Six Obstacles That Impede Family Forgiveness at the Holidays
Holiday commercials advertising everything from turkey to pumpkin pie show happy families sitting around perfectly decorated tables, surrounded by beautifully prepared food, smiling and laughing—with only feelings of thanks and thoughts of merriment in sight.
But that idyllic holiday setting may be far from reality. When families get together for Thanksgiving and Christmas, bitter feelings of resentment and unforgiveness can crop up—especially once everyone gathers around the holiday table.
The people we are closest to can often be the most difficult to forgive. The more we love someone, the deeper the hurts can be and the more cutting a betrayal feels. Especially at the holidays, we may visit with and be expected to interact with estranged family members whom we may not have seen for a long time—perhaps years. This stress, along with the pressure to put on a ‘show’ that everything is ‘ok’, can exacerbate stressful feelings and delay the important conversations that ultimately heal.
Let me share with you six obstacles that work against forgiving family members as the holidays approach:
- Decision-making skills can be compromised by hurt feelings. When we feel hurt, betrayed or abandoned, we allow our emotions to make our decisions for us, rather than relying on facts and logic. Therefore, we often are unable to make the necessary and conscious decision to forgive because our emotions get in the way.
- We are addicted to comfort, negative feelings and conflict avoidance. We have clung to hurtful feelings toward certain family members for so long, that we are addicted to the comfort and stability of them, hanging onto these hurts like an old friend.
- We are ‘me-centered’ and entitled, rather than God-centered and humble. Jesus would never sit around the Thanksgiving table with His arms crossed and a sour look on His face because of past hurts, would He? Definitely not! When we struggle with unforgiveness, we focus on ourselves instead of the plans God has for our hearts.
- We believe the myths about forgiveness. People have many misconceptions about what forgiveness means and why it implies. For example, forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgetting; forgiving doesn’t let the offender “off the hook”; forgiving doesn’t mean never bringing up the past; forgiveness doesn’t always require reconciling the relationship; forgiveness isn’t always asked for; and forgiveness isn’t always easy.
- A lack of patience and self-control keeps us from forgiving. If we push away the Fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—we will never have the capacity to offer true forgiveness.
- We forget how we have wronged others and also deserve punishment. How easy it is to forget that forgiveness is a two-way street. All of us have been forgiven in our lifetimes and been offered undeserved grace, most importantly by Jesus Christ, our Savior. We must extend the same grace to those who have wronged us.
Sometime it may seem like these obstacles to forgiveness are insurmountable, but it’s important to understand that unforgiveness is actually also an obstacle—to joy, peace, and healthy relationships and interactions as we gather for the holidays. Forgiveness will not automatically make any family or any relationship perfect, but it will free the forgiver from the prison of bitterness that so often prevents us from fully enjoying our families.
Forgiveness is a topic in many of Benzio’s counseling sessions, where he talks to patients about true forgiveness, which involves giving up dysfunctional anger, revenge, bitterness, judgments, passive aggressive behaviors, verbal abuse and resentment.
Those concerned about underlying anger and unforgiveness that may lead to depression or substance abuse can call the free, 24-hour Lighthouse Network Helpline at 1-844-LIFE-CHANGE (1-844-543-3242). The most effective help will incorporate God into the healing process, because without Him, no amount of rehab, treatment or medication can bring lasting healing and transformation. We also provide online resources, Stepping Stones Daily Devotional, and a Blog for those needing help or are concerned about a family member, friend or a loved one.