Amanda Woodiel proposes that we approach upcoming holiday interactions in a spirit of listening and love.
I recently came across an organization whose slogan is “Love Anyway.” I know very little about the institution otherwise, but the motto grabbed my attention. It is a deeply Christian notion. If someone hurts you? Love him anyway. If someone brags incessantly about her children? Love her anyway. If your brother’s worldview is completely opposite your own? Love him anyway. If your neighbors fly flags and have yard signs supporting ideas and people you don’t? Love them anyway.
What does it mean to love? We Catholic Christians are blessed to have a concise and precise definition: love is willing the good of the other.
How do we love? If you are anything like me, you want to start by explaining your perspective, by asking leading questions, by giving your opinion. Too often I take it upon myself to be the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit, and I end up being just what St. Paul predicted: a noisy gong. If we have not love, that’s what our opinions, comments, and likes are to everyone around us. Just more cosmic static and distraction.
This Advent I propose we begin our Love Anyway project with fasting. But I’m not talking about fasting from food nor even from electronics (though those be good things!). What about fasting from giving our unsolicited opinion?
St. Josemaría Escrivá explained that it is a sin against humility to give one’s opinion without being asked. (I recently tried this at a moms’ group, and let me tell you, not many people asked my opinion. No one, really. So if you fast from giving your opinion, you may as well prepare yourself now for a big void.)
However, when we detach ourselves from forming our own thoughts and advice while someone else is talking, we give ourselves more time to listen. As our interlocutor speaks, we can actively consider these questions instead: What does this conversation show me is important to this person? What can I affirm here? What does this person need? What can I learn from this person?
Instead of responding with our own opinion, respond with a question. Contrary to our secret fear, engaging someone in conversation -- even if that person lives a life not aligned with Christian morality -- is not condoning her perspective or her lifestyle. Of course we ought not to ask questions that dig for juicy details about illicit activities. However, we can ask questions that aim to get to know the other person’s soul, that try to see the person as God does.
For those of us lucky enough to get together with friends and family this holiday season, we are bound to come into contact with people who get under our skin. One pastor I knew told me that of course my family pushed my buttons -- they sewed them on me.
This year, let’s approach our get-togethers without dread and instead with a determination to “love anyway.” You know ahead of time who it is who is likely to push one of your buttons. Pray ahead of time and plan a few questions you could ask that person, questions that show you something of his history or questions that allow you to get to know her soul better.
To get you started, I’ve brainstormed a list.
For relatives who have seen many Christmases:
What was [great-] grandma/grandpa like when you were little?
What were your family traditions when you were young?
What do you miss about [living in a former state, having young children, and so on]?
What is your fondest memory of [your deceased spouse, parent, and so on]?
What foods would you [or your parents] serve at Christmas?
Who was your hero when you were young?
What are your hobbies? (This is a great way to learn how to do new things!)
What could you tell me about yourself that would surprise me?
Which of your children remind you most of yourself and why?
What was your favorite gift you received in your childhood?
For relatives middle-aged and younger:
What is your fondest memory of grandma/grandpa?
Have you developed any new family traditions?
What is your favorite Christmas memory?
Tell me what Christmas eve/day is like at your house.
What hobby would you most like to learn?
If you didn’t have to travel during the holidays, how would you celebrate Christmas Eve/day?
What is your non-negotiable holiday food?
What has surprised you about yourself as you’ve grown older?
How would you describe your children?
I should mention that there are some people who would not be able to stand questions like these (my husband being one of them). But most people, I think, appreciate wanting to be known and having a space to share memories. You’ll have to test the waters.
This Advent and Christmas, let’s be determined to love anyway.
Copyright 2020 Amanda Woodiel
Image: Pixabay (2014)
About the Author
Amanda Woodiel is a Catholic convert, a mother to five children ages 11 to 3, a slipshod housekeeper, an enamored wife, and a “good enough” homeschooler who believes that the circumstances of her life -- both good and bad -- are pregnant with grace. She leads a moms' group at her parish that focuses on simple and meaningful ways to live the liturgical year at home. Amanda blogs at In a Place of Grace.