In life and in ministry, we encounter many gray areas. Gray areas are the places where there aren’t clear cut rules and regulations. Gray areas are governed more by traditions, expectations, and questions. When the traditions and expectations are unclear or hidden, there will be conflict. When the important questions are unasked, there will be conflict. Conflict can be painful or surprising because, “Nobody told me that this was the way it was supposed to be!” Disappointment and hurt feelings follow.
We have just journeyed through Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. The winter holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, carry many expectations. Some expectations are clear and some aren’t. The clear expectations can be negotiated. The unclear (or hidden) expectations are the ones that give us trouble. Emotions, memories, and needs are buried just beneath the surface like land mines. We step on the landmines that we didn’t know were there. The landmines explode and we are tossed in the air. We will land hard, covered in dirt, lying on the ground, concussed and bleeding profusely.
This past Thanksgiving and Christmas were layered with landmines for me and my family. As I mentioned in my last blog post, my mother died on November 3rd from advanced Alzheimer’s Disease. My family and I are grieving, which heightens sensitivities predictably and unpredictably. Quite honestly, I dreaded Thanksgiving and Christmas. I dreaded Christmas most of all because my beloved grandmother, my mother’s mother, died on Christmas Day many years ago. My grandmother’s death forever changed Christmas Day for me. Now I was facing my parents’ wedding anniversary on December 23rd, worship on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day without my mom.
I was determined this year not to get caught in the barbed wire of unmet, hidden expectations (I have learned the hard way, believe me). I did a crazy thing: I actually ASKED my family members what they wanted to do about Christmas this year!
My family has not been adept at talking about expectations. We come from the “if you love me you shouldn’t have to ask” or the “if you love me you should already know” school of communication. I gave my family members plenty of gentle notice as I planted the seeds for necessary conversation. Family, could we talk about expectations around Christmas? Dad, think about what you would like to do for your wedding anniversary, for Christmas Eve, for Christmas. Sis, can we consult on expectations about worship, gifts, family time?
Because we talked about expectations openly and kindly, we were able to navigate the landmines of the holidays without getting blown up. We discovered that we were in agreement. We agreed that this was a year to keep things streamlined and simple. There was no need or expectations for a big family extravaganza with mass gift giving and an elaborate meal. No one wanted those responsibilities. No one was disappointed, concussed, or bleeding.
In the gray areas, clarify expectations.