It wasn’t long ago I was privately licking the wounds of being excluded. I found myself in denial, setting out hope that whatever had caused division in relationships would blow over and things would eventually return to a normalcy. When it continued, I had to come to terms with how I would respond. Would I mope? Would I exclude them, too? Or, would I re-evaluate my perspective?
As I’ve spoken with friends about the holidays and the family issues that get stirred at such times, I have discovered that exclusion is sadly a common experience in today’s families. How have we come to this point as a society that we are willing to set pride, greed, or politics before relationships? Why do so many people choose to block a family member on social media and walk around pretending they no longer exist, rather than approaching them with a heart of reconciliation?
Unfortunately for many, the reality is unlikely to change any time soon. So, what does one do? How do you respond to this type of behavior, especially at the holidays?
Think through the holiday events you want to be included in. If you were able to attend, would you really want to be in a place where you were unwanted? Do you want to pretend everything is “normal” when everyone in the room knows there is a chasm, but no one is willing to address it? Is walking on eggshells for fear of saying something inciting really your idea of a fun time?
Once you’ve asked these questions, determine if you have been looking at your family with honest eyes, or if you have been idealizing who they are.
If we are honest with ourselves, many times we are longing for an idealization of a family that has never existed. I’m not saying such a family doesn’t exist. I’m saying it is likely it hasn’t ever existed in our own families. But since we are hurting, we tend to put an idealistic perception onto our family, which makes the pain worse. We are essentially grieving a loss based on the perception, instead of the reality.
I’m going to suggest starting from a different perspective for the holidays. Instead of focusing on what you are “missing out on,” start with what you want for the holidays. What kind of people do you want to be around? What is your dream for the day?
Once you have a clear picture of that, set out to make it happen. If you want to be with people who love you and accept you for who you are, then invite those people. If you want a day filled with food and games, then set out to make it happen. If you want to serve others for the day, then contact a local church or shelter and ask how you can serve. Once you have an idea of what you want, you can seek out the people who will help fill that.
We have choices before us. We can mope. We can try to rally family members to our corner and create even more division. We can behave the same way and pretend they don’t exist and exclude them from our own events. Or, we can pray that hearts will be softened. We can pray that hurts will be healed, including our own. We can acknowledge the condition of our family and accept them for who they are without trying to change them. And we can direct our energies in a new direction.
Staying focused on our loss leaves us in a state of grief. We can get stuck in the position of always hoping we will someday be included. Do you really want to spend your time in stasis? Always longing for something that is likely not going to happen, and honestly probably wasn’t there to begin with? I’m not saying don’t take time to grieve, because grieving is an important step in healing. Just make sure you aren’t getting stuck in grief. The final stage of grief is acceptance, and it is important we claim that for ourselves.
You are in charge of what happens to you during the holidays. Don’t fall into a trap of feeling like a victim because you have been excluded. See this as an opportunity that you can create the kind of holiday you want.
Earlier in my marriage, my husband and I evaluated what we desired for the holidays. It still rings true today. We like to open our home to people who find themselves without family for the holidays. We also want a day filled with laughter and games. A day filled with people who love and respect us, and we love and respect them. People, who if we called them in the middle of the night with an emergency would drop everything to be by our side. People, who don’t try to force us into a box of expectations, and we do them the same favor. People, who are honest with us. People we can be ourselves with and not walk on eggshells.
My husband and I have made it a continued goal of spending the holidays with people who fit that bill. We want to spend the day with people who love, show grace, are fun, and share joy with others. Which is part of what the holidays should be about.
You and I ultimately get to decide who we want to surround ourselves with. We can create our own experience for the holidays. What do you want to do? How will you make it happen?
When all else fails and you can’t find people to spend the holidays with, then turn your grief into service. Find a way to serve others. It’s hard to be focused on our own issues when we are actively serving someone else.
And finally, give your grief to God. Ask Him to heal the pain in your heart and life. I’ve had to do that many times. He has never failed in comforting me, giving me peace, and then giving me wisdom in how to proceed.
My prayer for you is that you will find your place this Thanksgiving, and that you will create the holiday you want. That your pain of being uninvited will be healed, and that you will see the opportunities that lie ahead.