Marriage enrichment: Christmas peacemakers

Advent is upon us, and no doubt we all are busy preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ with our loved ones. This Advent I would like to challenge you to join me in preparing for Christmas by becoming a peacemaker.

A simple definition of peacemaker is a person who tries to bring calm and understanding through the use of good communication skills to people who disagree, quarrel, or fight. Intentionally learning and using the communication skills necessary to become a peacemaker will benefit all of your relationships, especially in your marriage and family life.

If you ever have had the pleasure of spending time with a peacemaker, you know how their willingness to truly listen to you and try to see your point of view can have a very calming effect. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful gift to your family and friends if you were that calming effect this holiday season?

Sometimes being surrounded by loved ones for the holidays can be quite stressful. Patterns that have been established over the years can be hard to change even though the circumstances of our lives have changed. Children have matured, moved out of the house and moved on with their lives. Siblings have had different experiences and now have new opinions or beliefs that they didn’t have when everyone lived under the same roof. Parents have aged and have new needs or issues they are facing. Now throw in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins or old friends into the mix and the combination can be toxic.

We can help eliminate the holiday stress if we learn some peacemaking skills that we can use if conflict should arise within our circle of influence during the holidays. Here are the basic concepts of peacemaking skills:
■ Accept others where they are;
■ Engage in active listening with the desire to understand the other person’s perspective;
■ Use “I messages” such as “I feel,” “I think,” and so on when discussing your point of view;
■ Accept your own feelings and the feelings of others;
■ Show a willingness to seek solutions that will benefit all concerned, such as calmly agreeing to disagree, which can be a positive outcome for any discussion;
■ Affirm the other person’s positive qualities and seek forgiveness for any hurts you may have caused and offer forgiveness if you have been hurt.

A well-known book on the subject of conflict resolution and peacemaking among individuals and families is The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande. This book will guide you through the steps of developing peacemaking skills from a Christian perspective. Ken reminds us that the most important requirement of peacemaking is remembering who we are in Christ. We are God’s chosen people who are called to love one another as Christ has loved us.

After our recent election I had the opportunity to implement some of these peacemaking skills and witness their effect on an emotional conversation with our youngest daughter, Marie. Marie is now 26 and has been out of the house for several years living in a different state. She was very upset by the outcome of the election. She had her heart set on a victory for the first woman president of the United States along with many concerns about the direction our country will take with our new president.

At the beginning of our conversation I tried to respond to all of her points, but the conversation just got more and more emotional. I finally decided to follow the skills involved in peacemaking and truly listen. It turns out that what she really needed from me was to be heard. I worked on accepting her feelings and affirming her positive qualities such as her curiosity and her knowledge of history and the political process. This showed her that I was willing to work toward a win/win for both of us during the conversation by finding common ground.

I apologized for not listening very well at the beginning of the conversation. By trying to truly listen and understand her feelings I opened a door to more dialogue instead of closing a door that may have resulted in damage to our relationship. The experience of using peacemaking skills for a positive outcome has encouraged me to incorporate improving my peacemaking skills this Advent as I prepare for the birth of our Lord.

We may not always be successful in our efforts to be peacemakers this Advent and Christmas, but making an intentional effort to be a calming influence during the holidays will be a blessing to everyone and may even help lower your blood pressure.

By developing a habit of using peacemaking skills this Advent, perhaps more of us can become better communicators throughout the New Year and beyond. As the song “Let There be Peace on Earth” by Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller says, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Merry Christmas! ■

Mrs. Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.

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