So you’ve made it past the pitfalls of a political discussion over the Thanksgiving table and you’re ready for your next challenge: Christmas with your family who doesn’t share your faith.
Whether your family is seemingly ambivalent about your beliefs (“Jesus, Allah, Buddha … I don’t care; just pass the mashed potatoes!”) or passionately opposed to your relationship with Christ, it can get uncomfortable sometimes. We often weigh ourselves down with a personal burden to convert your family and see the holidays as narrow windows of opportunity—particularly for those of us who live hundreds or thousands of miles from home.
You wonder: “Do I invite them to a candlelight service? Do I play it cool and wait for them to ask me questions? Is it weird if I pray over the Christmas meal? Is Jesus expecting me to jump on every chance to drop a Bible verse? Will this be the Christmas that the Holy Spirit guides you to an altar call over wrapping paper and sugar cookies?”
The pressure can be overwhelming. I can’t be sure if an altar call is the right move, but I can provide a few encouraging reminders for navigating the Christmas holiday with family members who could use some Jesus in their life.
Aim to plant seeds, instead of nurturing a full grown plant.
Even after being blinded and hearing a voice directly from Heaven, it took Saul at least three days before he believed and was changed into his identity as Paul (Acts 9). When you discuss the peace and clarity you’ve felt since you joined a Bible study group, your relatives might not immediately ask to join in, but your words can lay the groundwork for a heart change. You can be unashamed and take opportunities to share but you don’t have an obligation to pawn your faith like a used car salesman.
Beware of jargon.
Often, we believers forget that everyone isn’t familiar with the terms we use within the church. Peppering your speech with phrases like, “I hope the Lord plans to enlarge my territory in this season” instead of “I’m hoping for a promotion at work” will make sure you sound like someone from another world. Your words and actions are meant to remind people that you are a Christ-centered but fallible human just like everyone else around the Christmas tree. You chose a life with Christ not because you are perfect, but because you realize your imperfections are a reminder that you need Him. Talking about the Holy Ghost with kids will have them running to hide under a table faster than you can explain exactly what the Holy Ghost is.
Tell your story.
Oftentimes, it can be tempting to see family gatherings as an opportunity to have a grandiose script. While Jesus’ miracles and sermons from heavy hitters like T.D. Jakes are enticing, often just talking about your personal relationship with Christ is the best testimony you can provide. A first-person account from someone they know and love often carries more weight than the most eloquent speeches of a stranger.
Don’t take it personal.
If your request for grace over the Christmas ham sends someone into a diatribe against Christians, you should realize it’s probably not about you. Often, people have issues with their faith based on a painful previous experience or a Christian leader who failed them. Showing patience and grace in the wake of a backlash can go far in changing their perceptions. Without cracking open a Bible, you’ve showed your family the character of Jesus and provided a valuable counterweight to a negative perception they may have.
Remember that no one has better backup than you.
This is probably the most important. The Holy Spirit is the One who changes hearts; we are simply here to serve and witness while He does the rest of the work. You aren’t the first or last one to encounter an audience hostile to Christ’s Gospel, and regardless of what happens, you likely won’t be fed to snarling lions afterwards. Take courage knowing that your testimony may be the salve someone in your family is looking for this holiday season, even if they don’t know it yet. You are a living example of Christ’s power and if our God is for us, who can stop us?