The Gift and Challenge of Bold Love
Many of us who have plans to travel this Christmas maybe haven’t seen our loved ones in person for quite some time, or at least some of them. Maybe you crossed paths with a cousin, uncle, or some siblings for a quick Thanksgiving gathering last month. Yet, it’s the Christmas holiday that has a way of bringing people together in ways that birthdays and other holidays struggle to compete with.
In recent weeks, I’ve revisited a few Christmas movies that I’ve watched over the years: “Meet the Parents,” “Christmas Vacation,” and “Family Stone,” to name a few. What struck me in watching these films this time around is how these movies attend well to the various ways our return home for Christmas can reinvigorate decades-old family dynamics. Some of them are positive, and some not so much. Certainly, family reunions during the holidays can lend themselves to the rekindling of loving family relations. However, as the days accumulate with the entire clan under one roof, these films reflect what happens to many of our families over Christmas. Sometimes we can begin to recognize some of those irritating tendencies and points of friction between our family members that trace back to decades past and that we perhaps had forgotten about or figured we had outgrown.
It’s funny, though, how things can evolve from day one to day three or four. Day one is like a brief honeymoon phase; we’re all elated to reconnect and see each other. Then day four rolls around, and the sister you greeted lovingly at the door on day one is now reenacting her ritual of leaving the bathroom a mess, and your father continues to help you finish your sentences while you share a story at the dinner table. From day one to day three or four, family dynamics can evolve quickly from a state of nostalgic reunion to provocative irritation. It fascinates me why this seems to happen to so many of us.
I wonder if it’s because the depths of family relationships are never just filled with love and happiness. Those we love are also the ones with whom we are closest and know the most about, both good and bad. When we reconnect in spirit or physically with family members, those old memories, dynamics, and ways of interacting with one another can resurrect from the past and find new life in the present moment. Sometimes we’re confronted with unresolved regrets, pains, and losses. Other times we’re just plainly reminded of how difficult it can be to negotiate all these different lives and personalities under one roof.
Yet, in these situations, we’re presented with an opportunity to practice living out our faith, to see and embrace our loved ones just as they are, accepting all that they are, and knowing they are as beloved in the eyes of God as you. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged… Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” Love, this season, is not about perfection or trimming or avoiding the imperfect, but it is about being mindful that to love is to embrace all that God has already embraced- ourselves, our loved ones, and this world which is so often full of both the good and the bad. We contribute to the good when we love boldly as Christ did and continues to do for us.