Opinion: How to survive a tense family holiday dinner

An icy silence grips the table, broken only by clinking cutlery. No one speaks except to ask for the cranberry sauce. Tension lays like a blanket over the holiday meal. 

Your cousin from San Francisco just argued passionately in favor of socialism, equating capitalism with fascism. Across the table, your grandfather from Texas wearing his Vietnam Vet hat is obviously trying to decide whether or not to retaliate. Your older brother — the black sheep of the family — growls a string of curse words under his breath as he spills green bean casserole on his pagan biker T-shirt. 

This entire situation makes everyone at the table uncomfortable. How, as a Christian young person, should you behalf when political discussions interrupt your Thanksgiving meal?

For some, going home for the holidays is a time of great joy and happiness. For others, it’s a test of patience and endurance.

How, as Christians, should we approach this in our personal lives? What do you do if going home makes you want to scream in frustration? 

First, there are two topics that people will never agree on and thus should be avoided at all costs in a high-tension environment: religion and politics.

While I’m not saying you should hide your faith, you also need to meet people where they are. As the saying goes, “People won’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” Unless someone else asks you about your faith, work on building a relationship with those around you before bringing up religion. No matter what you say, season your
speech with grace.

Political topics can be poisonous, even for families that don’t normally have boundaries between them. Politics should not come up in a civil conversation if you aren’t sure the parties involved can keep the topic focused without tempers flaring. 

With these two topics off the table, what can you talk about that won’t cause too much trouble?

Though it may be uncomfortable, try letting them choose the topic. It’s surprising what people can and will reveal about themselves if we just listen. Granted, we may not agree with said topic, but we have to show that we are willing to listen first.

If your family isn’t generally good at making conversation, it is helpful to have a few conversation starters in mind that can’t reasonably be turned into a debate about religion or politics. You could tell a story about the funniest thing that happened over the last year. Odds are, that will remind your eccentric aunt about her college escapades and she will chime in, beginning an entire conversation on hilarious mishaps. 

Though it sounds cliché, God calls us to love. He didn’t call us to only love those who love us; he calls us to love everyone. Whether or not those people are lovable, we have to forgive and forget and move on. As true followers of Christ, we don’t have any other viable option.

It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. We stand in a unique position to spread the gospel through our friends and families who may not know God, and the chance to see them in Heaven one day should be all the motivation we need to push though the darkness and keep trying to help them.

We cannot sit back and wait for others to reach out for us. We need to reach out for them and try to help them first.

If we give up on those that need us the most, then who will help them in their times of need? If not us, then who? 

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