I was talking with a family member and some friends recently and I realized that no matter how dysfunctional, crazy, or difficult our families are, they are family. And sometimes there are those we share our lives with who have very dysfunctional families of their own, and perhaps no structure in their lives that resembles what we call “family.” And there are those we have in our lives that are so close to us, we consider them our family, too. And when we try to mix all of that at one gathering, well, it can be interesting.
“Remember that the Lord is in every Christian. When your neighbor comes to you, always have great respect for him, because the Lord is in him, and often expresses His will through him. ‘ It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure’ (Phil. 2:13). Therefore, do not grudge anything to your brother, but do unto him as unto the Lord; especially as you do not know in whom the Lord will come and visit you; be impartial to all, be kind to all, sincere and hospitable. Remember that sometimes God speaks even through unbelievers, or disposes their hearts towards us, as it happened in Egypt when the Lord gave Joseph favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. (Gen. 39:21).”
—St. John of Kronstadt
We had a chance to visit with a wide variety of people this past Thanksgiving (a post I shared previously) and I have realized what an eclectic group we had. There were Protestants, Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, straights and gays, married and single, conservative and liberal…pretty much ran the gamut from one extreme to the other. And the conversation was lively and fun and inspiring. I loved it. Everyone treated everyone else with respect and genuine joy in their company. Someone said, “Well people were on their best behavior; it wasn’t like it was just family.” And it wasn’t; it was more of an elaborate dinner party. Still, I loved it; it was symbolic of our first Thanksgiving! The first Thanksgiving was a dinner party, too. Very few were relatives and all were there for a sundry of reasons, most of which was religious freedom. The Native peoples assisted the first Americans and they all came together to celebrate a successful harvest; native peoples and the first settlers in a new land, gathered around a table, giving thanks.
Christmas is coming and coming quickly. This year, our older children and their families will not be with us and so my husband and I decided to invite extended family members and they have all joyously accepted our offer. The people who are coming are all from my husband’s side of the family and I truly enjoy all of them. The interesting part will be cooking for them, as two of them have taken lots of gourmet classes and I am a little intimidated. Deciding on turkey or ham or beef is the next decision to be made! But the truly interesting thing will be accommodating all the different needs. One glaring need to address will be 6 dogs at our little house! God will provide! Ha-Ha!
And as I approach this season, I am looking to the dinner we sit down to eat, to be sure. But more importantly, the time we get to spend together. None of us is getting any younger and these moments as family are fleeting at best. And as St. John of Kronstadt said above, it is important to greet all who come to you with respect, because “the Lord is in him, and often expresses His will through him.” I am being given an opportunity to express hospitality and I have to remember to be less “Martha” and more “Mary” about the whole event. My friend told me that this year she decided she would straighten her house before guests arrived, but not clean it. “I am so over that.” And we spoke to the fact that hospitality is about welcoming and providing and being present to others, not frantically cleaning every nook and cranny in your house. Because if we become too “Martha” about the holidays, we get cranky, and honestly, too tired to enjoy our families and the time we do have with them.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42
There is a whole discourse on being less Martha and more Mary in life. Many Protestant groups have entire bible study programs on this very topic. And I totally get the need for it, because we are driven to repeat childhood fantasies and re-enact memories of some perfect holiday experience we had when we were 8 years old. The reality is that the holidays stress us out because we spend too much money, we take so much time away from “normal” life, and we build expectations up so high, there will bound to be failure and regret when January 6th…after Epiphany….comes around. And each and every year I vow to keep the holidays simple and casual, and less stressful. I was stressing out just thinking of serving 8 people for dinner, let alone having 6 dogs running around the house and it is a month away! (Well, okay, 27 days, but who’s counting??).
For this holiday season, specifically Christmas and Epiphany, I am vowing to be welcoming and inviting, and if there are dust bunnies laying around, so be it. There will be six dogs chasing them around anyway! Bring on the eggnog, mince pie, and calories. Bring on the Christmas cookie baking escapades! Bring on the tree and house decorating, light hanging, chaos. Bring on the endless Christmas movies and Christmas carols playing 24/7 (I am married to a hopelessly, wonderful, Christmas-lover, romantic man!!). Because I am blessed to have family that wants to share this holiday with us, because I have a husband and son who will be with me, and because I have a home where I can invite people to come and rest and share the Christmas spirit with us. And I will greet each guest over this season, knowing that I am welcoming He who resides in them, “especially as you do not know in whom the Lord will come and visit you.”
I will worry about the fact that we are moving in 2 months, later. Where is my Christmas cookie???