Many people around the United States will come together on Thanksgiving to share a meal and reflect on God's goodness. But every family is different. And for some, the dynamics can be challenging—especially when your loved ones are not following Christ.
Thanksgiving might be one of the few times a year when everyone is together, and it's an opportunity to communicate Jesus's love. But in many families (and friend groups), faith is a subject that's so fraught with tension it gets avoided, or it erupts into frustration and hurt feelings.
Here are some suggestions for creating an atmosphere where faith discussions are comfortable and welcome.
1. Pray in preparation
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4).
So as you prepare to gather with family this Thanksgiving, pray that the Spirit would soften their hearts and they'd be able to see the light of the gospel. You want a prayer that echoes Paul's heart for the Ephesians:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people (Ephesians 1:18).
If faith discussions are uncomfortable or divisive in your family, prayer becomes even more critical. Don’t just rush into difficult conversations with the assumption that your good argument will remove their blinders.
2. Accept them where they're at
Perhaps you raised your kids in a Christian home, and since they've moved on, they've abandoned many of your convictions. By embracing a loved one who has moved away from your values, you might feel like you're condoning their behavior.
Remember, Jesus was so comfortable in the presence of sinners that they wanted to be around Him. It actually hurt Jesus's reputation. As He explained it, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners'" (Luke 7:34). But it was His acceptance that created an environment where they were open to what He had to say. This was completely unlike their experience with the Pharisees.
If Jesus could accept people where they were, even though it was His laws they were breaking, we can, too! Quite often, communicating disapproval puts a barrier up between our loved ones and the Good News. But it's the gospel that will ultimately change their behavior.
3. Don't take the bait
Don't sell your loved ones short. They know what's expected of Christians. So when we respond to provocation by getting upset and angry, it can work to justify their resistance to the gospel message. This is one of the reasons why they might go out of their way to push your buttons.
During these moments, it's essential to remember Peter's words:
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).
In this case, the blessing you inherit is that you’re creating an environment where the good news of the gospel reigns. But this isn't easy. No one knows how to raise our blood pressure like loved ones. We need to pray that we can endure discomfort and even goading with dignity and grace.
Sometimes we might need to politely excuse ourselves to go to our room and scream into a pillow.
4. Focus on why you're thankful
Gratefulness provides an avenue to talk about the gospel in a non-threatening way. Peter encourages us to "be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15). And Thanksgiving allows you to do that in a way that focuses on why you're full of gratitude.
There are definitely times to share the gospel in a way that's focused on the listener. But the easiest way to bypass their objections is to spotlight why it's meaningful to you. They are a lot less likely to respond negatively to an expression of faith that comes from your thankfulness—and it might create an environment where a deeper faith discussion is embraced.
The spirit of the holiday
Some moments call for a pointed and challenging discussion about faith. Sometimes the discussion needs to make someone uncomfortable before it breaks down their defenses. But when we look back on major holidays, we don't want to remember them as times filled with tension and bitterness.
These tips can help create an atmosphere where people let their guard down, and even if you don't get a chance to explain the gospel to them fully, the door is open for future discussions down the road.
You can learn more about sharing your faith here, with an app.