Family problems around the holidays
November 2013, “Giving thanks… isn’t always easy.”
When children cross the threshold from childhood to adulthood and then move away, the glow of the holidays often tugs at their hearts, turning them homeward. Likewise, many parents wait out the year in anticipation of their children returning to the “nest” for Thanksgiving and Christmas to enjoy special family time.
But what happens when those grown children can’t or don’t want to come home for the holidays? How well I remember the year when my own precious mother faced the potential of an empty Thanksgiving nest . . . and the life-changing lesson I learned from her.
Honestly, no one could be more supportive of family unitythan my mother, especially when it pertained to the holidays. Every vacation throughout my growing-up years was spent in little Idabel, Oklahoma, with many relatives at my maternal grandmother’s home. Then, in my young adult years, it seemed only natural to have scores of people at our home in Dallas for the holidays.
So imagine my surprise when, one November, Mother cheerfully called to say, “Now, honey, at Thanksgiving I want you to do whatever you really want to do. If you want to do something special with a friend, you should do it.” (I already knew that my brother and two sisters wouldn’t be at home with her—only one granddaughter planned to spend Thanksgiving in Dallas.)
“No, Mom, I plan on being there.”
“Now, June,” she continued, “I’m going to be just fine. Don’t worry about me.”
I always appreciated a call from Mom, but how I especially appreciated this call. It was a call that represented genuine love in its“no-strings-attached” offer of . . . freedom. Mom didn’t pressure me to prove my love or loyalty by being present with her. She gave me the freedom to show my love in other ways. And I knew that this gift of freedom didn’t come easily for her or without cost. I had seen the Lord steadily, tenderly developing her security in Christ as she grew in her Christian faith and matured in her Christian walk.
I think back, too, on the many times I dropped in unexpectedly to visit my motherat home. She would be thrilled each time—right down to her toes. Yet, after talking for a while, Mom would interject, “You’ve been working so hard.Don’t you need to go . . . get some rest?”
This was my mom’s way of giving me an “out” . . . which, most of the time I never took. What a loving spirit she had! What a gift of freedom she gave!
How many parents make the tragic mistake of using guilt-inducing statements like, “Do you have to leave now—you just got here? You never come by anymore!I don’t see you enough! Can’t you stay a little longer?”
In truth, many grown children feel that no matter how much they do, it’s never enough. So when they do visit, guilt and awkwardness arise as they attempt to pry themselves loose when it’s time for them to leave.
The apostle Paul writes“the letter [of the law] kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).When a parent “lays down the law,” demanding a child’s attention, the child no longer responds out of love . . . but out of law . . . out of duty . . . out of guilt, fear, or other painful emotion.
Demanding lovekills desire. When a needy mother clings to a child or a demanding father heaps on guilt, that child feels a greater desire not to come closer but to stay further away.
God, the Perfect Parent, has a lesson for all parents—at Thanksgiving and all year long: “We love because he [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). When we lose our ability to choose, we lose our ability to love.Only love that flows from free will is authentic love.
Wise parents sow seeds of freedom for their children . . .seeds of agape love, which seeks the highest and best for the one who is loved. I thank God for a mother who did not attempt to “lay down the law” or to serve her own interests—but who, instead, laid aside her own desire in order to grant me freedom.
And what did I do the year she called to say I didn’t have to come home for the holidays? I went home . . . because I wanted to!
As Thanksgiving approaches, take a moment to reflect on the many ways you can sow seeds of selfless love, now and throughout the holiday season . . . not only with your family, but also with all whom God has placed in your life.
The Bible says, “Perfect love drives out fear . . .” (1 John 4:18). So when you give perfect love to your family and friends, you are leaving a lasting legacy.
Remember to pause this Thanksgiving season to thank God for the people in your life who represent your greatest blessings. As you do, may your heart overflow, along with mine, for every good and perfect gift “. . . coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
If you’re on Facebook, I invite you to connect with me at Facebook.com/June.Hunt.Hope. And if you’re not, take it from me: You’re never too old to start! See you there!