Last weekend was my extended family’s Christmas get-together. It was an enjoyable time, and it emphasized again that what matters most about this holiday or any other time of year is the people we share our lives with. The most important part of the weekend wasn’t the Christmas dinner, delicious as that was. It wasn’t opening the gifts, even though that was fun and some excellent loot was exchanged.
What meant the most was having conversations over games or puzzles or a sink full of dirty dishes. It was watching the one-year-old concentrate on eating noodles with her fingers. It was seeing new sons-in-law becoming comfortable as part of the clan. It was being introduced to a boyfriend brave enough to undergo the "meet the whole family" test. (He passed; hope we did, too!)
A few weeks ago I was at a social gathering with people I didn’t know well. It was a pleasant evening, except for one married couple who were uncomfortable to be around. They were snapping at each other over trivialities, bickering like a couple of nap-deprived toddlers with only one toy. From the conversation, it was clear that they were going through a stressful period with their jobs. Still, after watching and listening to them for a while, I just wanted to shake them both and shout, "Quit treating each other like the enemy—you’re on the same side!"
I don’t know whether their squabbling was a habitual pattern in their marriage or a temporary response to a difficult time. Either one could be a sign of trouble. When times are hard is when we need each other the most. It’s when we should support and appreciate each other the most. It’s when we most need to cut one another some slack, even though it’s when we most lack the patience and energy to do so.
The December 25, 2006, issue of U.S. News & World Report features an article on "50 Ways to Improve Your Life." The section titled "Divorceproof Your Marriage" points out the importance of the letter A: for affection, certainly, but also for appreciation. Couples who bicker, criticize, and treat each other with contempt are the ones most likely to end up apart.
This is supposed to be a season of goodwill and peace on earth. We probably can’t do a whole lot to create peace on earth, but we can certainly foster peace and goodwill at home. Appreciation and gratitude are good places to start. It’s a challenging world out there, after all, and we need each other. Besides, we never know how much time we’ll have with those we love the most. Life is too short to spend it fussing at each other.
Have a joyful and peaceful Christmas.