Relieving Holiday Tension

Relieving Holiday Tension

Perhaps the most difficult conversations we will encounter will happen at the holiday dinner table. It’s in these moments that we find ourselves suddenly having to confront various perspectives on race, politics, sexuality, and other topics that may have been avoided all year. This tension is exasperated by internal family issues, like financial disputes, family secrets, or unresolved disputes. Yet, regardless of the tensions that may be expected, we still have a responsibility to enter each situation with love. In fact, Jesus addresses this as He says,

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

Love is an action word. I would like to go a step further and say love is an action that is most clearly seen in trials and difficult moments. Quite frankly, it’s easy to show love when it’s easy! When everyone agrees with one another on hot topics and all is well, love flows effortlessly. Yet, despite the disagreements or debates that may ensue at the holiday dinner table, we should seek to navigate through these tough moments in love. We must remember the qualities of true godly love that we see in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Thus, if the world will know that we are His disciples by how we love, then it is expected that we will carry the qualities we find in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. We should be patient, kind, humble, honoring, not easily honored, protecting of one another and more! Unfortunately, in a society where everyone desires to be heard, we may spend more time wanting to share our opinion than wanting to reflect God’s heart. I have found, however, when we choose to operate in true godly love, even the most divisive scenarios can be shifted. Rather than dreading coming together with family and friends, we can see it as an opportunity to show patience, self-control, and genuine care, even towards those that we disagree with.

With this said, here are three ways we can steer divisive conversations at the Christmas dinner table:

1. Walk in peace.

We must remember that division is not from God. This is especially true amongst believers. In fact, we see over and over that Paul shares with the early church to not be divided. They were to be of one mind and on one accord, all working together to proclaim the Gospel. Yet, so often, the most divisive conversations take place amongst Christians arguing about which Scriptures are true, relevant, or applicable to the world around us. This not only causes division within the Christian community but is also sets a negative example to the unbelievers who are observing. 

Let us, therefore, make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Romans 14:19

This concept of being a good witness and walking in peace is so important that Paul mentions it in the armor of God:

For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. Ephesians 6:15

Here we can see that walking in peace is vital for dealing with people and the attacks of the enemy. If we refuse to put on peace, as we encounter others, we will continue to find ourselves in divisive conversations. Thus, when we find ourselves in these situations where taboo topics arise, we must pause and ask ourselves if we are walking in peace. We can check our own hearts by asking ourselves a few questions:

Are we just trying to prove ourselves “right” in front of others?

Are we trying to embarrass the other person?

Are we speaking to bring clarity or to stir confusion?

Are we set on playing “devil’s advocate” or speaking truth?

Are the people we are speaking to and those observing being edified or torn down?

Am I bringing people together or causing further separation?

Our answers to these questions will highlight if we are sowing discord or helping to create an atmosphere of peace. There is certainly nothing wrong with having tough conversations. In fact, we see Jesus doing so with His disciples and with the religious leaders of His time. However, we must search our hearts and ask our ultimate reason for the conversation. Remember, just because we can say it doesn’t mean we should say. With all things, we must be in prayer and ask the Lord to show us if our hearts are in the right place as we engage in the conversation or if we are speaking from a place of pride and fleshly motivation. When in doubt, we must seek to speak and act in ways that bring peace, not disorder.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 1 Corinthians 10:23

2. Choose to listen more than you speak. 

A perfect way to steer a divisive conversation this holiday is to make a choice to value one by listening. A look at the design of God’s masterpiece, of the human face featuring two ears and one mouth, quickly reminds us that we are to spend more time listening than speaking! Unfortunately, we find ourselves very frustrated when we choose to assert our opinion more than listen to the person across from us. Before long, we can become so caught up in defending our position that we aren’t listening to the other person at all. I have found that this is a quick way for a conversation to become a full-blown family feud!

We must make a choice to listen carefully to one another to gain a full understanding of what the other person would like to say. Giving a person our undivided attention shows them that what they have to say matters, even if we do not agree with it. If truly we want to value one another, we must follow the advice given to us in James 1:19:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, to speak and slow to become angry.

This verse makes it clear that if we are quick to listen and slow to speak, anger will be less likely to occur. Interestingly enough, the original Greek word used for “quick” in James 1:19 means swift, as in a one who wants to win a race. Thus, the verse is ultimately asking us to win first place as it pertains to listening. Can you imagine if we were competitive when it comes to listening versus only trying to “win” the argument at hand? I am a firm believer that if we choose to honor one another by hearing the other person’s heart we will find there are more overlaps in beliefs than disagreements. 

The truth is, some conversations are not worth the argument and are better left with agreeing to disagree. We must ask the Lord for discernment on how to navigate such topics. No matter what, we can make a choice to honor the other person’s opinion through listening and being respectful. And in the rare occasion where the matter can not be handled with a peaceful resolution, we must reserve the right to stop the conversation altogether, walk away, or remain silent. It would be better for us to do this than to say something we would regret or that doesn’t reflect the God we serve. If we want our holiday dinner to go smoothly, we must remember that choosing silence doesn’t entail that we agree with the conversation; it simply shows that we can be mature enough to not engage in confusion. 

3. Bring it back to Christ.

As a child, a craze hit the scene called WWJD, also known as “What Would Jesus Do?”. From bracelets to license plates, many started to make a habit of asking themselves how Jesus would respond in everyday situations. Although it may have seemed cheesy to some, I believe this saying when accompanied with action was a revolutionary way to view how Christians should interact with the world around them. I believe there is no greater time to ask ourselves this question of how Jesus would respond than at the holiday dinner table. One way we can ultimately steer tough conversations is to consider how Jesus would respond.

Here’s what we know about the way Jesus interacted with others:

For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. John 12:49 ESV

Jesus only spoke what His Father spoke to Him. He didn’t speak out of pride, out of fear, out of wanting to be seen, or even out of wanting to be applauded by others. His words were the perfect alignment of God’s heart. I believe this is what God would expect us to do today. We must pause to ask ourselves, “Is what I am about to say or the way I respond a reflection of what Jesus would do?” If we find that the answer is no, it would be better to say nothing at all. I believe the Lord can use the holiday dinner table to steer conversations towards Him if we are obedient enough to allow it. This doesn’t mean that we are required to preach the message of the Gospel over Christmas dinner to all who will listen. It does mean that we can live out our faith with intention by being mindful and responsible for every word that comes out of our mouths, especially with those we love. As we enjoy our holiday time this year, let us remember this phrase, “What would Jesus do?”. 

Would He use the word of God to encourage or discourage?

Would He belittle or befriend?

Would He break down Scripture fully or use certain portions out of context?

Would He speak truth in love or speak with hatred?

Within these answers, we will find that God can help us be the key to change this holiday season. It has never been more important for believers to set the example by walking and acting in ways that draw people back to the love of Christ. May this year’s holiday meal be an opportunity for togetherness and reconciliation.

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Colossians 3:14 

Photo Credit: GettyImages/Deagreez

Victoria Riollano is an author, blogger, and speaker. As a mother of six, military spouse, Psychology professor and minister’s wife, Victoria has learned the art of balancing family and accomplishing God’s ultimate purpose for her life. Recently, Victoria released her book, The Victory Walk: A 21 Day Devotional on Living A Victorious Life.  Her ultimate desire is to empower women to live a life of victory, hope, and love. She believes that with Christ we can live a life that is ALWAYS winning. You can learn more about her ministry at