My car door closed with a reluctant click. I stood next to my vehicle, jaw dropped, absorbing the scene. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My wife and I looked at each other wondering if we should go forward. She shrugged as if to suggest all would be fine. The kids put on their pitiful faces hoping I would offer some kind of rescue. Nothing came to mind, so off my family marched into one of our most memorable Christmases.
My wife and I had spent the previous night preparing for Christmas morning. With presents wrapped and everything neatly in place, we came up with a Christmas hide-and-seek idea. I generated a set of clues that would allow the kids to search for the gifts we had hidden. The clues were designed to lead us out of the house and get us driving around the neighborhood. My wife had located a restaurant that would be open on Christmas morning. We decided the final clue would bring us to this restaurant where we would open presents, eat breakfast and enjoy our Christmas morning together.
It never occurred to me the restaurant would be crowded with people. When we arrived, the parking lot was jammed and the line snaked out the door. The wait looked to be over an hour. We stood there, mouths agape, gifts in hand, with our children still in pajamas. The kids tried to hide behind me, feeling exposed in their nighties. Some folks looked at us and smiled, while others gazed curiously at the parents who dragged their children out in nightclothes. I felt like we had made a horrible decision. Still, we pressed on, enjoyed our breakfast and opened Christmas presents with 200 of our closest strangers.
To this day, that morning remains one of my family’s fondest Christmas memories. In fact, holiday seasons have consistently provided many great memories and taught me so much about family. Through every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’ve learned two important lessons that can serve as useful reminders for any household:
1) Family Time Must Be Purposeful
My children live at a pace of life often surpassing my own. I’m dazed by how busy they are with school, church and their social lives. Coming together as a family rarely happens coincidentally. Usually, our time results from several family members saying “no” to other activities. This is especially true during the holidays when parties and get-togethers seem to mushroom. My wife and I have to model how to say “no” to too many commitments and why to say “yes” to family.
My children are rapidly growing into adults who will one day have their own families. I want them all to return home for holidays and special occasions. More than that, I want my children to want to return home. The holidays are a perfect time to instill this attitude. By teaching your children how to say “no” to extra activities and “yes” to family at an early age, you will not only make space for family time and show your family how to prioritize, but you will also establish a family-first mindset in your children that will produce fruit when they grow into adults.
2) Family Time Can Be Emotional
While I expect great joy and exuberant laughter to weave its way into our family time, I’m often surprised at the range of emotions my family displays. We regularly experience sentiments like anger, disappointment and gloominess. Holidays only intensify emotions by highlighting what’s changed over the past year and shifted our family’s definition of “normal.”
Your family, like mine, has probably experienced a thousand subtle shifts—and perhaps a few major ones—this year. Each shift is a candidate for causing an unexpected emotional reaction as family members process change through frustration.
There’s a better way. You can use these shifts as an opportunity for family reflection and gratitude. Bring your family together and point back to life changes as examples of God working in your family. When you gather your family with this mindset, unexpected emotions give way to joy and laughter.
When we stood outside that restaurant on Christmas morning, everyone felt a little awkward and embarrassed. Ephesians 6:4 warns parents to not exasperate their children, and we came very close that day! However, we now remember that potentially disastrous moment with smiles and joy. That day became a prime example of how the Brewer family could prioritize time together and navigate an emotionally charged situation.
This holiday season doesn’t have to be a time of exasperation for your family. This year, find creative ways to bring your family together and engage their emotions. Just don’t drag them to a crowded parking lot in their pajamas!