One of the major stresses during the holiday season is relationships. We have to be around people we normally choose not to be around. Past hurts and conflicts come up in ways that may not be remembered the rest of the year. All around, relationships can be dicey territory this time of year.
On one hand, the Bible tells us to keep the peace in relationships. We are called to reconcile our difficult relationships and to love each other above ourselves. Conversely, though, some strife can be good in relationships. Instead of focusing on all the ways to make your relationships better (hint, the answer to a poor relationship is usually communication, followed by honesty and humility), instead we are going to focus on why a little strife isn't a bad thing.
I've heard people say before, "I don't want to pursue that relationship anymore because it is just too much work. Good relationships should not be that hard." For one, that is incredibly not biblical, and two, it sets people up for a trail of unsatisfying interactions with people.
First of all, when thinking about the difficult relationships in your life, remember the hardest one first, the one between you and Christ. He constantly has to pursue you. He has to constantly deal with you rebelling against Him. He constantly has to deal with you denying Him and not trusting Him. It is not easy at all for Him to love you. In fact, He had to endure beatings and die on a cross in order to keep a relationship with you. There is major strife in that relationship and you are the cause of it all. Yet Jesus never gives up on you because of the intense, infinite love He has for you. For humility sake and perspective sake, you need to remember that you cause untold numbers of problems in that one relationship. It is the one relationship that should mean more to you than any other and you complicate it day in and day out. Realizing that should help you come to your difficult relationships with humility and a right heart.
Second, avoiding difficulties in relationships will set you up for a life of unsatisfying interpersonal relations. In a fallen world, often times it is the strife in a relationship that holds it together. Love should be the bond that holds us together, but with liars, deceivers, and any other hosts of fallen people interacting with each other, it's difficult for people to be able to discern the amount of love between two people. It isn't until that love is tested, stretched and tempered that we can know what is really between two people.
People say they strive to love one another unconditionally, but you have no idea if that love is unconditional until you put it through the fire. What conditions really are on the relationship? Until love is tested, you have no idea whether it is unconditional or not. Until two friends or family members get into a fight, you have no idea whether the relationship is strong enough to withstand a fight. Until someone in a relationship gets offended, you have no idea if the relationship is one that doesn't need to be perfect all the time to work. Plus, on the other side, you now know that not only is a friendship or other relationship strong, but now you see one more level of self-sacrifice that someone else is willing to invest into your relationship, one more layer of love that was there that you may not have known about previously.
So, when having do interact with difficult people this holiday season or having to deal with difficult situations in your relationships, remember to praise God for those difficulties. Without them, you would never know how strong the bonds you have with other people are. Without relationships that can be difficult, you would be forced into a life of convenience relationships, where someone else's convenience is more important to them than you are. Without difficulties, you never have reason to go deeper, to offer the love of forgiveness or apology or to experience the joy of knowing someone sticks as close to you as a brother. Don't look at the strife in your relationships as a bad thing. Having to work at a relationship is often times the best thing for it.
Activity: Pick one relationship you have that is either difficult or distant. Take a minute to examine how you may be contributing to the strife between you and the person and then set it in your head to work on the relationship. It may involve doing things that have to take place inside of you, such as forgiveness or humility. It may also involve actually talking to the person and trying to clear things up. Work on reconciling the relationship and coming to a better understanding with the person.
Prayer: Praise God for difficult people and situations. Praise God for those times where He runs you or your circumstances through "the fire" in order to strengthen or to purify. Pray that you may be open to either of those things in your life and for strength and wisdom as you may be beginning your journey into the heat.