Three Reasons (Not) to Avoid Hard Conversations this Holiday Season

My first guest post from my wife, Rev. Jenifer Stuelpe Gibbs!

A consistent topic has floated through my social media the last few days. The topic has been covered through cartoons, memes, jokes and even a Saturday Night Live (tv show) skit. Some are incredibly funny and made me giggle. All of them make light of difficult conversations which might arise when families gather during the holidays. Most joke about how to shut those conversations down, ignore them, or evade them so as to “survive” the holidays. The jokes are funny because they point to a deeper truth, which is that holidays aren’t always easy for everyone and relationships can be messy.
What struck me was this; every form of media commended not ever having the hard conversations. There are certainly times not to have the conversations. The truth is, not everything requires a conversation. But avoidance of hard conversations seems to be a trend and now the norm. We’ve all done it.

We make the conscious choice to avoid conversations for the usual reasons. First, it’s far easier to blame someone. That blame can easily turn to gossip and complaining. Second, we don’t want to offend anyone or upset the waters. Many of us have had hurtful experiences with conflict and don’t want to endure that again. We fear the other person won’t see it our way, won’t give us an apology we think is due, or will simply react badly. Also, not many of us feel particularly equipped with tools to work through hard conversations. Third, hard conversations make us vulnerable. Both because of our past experiences and also because by doing so, we expose ourselves to things we don’t want to experience –hurt, disappointment, shame, failure, anger, and other people’s imperfections as well as our own. So we protect ourselves. These reasons apply at work, church, but I imagine particularly with our families. There is some gain to avoiding hard conversations, but what is the cost?

The cost is brokenness. Moments ruined by resentment. Hearts and relationships cracked and broken. And brokenness between a couple or few then affects a group. Have you ever been at a dinner table with a couple folks who have unresolved issues? The entire dinner party feels the tension. No one can gobble their food fast enough to excuse themselves from the table! The conversation avoidance that preserves us or the peace for a moment runs the risk of turning to brokenness. That brokenness ultimately turns to loss. We lose joy, peace, relationship, growth and connectedness when we avoid hard conversations. This is why a major theme of the Bible, and the reason Christ came, was reconciliation. To heal separation and brokenness. God invites us toward life. That life is found in following Christ.

A few good strategies to consider as we move into the holidays:

  1. A good way to know which conversations need to be had. BEWARE of the bitter root! A mentor once told me that if after a situation you cannot shake the anger, fear, sadness, or uneasiness you have with a person or situation you likely need to have a conversation. These feelings can become bitter roots that push through and crack different areas of our lives. “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12:15)
  2. Remember that grace is needed by everyone. As easy as it is to see the flaws and foul ups with the other person, they likely see the same in you. God sees it in all of us, and yet pours out grace for us all! “For while we were yet sinners God demonstrated his love for us; Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). My experience is, in those hard conversations, grace shows up in some way.
  3. Leave the blame at the door and come for the conversation. The truth is the conversation may not have the result for which you hope. Not everyone will value the conversation. But in coming honestly… seeking to restore the relationship even if you don’t see eye to eye or loss comes anyway… you have been faithful. I’m always amazed at the scripture that reminds us to first reconcile with our brothers or sister BEFORE we take our offerings to God. (Matthew 5:23-24) Somehow, being willing to have the hard conversations with each other is deeply connected to our walk with God.

The holidays are upon us. Let us move into the holidays with the hope of knowing the fullness of the gifts Christ came to offer. Let us be brave as we seek to love our families and guests well. It might mean having a hard conversation.


  1. says

    So very true. Thanks for sharing this with us, Mary Jane.
    I don’t want to miss an opportunity for fear of conflict or disapointment, but I have to be careful in my openess not to assume others want to be open with a whole tableful. As an extrovert, I can run over others’ need for privacy. We may think we are a guilt/forgiveness culture, but we all have shame/honor issues of our own, just as do friends in other parts of the world.. Praise God that Jesus came to reconcile us to God and one and other, but also to take our shame, as well as our guilt, away. In the past I have pushed too hard on holidays when many family and sometimes friends are gathered with us. That “public” arena makes some in my family cringe. Lord, grant me the grace to continue to be open but know when to respect their “space.” So hard for me sometimes when I desire ease in sharing for all the family. Thank you, Pastor and Dr. Gibbs- the Lord has clearly used this article to open my eyes this morning, even about yesterday! 🙂
    Blessings, all!

  2. Jeanne says

    I saw myself in this, not at a holiday dinner table but at the funeral of a family member. No one in the family wants to change the dynamics so I just back away. I don’t have the mental or vocal strength to take anyone an. It is sad. But then I am the only born-again believer. I am the only one who is trying to walk with Jesus on other-than-Sunday-service times. So sad. But I do pray for everyone, including myself.

  3. says

    Thanks for the post Dr. Gibbs. Good article and the video from SNL was hilarious. I’m actually working on a project called Courageous Conversations coming out this January to inspire and equip churches for holding difficult conversations. Would it be okay to link to this post?

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