Are you filled with anxiety or dread at the thought of getting together with family for Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday gatherings? For so many, these times of joyful get-togethers can be incredibly difficult. Those aggravating in-laws and outspoken siblings whose political views differ from our own know just how to get under our skin. In other more devastating circumstances, it is the pain of coming face to face with a family member who has been the cause of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. 

Is it possible to reclaim the joy of these celebrations? 

We sought the wisdom of Damon Owens, Executive Director of joytob, a ministry that addresses the most important issues, concerns and crises in our hearts with the rich wisdom of the Catholic Faith, specifically the Theology of the Body. Damon shared four techniques to help cultivate the joy of love at our family gatherings throughout the holiday season. 

  1. See your family as a mission field. – All interactions with God’s people are occasions for us to be Christ to others. Easier said than done, this is often the most difficult mission fields to serve in. Family members tend to bring out the best in us, but also the worst. When we accept our role as a missionary, though, we are reminded that we cannot act on our own power. We realize that we cannot give to people what we do not have. We must first be filled with Christ ourselves in order to bring Him to others. 
  2. Ask God for wisdom. – In the weeks and days before your family meetings, pray. Offer the family member who you struggle with, and the upcoming encounter, to God. Ask God to show you how you can serve that person. Rather than waiting (or bracing) for someone to hurt us, we can look for ways to serve them in small, yet personal ways, for God’s sake. This takes great strength that only the Holy Spirit will provide. “Come Holy Spirit…” is a powerful prayer. Continue to pray throughout your family events,“Lord, how can I serve and be a gift to those I see?”, “Lord, help me.” “Lord, show me how to love them.” 
  3. Have a strategy. – In order to be intentional about being a self-gift to others, it’s essential to have a strategy. Have a plan in mind for how you will interact with everyone you see. Mentally go through the steps you will take and visualize your responses. Think about what has happened that has triggered you in the past. What will you differently this time around? Most importantly, set boundaries that both protect yourself, and make clear to them when they have been crossed. Remove yourself from abusive – and potentially abusive – situations, and give them over to God.
  4. Receive others as they are through prayerful listening. – Do more listening than talking. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to win an argument, score passive-aggressive points, or trying to convert or challenge them. Decide that this celebration isn’t the time or the place for confrontation. That can happen later, when necessary. Instead, prayerfully listen as others are speaking. Pray for the grace to hear what their hearts are trying to say and love them with the same merciful love that God does. Again, easier said than done, but this is what Christian discipleship requires.

Damon concluded with a powerful reminder, “Maintaining joy is a goal that takes work to receive from God. The very relationships that give us life can also take it from us. But when we encounter people with authentic Christian love, the fruit is authentic, undeserved Christian joy. This joy is much more than a feeling of happiness, it is knowing that we are sons and daughters of God the Father in whom He is delighted. Our gratitude is precisely our selfless acts of service to others who are equally undeserving. 
To find out more about Damon and the work he is doing through joytob, click here.

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