Denise dreaded Christmas. What used to be a joy-filled holiday was now a date she wished wasn’t even on the calendar. Family relationships weren’t the same after her husband Tim left. Just two years later their daughter’s marriage ended in divorce. Accusations were made. Wounds were deep. The rift between mother and daughter was wide and the air, thick with tension whenever they were together. Denise wanted her precious grandkids to know about God, but felt powerless. Christmas had become sour because of broken and toxic family relationships.
Dominique and Crystal made a big deal about Christmas, but the focus was on Santa, elf movies, decorations, and lots of expensive gifts, especially from the other grandparents who were more financially able to be extravagant. Dom’s parents, Will and Nina, were frustrated grandparents. Nothing in their grandchildren’s Christmas focused on Jesus, and whenever it was mentioned, Crystal would flippantly say, “You know, we just want Christmas to be fun for our kids (implying that including Jesus would be boring).” Christmas was secularized by materialistic values.
Alfonse and Maria enjoyed close relationships with their three daughters and spouses. All were believers and made a genuine effort to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas and had always read the Christmas story together before opening gifts. Maria was noticing their older grands were tuning out the familiar scriptures. They needed some freshness in how they reminded the grandchildren of Jesus’ birth. Christmas had become stale for lack of creativity.
Family dynamics impact Christmas celebrations! SO why even bother?
If one of those scenarios sounds a bit too familiar, you may think ‘why do I even bother?’ but let me offer two powerful reasons and urge you NOT to give up.
First, you have so much potential for influence!
You’re in an ideal position to spiritually impact your grandchildren, Grandma or Grandpa. You are second only to parents in potential influence. No Sunday School teacher, youth worker, or pastor has the potential you have. You have their heart. You have a childhood-long relationship. You know and love them, and they know and love you.
More importantly, scripture commands it!
Deuteronomy 4:9 (NIV) is so clear; “…teach them to your children and to their children after them.” According to this verse, we are to teach two generations, not just one. We teach by telling our faith stories and sharing what we have seen Him do. As the spiritual matriarch or patriarch of your family, it is your responsibility to do all you can to pass on faith. Your choice is not whether or not to do it, but how to do it. Let’s explore the ‘hows.’
When relationships are sour…
Is your family like Denise’s with tension, hurt feelings, or outright animosity dominating the atmosphere whenever you’re together? You’re the most mature one in the family (or should be) so take responsibility for restoring peace. Here are some things you can do:
- Ask for forgiveness. That’s the first thing to consider in reconciliation. If you think you don’t need to, look at the relationship through the eyes of others – what would they say?
- Make sure you see the broken relationship, not the other person, as the enemy.
- Quick resolution is often unrealistic. Even if change doesn’t happen this Christmas, dream of a better relationship in the future, and make this holiday season a step to reach that goal.
- Show grace. It’s fascinating that Jesus, the complete embodiment of both grace and truth (John 1:14) often led with grace. If you’ve tried to get them to see things your way (that’s leading with truth) and it’s not working, then change to a ‘Jesus strategy’ and lead with grace. Try to genuinely understand their point of view (that’s grace). Forgive. Love unconditionally. When we show unconditional love and grace, the Holy Spirit uses these almost-irresistible tools to impact the thinking of others.
If you are to have hope of impacting your grandchildren for Christ, the chain of soured relationships must be broken. Be the best servant in the room. Determine that – this Christmas – you will do your best to be the chain-breaker!
When it’s all about the stuff…
When Christ is left out of Christmas, either by the parents’ decision or over-indulgent gift-giving, the real meaning of Christmas is lost somewhere in the stuff. What can you do?
Don’t go against the parents’ wishes – after all, they are first responsible for the children, not you. Crystal’s comment to Nina, “You know, we just want Christmas to be fun for our kids” was telling. But it also gave Nina an idea of how to honor Dom and Crystal’s wishes and still bring Jesus’ birth into their Christmas.
Here are some ideas:
- When our grandkids were small, we often had them act out the Christmas story. We designated one end of the living room as Nazareth, the other as Bethlehem. The wise men weren’t allowed on the scene, of course, until after the ‘birth’ of Baby Jesus.
- My friends Tina and Ray ‘kidnap’ their grandkids to go view Christmas lights. They talk with the kids about why people may have chosen to have holiday inflatables, lots of lights, etc. Plan a similar outing with your grands, and be sure to go by a house with a manger scene which gives you a perfect chance to share with them the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth.
- Host a birthday party for Jesus. Your grands can help bake and decorate the cake if they’re old enough, then everyone can enjoy eating it. Don’t forget to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. Tell or read the story of Jesus’ birth. My friend Elaine does this at what she calls ‘Advent Angels’ – an annual, pre-Christmas event packed full of faith-based crafts, movies, snacks, and fun for her grands.
- Together, practice the act of giving. Take cookies to a shut-in neighbor or to your local police department. Deliver canned goods to the food bank, or some warm socks and gloves to a shelter. By giving, you’re sharing a valuable perspective and also the joy that comes from doing so.
- Research and implement Jesus-focused Christmas traditions from other countries, especially your family’s country of origin.
When Christmas becomes stale…
As your grandchildren become teens, it’s challenging to keep Christmas spiritually fresh, especially if they’ve heard Luke 2 so many times it’s memorized. Rituals become rote, and routine becomes boring. Here are a few new ideas to try:
- Make gifts more experiential. Instead of things, give experiences, like tickets for you and your grands to attend a sporting event, or a concert. Registration for a church youth group event. Family memberships to a zoo. Coupons for a “grand date” for you and your grandchild.
- Make gifts more personal. My friend John customized a study Bible with his own notes for each of his grandkids. Do that for your grands on a milestone Christmas – maybe their 13th
- Make gifts more useful Try a “four-gift Christmas,” where you give each grandchild exactly four gifts: Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. This helps grands really focus when putting together a wish list and it’s an idea that is easily adapted whether you have limited funds or more than enough.
- Make conversations more meaningful. One of our very best Christmases was when – after the presents were opened – we shared with one another the most meaningful thing that had happened to us in the past year. After lots of laughter, tears, high fives, and hugs, we agreed it was one of the best Christmases ever.
- Make the atmosphere more spiritual. Before you gather, ask each family member’s favorite Christmas carol, and make a playlist of family favorites for background music during the day. At an appropriate time, ask each one to share why they like that carol.
- Make Christmas more memorable. Get out the special plates; dress up; just do things differently than you normally do.
- Write one verse of the Christmas story on the each of the gift tags of the presents for your grandchildren, and then tell them they have to find them and read them in order to be able to open their presents.
- Make the approach different. Your older grandkids need to be able to answer the “why” questions of faith. So instead of reading the Christmas story, read passages and create activities that emphasize the reasons behind the birth of Jesus. Here are three ideas: (1) Read prophetic passages like 2 Samuel 7:12-16, Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6, Micah 5:2, and others; then read their “fulfillment counterpart” and emphasize how knowing fulfilled prophecies substantiates your faith. Or, write each set of corresponding passages and wrap them in coordinated packages to be opened. (2) Write out John 1:14, Galatians 4:4,5 and Philippians 2:6-8, and other passages that point out the theological implications of Jesus’ birth on decorative paper, roll them up as scrolls, and hang them on the Christmas tree. Use them for your “reading of the Christmas story.” (3) Create some “gifts to the world” packages, and in them put a statement or symbol of how the birth of Jesus impacted human history. For example, on the gift tag, write “To: Women From: Jesus.” Inside put a card with Galatians 3:28 on it, and “Equality”, with your own statement about how Jesus impacted the status of women. Another: write “To: Sick From: Jesus” On the card inside write “Medical care” and Matthew 25:37-40. You can do this for medical care, education, arts, charities, business, government, family, etc. Or, you can do the same with concepts that originated with Jesus, like grace, forgiveness, love, or hope.
Family dynamics do definitely impact life – it’s a fact – and holidays tend to heighten the good, as well as the not-so-good, in each of us.
You may be struggling with broken relationships this Christmas like Denise. Life as it was is no longer the reality, and it’s been tough. Don’t give up, but give grace.
Your grands may have come to expect extravagant gifts, so – like Will and Nina – you may need to discover some new (and fun) ways to share the real meaning of Christmas with your family.
Or maybe your Christmases have become stale. Replace what’s ritualistic with fresh, creative ideas while retaining truth that Jesus is the reason for the season.
Remember, as grandparents, we are perfectly poised to make a difference in our grandchildren’s lives. It’s what we’re called to do, no matter our family dynamics. So make a spiritual impact this Christmas. It may require prayer, creativity, communication with your adult kids, and effort. But it is possible, and believe me—will be well worth your effort!