There is no shortage of movies about love around Christmas time – two people falling in love at first sight across a snowy New York City street or maybe the reunion of young lovers after years apart – and many other variations on the theme. The stories are often lovely and heartwarming and I certainly have my favorites. The delightful 2003 romantic dramedy, Love Actually, with Hugh Grant comes to mind.
For most of us however, our real-life Christmas probably won’t include being romanced by Hugh Grant (or Liam Neeson for that matter, however regretfully.) For most of us Christmas often brings with it a test of the less glamorous side of what it means to really love another person – specifically loving those in our immediate and extended families! And I have found that what that often means in practice is something that I will admit I personally find challenging – Letting Things Go! While this aspect of love will probably never make it onto the movie screen in any significant way (or at least I hope not considering it would make for a pretty dull movie) it is no less important than its more glamorous cousin, romantic love
and perhaps even necessary for survival around Christmas time!
To be perfectly clear, I am not talking about conflict resolution here. I am a huge believer in conflict resolution – just ask any of my family members! In fact if I had to describe my relational philosophy it would fall more readily into the “deal with it immediately with vigor” category than the more zen like “let it go” approach. I am not knocking conflict resolution by any stretch. In order to have healthy long-term relationships every one of us needs to have some handle on the mechanics of constructively working an issues out with a loved one. But what about loving someone else enough to actually let something go, even when you are sure you’re right and know they are wrong! Now some of us are “confronters” and some of us are “nonconfronters” but regardless of our conflict style we can all have trouble truly letting go of something that bothers us, or even hurts us, when it comes from a family member. Some of us yell and make a scene on the spot and some of us choose to “punish” the offender with passive aggressiveness but either way it can make for family misery at Christmas and beyond.
I am the third of nine children and while we generally have good relationships with each other and even enjoy each other’s company, we all tend toward the stubborn, strong-willed and opinionated end of the personality spectrum. We’ve grown up fighting anything and everything out immediately, holding very little back. This level of honesty does mostly lead to conflict resolution in the end but I’ve realized, as we’ve all become adults, that the inevitable combativeness of this approach can also create an unnecessary level of conflict to begin with!
A little incident over the Thanksgiving break a few weeks ago forced me to face my own shortcomings this way. As often happens over the holidays my siblings and I went out together to have a few drinks to catch up. We had a nice evening for the most part but as the night went on I became increasingly annoyed with one of my brother’s behavior. I levied a few criticisms that I felt were perfectly warranted and correct but it naturally started to sour the evening. Things really came to a head, however, when the subject turned to parenting! Being one of the oldest in my family I had kids before many of my other siblings. This meant that while I got plenty of babysitting help I also got parenting critiques from my teenage younger siblings who were sure, of course, that they would do everything perfectly once they became parents – this particular brother being one of the most insensitive and frequent offenders! So, on that fateful Thanksgiving night, when he made a comment that seemingly dodged responsibility for his own child’s currently problematic behavior, I felt I had no choice but to address it. Needless to say it didn’t go well and it ruined the end of the evening for everyone. When one of my sisters made the point that I didn’t need to “go there” my immediate reaction was to defend myself and my position as right and completely justifiable! “If he wants to constantly criticize others harshly than he should be able to take responsibility for his own crap!” But the next morning when I wasn’t mad anymore I just felt bad. I didn’t need to “go there” even if I was technically right and my brother was wrong. I kept thinking about how sad and demoralized my sister looked as we parted – another evening marred by a heated argument – and it really struck me then that I really could have just “Let it Go.” What was I really going to lose by letting it go? My right to be “right” perhaps? And what is that really worth in the end? My brother and I have a relationship such that we get over conflict with each other quickly and pretty easily and had things patched up within a couple days but I saw clearly that the collateral damage to everyone else had been done and it really wasn’t necessary or worth it. I could have loved all my siblings enough to let my position of “right”, on the matter, go.
The reality is, life is not always easy. And while it is assuredly the vital role of close family members to give each other the honest opinions that no one else will, we also need our families – whether biological or otherwise – to be a soft landing places in a hard world. We can’t change our family members – and relationships will vary with time and circumstances – but we can change our actions, reactions, and expectations. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we will never again feel annoyed, offended, or wronged by members of our family and it also doesn’t mean that interpersonal issues should not be addressed with honesty. However, every one of us (if we are really being frank with ourselves) could probably let a few more things go when it comes to those closest to us. After all, the highest manifestation of love for another person (and possibly the hardest) is putting that other person’s happiness above our own – easy to do in the first throws of romantic love – not so easy to do with irritating extended family members!
But what if we all did commit to letting go of just one of the inevitable offenses that will certainly come our way this Christmas? Is it possible that something seemingly so small (but yes, often so hard) could be the first step towards the peaceful and merry Christmas we all really wish for? While it’s not exactly Hugh Grant with a bouquet of roses, it sounds pretty magical to me!
Wishing everyone a blessed and merry Christmas from my family and the Holly Storman Art & Stationery Co.!