It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many of us, the holiday season comes with complicated relationships and situations that are tough to navigate.

Maybe Ms. Opinionated-but-Thinks-She's-Subtle will make all of those offhand comments again this year that show her disapproval of you, your spouse, your parenting, or your life choices. Or Uncle Scrooge will insist you not turn on the heat in his house even though everyone is wearing a coat indoors. Cousin Thoughtless will come and not think to help cook, serve, or clean a thing. You-Know-Who will lay on the guilt trip that you can't spend more time here or there. Mr. Control Freak will be overly worried about who-pays-for-what and who-goes-where and who-got-what-gift. Ms. Generosity-Itself will make sure that the kids have so many Christmas presents that they won't have time to do anything but open new gifts all day long. And then there is Mrs. Good Intentions, who will be so focused on trying to make everybody happy that she makes everybody crazy.

And let's not even get started on how many families struggle with planning holiday travel, and which special days to spend with which side of the family (and whether or not the people who want to spend time with you are of the guilt-trippy variety).

Honestly, every year as friends and family inevitably share stories with of their own struggles with relationships during the holidays, I think to myself, it's all such a shame! And yet...God works all things together for our good.

The holiday season is an excellent, regular opportunity to invite God to refine our own hearts and to measure our own spiritual growth. If we are truly growing spiritually, we should be able to deal with certain people and situations more charitably than we have in past years.

If you follow my blog, you know that I'm a huge fan of St. Josemaria Escriva. His direct, no-nonsense advice for dealing with ourselves and others is so often just what I need to hear and how I need to hear it. He is the perfect saint to help me offer some humble advice for navigating complicated relationships during the holidays.


Every complicated relationship or situation involves a lack of virtue--in others or in us. That's why it's so important to be self-aware, and to always be working to allow the Holy Spirit to mold our own hearts to be more like Christ's. Self-awareness isn't just knowing about a sinful or annoying habit you have--it means working on it.

"The defects you see in others are perhaps your own...[How is it] that you can see the speck of dust in your brother’s eye, and are not aware of the beam that is in your own?” Examine your conscience." (The Furrow, #328)

There's also a catch to all of this self-awareness stuff, and it's that we can't possibly be aware of every possible defect or annoying habit we have. Self-awareness also means that we choose to be more patient with the defects of others, because we know we have plenty of defects--both known and unknown to us--that others put up with in us. 

"It is inevitable that you should feel the rub of other people's characters against your own. After all, you are not a gold coin that everyone likes. Besides, without that friction produced by contact with others, how would you ever lose those corners, those edges and projections — the imperfections and defects — of your character, and acquire the smooth and regular finish, the firm flexibility of charity, of perfection? If your character and the characters of those who live with you were soft and sweet like sponge-cake you would never become a saint. ( The Way, #20 )

Small Stuff, Steadiness, and Self-control

About 99% of the time, it's all small stuff. We can get so upset about things that are at least somewhat predictable and downright trivial. Asking the Lord for the grace to maintain a steady mind and heart is a wonderful prayer.

"Anyone who says he cannot put up with this or that, or finds it impossible to hold his peace, is exaggerating in order to justify himself. We should ask God for the strength to overcome our whims and to practice self-control." (Conversations, #108)

In the end, if Aunt So-and-So or your father-in-law or your spouse do that same old goofy Small Stuff at every family event for the next thirty years, it still wouldn't matter in the grand scheme of eternity. What does matter in the grand scheme of eternity is that you grow in spiritual maturity in how you respond to those people over the next 30 years. You are where you are for a reason, with these people and this family. Saying "yes" to God means saying "yes" to a lifelong, well-lived struggle to imitate Christ to the human beings in our sphere of life.

St. Josemaria has a great quote that really sums up this idea:
Don't say, 'that person gets on my nerves.' Think instead: 'That person sanctifies me'" ( The Way, #174).


I call it "pre-prayering": praying beforehand about upcoming situations and run-ins with difficult people when I know I will need special graces from God. There is nothing wrong and everything right with doing some mental preparation and pre-prayering before heading to a holiday gathering. Let's take a moment now to pray for the many graces of Advent to cover our homes, our families, and our own hearts. Let's ask God for the grace to work on ourselves, first and always. And let's pray for the grace to trust that boldly choosing virtue in ourselves will help this Christmas to be the joyful season it should be, no matter who shows up to the party.
St. Josemaria Escriva, pray for us!

Copyright 2015 Erin Franco
Image copyright 2015 Erin Franco. All rights reserved.