Theres more to look forward to this Thanksgiving than a second slice of pecan pie when youre [finally] alone in the kitchen.
For starters, every road in Texas is offic
ially a speed trap for the next week, and the Highway Patrol intends to feast.
And then theres this: youre getting ready for hours of extroverted time with people who believe differently, vote differently, function differently, parent differently, eat differently, relax differently, entertain differently, pray differently, and expect differently than you do. Lets face it, we like our routines, and Thanksgiving is nothing if not unusual. Its not that we dont love these people, were just not used to interacting with them. And most arent used to dealing with conflict daily. Which means Thursday is as ripe for anxiety as it is for giving thanks.
From my experience with FaithWalking, heres how to eat the turkey and not each other.
Remember that anxiety is contagious, but you dont have to pass it on. Everyone at table Thursday is connected, and each persons anxiety can and will ripple throughout the room. For instance, if the turkey isnt done on time the host may visibly or emotionally vibrate with anxiety. You have a choice to conduct that energy, or to soak it up and allow it to stop with you. Easier perhaps when its a turkey than when dad flips out over your election vote, but the principle is the same. Choose to absorb, not conduct, the anxiety in the room. And pay attention to your own anxiety (clinched fists, tightened back, drooping posture, etc ) so that you can be its master and not the other way around.
Be gracious with peoples blind spots. Old roles and patterns of behavior may be on full display, as family reunions have a tendency to call out the best and worst of ourselves. And much that you will see and experience will be blind to those who are saying and doing it. The image to the right explains this well. When your awareness of someones behavior exceeds their awareness of their own behavior, you have a lot of power! Use it well. Yes, you can predict who will explode and leave the table (like always). No, your parents still dont want your financial advice no matter how brilliant. This is not the time to bring up personality traits, point out glaring weaknesses, or say anything that includes you always! or you never! Yes, you can see it as plain as day, but if they havent been transformed in the last 30 years, dont expect it to happen today. If youre really itching to make a point, read more here first.
Say what is so for you, but take a learning posture. In other words, be civil. I love the definition of civility from Tomas Spath, is claiming and caring for ones identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone elses in the process. Speak the truth, tell your story and dont let anyone run all over you. The Jesus ethic does not demand you loose arguments. Honesty is essential. But so is granting others the same amount of respect you desire. Dont in any way hide your beliefs, but at the same time stay engaged with those you disagree with. Taking a learning, rather than a teaching posture, can often diffuse the anxiety and shows respect for those around the table, even if you experience them as enemies. (Remember what Jesus had to say about enemies?)
If insults start to fly, just take it. Of course youre right, youre absolutely right! Doesnt matter what youre right about (ObamaCare, Benghazi, the ridiculousness of a Red Dawn remake) just shut up and take it anyway. Why? Because your relationship with these crazy people is more important than being right. Trust me on this one, it doesnt matter who wins the argument, youre family. You cant control what anyone else will say or do, but you can control your own actions and anxiety. We are, after all, people who claim not only to believe in Jesus, but people who actually believe him when he lays out for us a strategy of non-retribution for the healing of both the human heart and the world community. So if youre insulted, dont insult in return.
Finally, Apologize and forgive. Whether youve been the one who pushed too far or they were, Jesus tells us in Matthew its our responsibility to initiate reconciliation. Cool off first, eat some pie, watch the second half, whatever. But say the words. Make it right. Theres a reason we leave dessert for last, it covers a multitude of sins.
And, if by chance you learn something important about conflict, come back here Friday and let us all know what it is! Thanks.
Marty Troyer grew up in a very non-anxious home and will be eating his Thanksgiving Feast with his amazing church, Houston Mennonite Church, where he pastors. Follow Marty on and Facebook.