be, but because of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, all things are being made new. This includes our family’s situations. As we celebrate Christmas this year, we can celebrate that one day soon, the Lord Jesus Christ will return in all his glory and all will be made new. This is how the story ends: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). We can rejoice this Christmas because our Lord is coming, and he is indeed making all things new!
Gathering with your family may not be easy this season. But despite the pain and imperfection, you are not without hope!
Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, came to dwell among us to bring light into our darkness. His love, grace, and mercy are not out of reach for you and your family. No situation is too hard for him to intervene in and no sin is too powerful for him to redeem. Jesus defeated the power of sin, and he is able to heal, restore, and make all things new. Praise be to his name!
As you gather with imperfect family this season, I pray that you will set your eyes on the only perfect One. May you rest in his finished work on the cross and rejoice in Jesus Christ, our source of light and life!
Meet the Author
Fernie is passionate about encouraging women to grow deeper in their understanding of the Scriptures and helping them apply this to their day-to-day context. She is a wife and mama and works full-time as a child welfare social worker. In her free time, you’ll find her seeking outdoor adventures, reading all genres of good books, and pursuing her M. Div. at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Fernie is originally from Cd. Juárez, México and lives with her husband and son in Connecticut. You can find more of her writing at La Coalicion por el Evangelio and her book reviews on her blog ferniecosgrove.com