Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at email@example.com.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are tough times for me. I really don’t want to spend any time with my family. It’s like when we get together the pain and hurts all come back. I can bury the pain and rejection for most of the year but family get-togethers brings it all back.
I guess that the hardest part is that I get more hurt every time we get together. Mom yells; dad says for the hundredth time how I’ll never amount to anything, and my brother and sister still gang up on me and criticize me and make fun of me. My husband asked me when was the last time that I left my family and felt better than when I came. I can’t remember one time. I always leave with more hurt than when I came.
The truth is that I have “amounted” to something. I have a great job and a wonderful husband. I love his in-laws and they love and support me. When it is time to leave I always feel better than when I came.
I am looking for suggestions. I am tired of being “beat up” every time we get together with my family.
I see three options. First, think of some positive ways to make it better. Second, don’t go; and third, “grin and bear it.”
David Ferguson of Intimate Life Ministries tells of an experience he had that you might find encouraging:
A pastor and his wife were having marriage difficulties. The church was fine, family OK, but their relationship was struggling. David had them fill out a questionnaire before the sessions began. One of the questions was, “How did your father praise you?” The wife left it blank. Dave reflected: “It looks like you may have missed praise and appreciation from dad. Is that right?”
She said, “Yeah, that’s right, and it hurts a lot-because he’s the most important man in my life.”
At that point, how do you think the husband was feeling? They’d been married 20 years! We are talking hurt, pain, and rejection here!
Note the dysfunctions playing out in this family. My experience is that if your family was and/or is painful and hurtful that you certainly won’t want to spend the holidays with them.
David continues story:
Christmas time was near and the pastor and his wife were about to make a trip from Texas to Michigan to be with her mom and dad for the holidays. At the conclusion of the session Dave asked the husband to stay behind for a moment and after his wife left. Dave gave that husband a homework assignment.
They spent three or four days with her mother and father. Dad was no more affirming, affectionate, or approving than he ever had been. He was distant, withdrawn, critical and negative.
The pastor and his wife were about to get in the car and head home. They were standing in the kitchen, husband, wife, and her mother and father. It was time for this husband to do his homework. He looked at his mother and father-in-law and said, “I don’t know if I ever told you this or not, but you have a very special daughter. I am proud that she is my wife. She is great with the children, loves and prays for the church family, and supports me in everything that I do.”
As soon as they got in the car his wife scooted over next to him and burst into tears of joy. All of the affirmation, praise, and appreciation that she’d longed for decades for her dad to express were being ministered deeply to her by her husband.
A powerful healing took place. She left her family feeling better that day than when she first came.
This story illustrates a creative way to protect you from your hurting family. Your husband contradicts every criticism with a positive expression of your personality and character.
This is what the Bible calls, “pouring hot coals on your enemy.” This is like doing good things for someone while you are really “thumbing your nose at them” as we might very loosely translate that term in today’s vernacular (Proverbs 25:22; Romans 12:20).
I am not sure that intentionally heaping coals is a nice thing to do; but, it sure can make you feel better.
For those not married, perhaps you can partner with one of your siblings to finally stand up to your antagonizing family. Enough is enough. Spend time with the most functional ones in your family and try to build each other up so that you feel better when you leave than when you came.
Another option is to “grin and bear it.”
This option is one you must prepare for. Get your expectations in line with reality. Accept the fact that you will get hurt and rejected again. You will be in a hostile environment. Before going, consciously build a hedge of protection around yourself (Job 1:10) so that their harsh words and evil criticisms cannot penetrate your feelings and emotions and leave you rung out, devastated, and fallen on the floor.
Plan to arrive late and leave early. Expose yourself to the poisonous venom as little as possible.
Another option is simply don’t go. Again, it was holiday time. I was advising a husband and wife soon to depart Tucson for Christmas on the East Coast with her family. Several years ago she and her husband made a conscious choice to move 2,000 miles away just to get away from her painful, dysfunctional family. She related the pain she still experienced when even when her family members continued to chide her for deserting the family by moving away.
She didn’t want to relive again all the reasons she chose to get away from them in the first place. “Then, why go?” I asked her. “Because I would feel guilty for not going.”
After chatting for over an hour, it became obvious to her that nothing good could come from her going—and it was not her fault. One visit was not going to fix anything and all she would do was expose herself to more mental and emotional anguish. She made up her mind not to go before I had the opportunity to advise her likewise.
There are some families you just don’t want to grow up in, or be in.
I told her that she reminded me of Joseph. He grew up in a family filled with murder, rape, rejection, favorites and pain. His brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt when he was a teenager. Yet, he was the only one in the family who turned out all right. “You’ve made the steps to come out all right,” I said. “Maybe someday you can reconcile with your family—like Joseph did with his brothers—maybe not, but at least now is not the time.”
I hope that you can have a positive and joyful holiday experience. I hope that you have a great family and are looking forward to a great holiday season with them. I’m sorry if you family is so hurtful that you really hate to be anywhere near them at Thanksgiving and Christmas. May God give you grace and perhaps some delightful surprises with your family this holiday season.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.