We had a rare opportunity this Christmas to celebrate with both sets of grandparents. Coming, as they do, from different sides of the world with different expectations and experiences (not to mention political views), we didn’t really know how it would go. But we had a good few days together, eating, playing games and opening presents. Everyone was on their best behaviour.
When families get together, there is often a tendency to look for inherited traits, either silently or out loud, or sometimes jokingly like, ‘I have no idea where he could have got that stubborn streak from’. At one point last week, there was a discussion of our 13 year old’s nose and which grandparent it most closely resembled. Once the analysis was given, he simply shrugged and said ‘I’m OK with that’.
It somehow felt quite a sweet moment; affirming of both the nose in question and family links more generally. But he may just have been being polite. We all know from our own experience as teenagers or more recently from living with them that a certain amount of breaking free, rebelling against family expectations is normal and healthy and necessary.
I’m sure we’re all relieved when conflict isn’t too much a part of our family Christmas (or, if it is, relieved when it’s over). However, as I look forward to 2020, I feel an uneasy call to seeking more conflict in the year ahead (partly inspired by articles like this one, which is worth a read).
Before you think too much Christmas pudding may have gone to my head, let me explain. I’ve long been committed to getting on with people who are different to me, in fact those relationships have been some of the most important in my life. However, I increasingly feel that I have slipped into a ‘don’t rock the boat’ kind of acceptance that takes the fire out of life.
Difference isn’t going away. Our world is becoming increasingly polarised. Like many other people, I think I’ve hoped that if I tried to be kind to everyone and kept my opinions mostly to myself, I would be doing my small bit to bring people together. But the times call for something more. We are called to deeper, more authentic engagement, which will actually require more love.
When I first began writing this blog 8 years ago, my hope was to communicate some part of my experience as a Christian with my friends who didn’t share my faith. What I suspect is that now, most of the people who are kind enough to read this already mostly agree with me. (If you happen to be reading this and you don’t, I would love to know.)
As much as I am thankful for my family and though it has been very good to spend time together this Christmas, being a follower of Jesus redefines the boundaries of ‘family’ and this wider family isn’t so great at getting along at the moment. Growing more and more in the family likeness of Jesus also makes it OK to get angry and to not shy away from topics that are difficult.
I’m OK with that.