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For some people the holidays are rarely about happiness. Instead of looking forward to celebrating the season, they simply try to endure it. And it doesn't have to be that way.
Often it's not the search for the perfect gift or juggling a jam-packed calendar that causes those uneasy feelings but tension among family members. If relationships in your family are strained or uncomfortable, the holidays can be a reminder of that flaw. Suddenly the fight you've been able to avoid all year long is simmering right across the dinner table.
However, these gatherings also offer an opportunity to heal conflicts in your life. But it won't happen on its own -- you have to initiate the process by becoming a peacemaker.
What does it mean to be a peacemaker? It's not avoiding conflict, running from a problem, or pretending it doesn't exist. When someone says, "I don't want to talk about it," that's cowardice, not peacemaking. When you delay dealing with a conflict, it only grows larger and deeper. Peacemaking is not appeasement, either. Always giving in and allowing other people to get their way is passivity, not peacemaking.
Working for family peace means you actively seek reconciliation when relationships break down and offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you. Many people are reluctant to try to heal strained relationships because they don't understand the difference between reconciliation and resolution. They're afraid that if they reconcile, they'll have to return to a hurtful or dysfunctional relationship without any change taking place.
With reconciliation, you bury the hatchet but not the issues. You continue to talk about problems and work on them, but now you do it with respect and love instead of sarcasm and anger. Reconciliation focuses on the relationship, while resolution focuses on the problem. Always work on reconciliation first. When you do that, the problem shrinks in size, often becoming insignificant or resolving itself.
There's also a big difference between forgiveness and trust. Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves that allows us to get on with our lives instead of being trapped in the past by resentment. Forgiveness takes care of the past, but restoring trust is all about the future -- and it must be earned over time.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December 2008.