Is this the holiday for healing?

On the way to soccer practice tonight, my son found four radio stations playing Christmas music. As I write this column, it is exactly two weeks until Thanksgiving. When you read it, the official beginning of the holiday season will be one week away. Those dates on the calendar bring smiles to many people. They look forward with fond anticipation to a season of warmth and togetherness. They embrace the hustle and bustle and they embrace all the friends and family who come together. Life looks like a Norman Rockwell painting from the last week in November until the first week in January. All is calm and bright.

I have never met one of those people.

Instead, most people approach the season with at least a little trepidation. This is not going to be easy. There will be difficult situations to navigate. Money pressures aside (oh, but that we could brush them easily aside), these days of calm and bright often bring relationship tension. G.K. Chesterton wrote, "The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day that he was born." And we do it again, when we walk through the door to an extended family holiday gathering. Quite the variety gathers there.

We take a deep breath and understand that a holiday means we have to work a little (or maybe a lot) to get along with everyone under the roof. God will grant us the grace we need; we just might have to ask for an extra serving, please. Once we've asked for His good grace, we have to look to extend it to those nearest to us. The secret to being successful in these situations is reminding oneself that most of us are doing the very best we can and all of us carry our own crosses into the day.

The Lord blesses us with families and grants us opportunities to learn to live in community. As we gather to celebrate the abundance of His blessings, we ask Him to help us be ever aware of how much we love each other. We ask to see Him in our brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. The family is under such strain in modern society. There's so much pulling at it from without, yet we still have to make a concerted effort to build it up from within. We need Christ's example of brotherly love more than ever.

G.K. Chesterton wrote a generation ago: "The modern writers who have suggested, in a more or less open manner, that the family is a bad institution, have generally confined themselves to suggesting, with much sharpness, bitterness, or pathos, that perhaps the family is not always very congenial. Of course the family is a good institution because it is uncongenial. It is wholesome precisely because it contains so many divergencies and varieties. It is, as the sentimentalists say, like a little kingdom, and, like most other little kingdoms, is generally in a state of something resembling anarchy."

Sometimes, in my quest for congeniality, I miss the richness that is the tapestry God has woven into my family. Both in my nuclear family and in my extended family, there is so much variation and there are so many different personalities. It's astonishing, really, how complex we all are. The complexities alarm me. I seek to vanquish conflict. I try to smooth the irregularities that give a complex texture to the fabric of our family life. There's a place for the peacemaker, to be sure. No one likes a holiday brawl. But there is room at the table for disagreement and discussion. There is room for the richness that comes with conflicting points of view.

Further, it is my dearest hope that there be room and time and tenderness enough to heal wounds and to bind the pain of raw memories. When we recognize that this is the chimney through which God pushed us into a community, these are the people He chose to teach us how to live, we can begin to see that even the hardest moments and the most difficult people can be used by Him to shape us for the good. Holidays, for all their hype and hysteria, might be best suited to heal.

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015

@elizabethfoss