While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
— Romans 5:6-8
I don’t always show up well to family gatherings. Better put, I intend to show up well but slowly as the evening goes on, I find myself irritated, getting into the same little arguments I always fall prey to, and leaving at best disappointed, and at worst with a bad attitude. Is there anyone else out there like me? As you prepare your yummy contribution to family dinner this year, maybe the sense of dread in your stomach is already growing. Maybe it’s the political arguments, co-dependent habits, hurtful jabs, odd family personalities, or just the general mistrust that’s built over the years that makes dread culminate in your stomach. Maybe you’ve simply resigned yourself that small talk is the best way to get through the holidays. I have good news for you: I think there’s hope for a better way!
I know what you may be thinking at this point, “Oh you naive optimist, you have no idea what my family is like, there’s no way that this (fill in the appropriate holiday) could be different.” Just hang with me for one minute and keep reading a bit more. Again, the good news is there’s hope for a different way, the bad news is that it doesn’t rest with your aunt or your mother-in-law or your brother … it rests with you.
I hate small talk, as in I really despise it, I get bored and check out of the conversation. I want to talk about real things. But real things so often seem to end in disagreements. Anxiety always rises in me as my cousin rants about politics, or my aunt yet again asks me slight mocking questions about my faith. And I just love poking holes in my sister’s logic. I can’t control my cousin, my aunt, or my sister, but maybe it’s possible that I can show up differently. Susan Scott confirms this in her book Fierce Conversations, “Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can. Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person. It could be. Participate as if it matters. It does.”
How can I speak and listen differently? Let’s look at Jesus for a minute, he attended lots of dinner parties and had many intense conversations with people who thought differently than him, who mocked him and critiqued him. What’s interesting to note is that even though we may expect Jesus to have the perfect arguments that would pin his enemies figuratively to the ground, Jesus instead asked a lot of questions. Jesus is asked 183 questions in the Bible; He only directly answers 3 of them. He instead asks a whopping 307 questions to people. Wow, that’s a lot of questions! Here’s my challenge to you, and to myself, this holiday season. How can we talk less and instead ask a lot of questions at the next holiday gathering? Some of you may be thinking, I’ve lost you Brooke… why would I ask questions when I’d much rather win the argument with my uncle who’s an atheist. Well, here’s a question back to you, do you care most about refuting atheism, or do you care most about your uncle? Yikes, that’s a tricky question since a lot of us would say we could care less about our uncle.
Let’s pull back for a moment. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In this passage, Romans 5:6-8, we see two main realities. We are sinners and we are loved. Christ looks at you that way, before you even said ‘yes’ to a relationship with Him. He loved you. He does love you now. And Christ looks at your uncle that way as well. He looks at everyone in your family that way, even the ones who sit on the opposite political spectrum, or faith spectrum from you. He loves you. He loves them.
If you are a follower of Jesus, here’s my challenge for you this holiday season: Practice seeing your family members through Jesus’ eyes of love. One of the simplest ways that help me do that is by asking curious questions that help me truly see my family. Instead of packing up ammunition of argumentation and handy retorts this holiday season, consider instead showing up with curiosity about the people in your family. Here’s what I mean practically. Before you defend anything, before you debate any point, before you explain yourself at all, attempt to ask three questions. Make it a game with yourself. How can you ask three curious questions before you say anything else? “I know we’re on different political sides, help me understand your perspective on the new bill that was just passed?” Allow them to answer and then ask another question. “Hmm that’s interesting, can you say more about the exact effect on your work industry?” Hear what they say and then ask still another question. “Hmm so you’ve always been a (choose a political party), was that in the waters of your upbringing as well? Were grandpa and grandma of the same political persuasion?” Decide this holiday season to truly participate in conversations, to show up with loving curiosity. Decide that your goal is no longer to win the argument, your goal is to ask the most curious questions possible. Your goal is to have true conversations that God helping you, will eventually change the relationship! If you decide to try this out, reach out and let me know how it goes.