Not too long ago, my husband, Collin, and I sat down to figure out our travel plans for the upcoming holiday season. We were married in January and now must navigate the joys and challenges of our first Christmas together and two families who love us deeply and live five hours away from each other. While we would love to see both sides of our family on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, it’s not feasible for us this year. So we settled onto our living room couch, prayed, pulled out our calendars, and started trying to make decisions.
There’s no formula for how to properly juggle distance, tradition, family dynamics, and work schedules during the holiday season.There’s no “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not” for making travel plans, but God’s Word is a guide for every area of our lives. If you find yourself wrestling through similar tough decisions, consider these Biblical truths to guide you along the way.
1. Leave and Cleave
During our premarital counseling, our pastor lovingly reminded us that after we’re married, Scripture calls us to “leave and cleave.” This comes from Genesis 2:21–24:
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the LORD God made the rib he had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. And the man said:
This one, at last, is bone of my bone
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called “woman,”
for she was taken from man.
This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds [cleaves in the King James version] with his wife, and they become one flesh.”
My husband and I have left our individual family units and become one with each other—a brand new family unit. This can be difficult to work out practically, and it might take some getting used to for you and your family. “Leaving and cleaving” doesn’t mean that we completely leave our families behind now that we are married, but our allegiance, in a sense, has shifted. Once you are married, the needs and desires of your spouse become your first priority. While your parents and siblings are still a valuable and important part of your life, their desires and needs fall second in priority to the needs and desires of your spouse.
Practically, “leaving and cleaving” looks like you and your spouse each taking the lead in honoring one another (Rom. 12:10). Discuss things like traditions, physical and emotional needs, work schedules, and family dynamics, then seek to put your spouse’s needs before your own. Working together in this way should help you develop a rough plan of what your holidays will need to look like.
A quick caution: because we live in a fallen world it can be easy, even subconsciously, to use “leaving and cleaving” as an excuse to selfishly do whatever it is that you want without much thought to the others whose hearts and lives are involved. Make sure that as you leave and cleave, your heart is in the right place.
2. Honor Your Father and Mother
Though the needs and desires of your parents are now second in priority to the needs and desires of your spouse, that doesn’t mean that they should be totally disregarded. Every son and daughter is also commanded to honor their father and mother (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1–4). This command has no caveats for age or marriage, which means that your job as a married couple is to honor your parents even when you don’t live under their roof.
While it may seem like leaving and cleaving and honoring your father and mother are incompatible, they aren’t. It is possible to prioritize your spouse while also honoring your parents. (And the rest of your family members!) What does that look like practically? For one thing, it looks like including your parents.
While this may not manifest the same as it did when you were younger, your parents are still an important part of your family, so make sure that you are carving out time to spend with them. If you can’t physically be with them on a holiday, consider a phone call or FaceTime call. Even though this isn’t quite the same as being with them in person, it’s an easy way to make sure that your parents know that you love them, that they are important to you, and that you want them to be involved in not only these special days but the rest of your life as well.
Honoring your parents also looks like knowing and caring for them well. If there are traditions that mean a lot to them, see if there is a way that you can still implement them when you are together (or apart). If there are holidays when you know they may struggle due to grief or loss, be mindful and loving.
3. Communicate Well
God’s Word has much to say about our communication.
- Ephesians 4:15 reminds us to tell the truth in love.
- Hebrews 12:14 tells us to strive for peace.
- James 1:20 and Proverbs 12:18 tell us not to speak harshly.
- Ephesians 4:2 tells us to be gentle and patient.
Each of these biblical truths have practical implications as well. Here are just a few:
First, don’t assume. Assumptions can get you into trouble quickly. So don’t assume that your parents know that you and your spouse are having Thanksgiving dinner at your in-laws’ house this year. Make sure that you actually tell them what your plans are, and give them a little bit of notice too.
Second, communicate with grace and love. As you talk about your holiday plans, make sure that your speech is seasoned with salt. It can be difficult for families to experience change, so be sure that you are not only telling others about your plans in a loving, grace-filled way, but that you are responding to questions and concerns with grace and love too.
Third, listen well. Proverbs reminds us that there is safety in a multitude of counselors (11:4). As you talk with your family about your holiday plans, be willing to listen too. They may have ideas or insights that you may not have thought of. Be sure that you listen to their concerns as well.
4. Seek to Honor and Glorify the Lord
Where you physically spend Thanksgiving Day or Christmas morning is secondary. What matters most is that you honor God and others in the process. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that “whether [we] eat or drink, or whatever [we] do, do everything for the glory of God.” As you go about making your holiday plans—whatever they are—be sure that you are seeking to glorify the Lord first and foremost.
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