Geertgen tot Sint Jans, The Nativity at Night, c 1490. At the National Gallery / Wikimedia
Everyone in my family except me is an atheist. At Christmastime, they deck the house out in Christmas stuff and play Christmas carols round-the-clock — but at the same time, they make a point of mocking Jesus and His followers! Back in high school, my decision to become a Christian provoked such serious arguments with my father and stepmother that I’m on don’t-talk-about-faith terms with them. Even at other times of year the situation can be difficult. Once, when my stepsister saw a bumper sticker that said “Jesus loves you,” she exclaimed that she hated the driver for it. But it gets worse when I’m home for the holidays.
I love my family and it hurts me to hear them talk like this. Please, give me some idea of how to speak for Jesus in such a way that they won’t mock what I say and shut me out! I’d love to be able to take a stand without seeming obnoxious or self-righteous, but I know that if I do they’ll get angry, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to handle the situation gracefully.
I sympathize. The situation sounds unpleasant. Here’s how I advise you: To be charitable, humble, grateful, and forbearing toward your family; to rejoice in their good qualities, and show your appreciation for them; to be actively helpful by doing things like running errands and washing all the dishes without being asked; to go on about your Christian business, like worshipping at church on Christmas Eve, without calling attention to yourself; and not to try to force your family to be what they aren’t.
Besides all those things, do one thing extra: Pray for your family. Do it without ceasing. Leave it to God Himself to decide how to answer your prayers.
I know you want to do something more. You want to hurry God. You want to “make a stand.” My heart goes out to you. But believe me, practicing love to your family is making a stand. They know you’re a Christian; it isn’t necessary to talk Christ if they aren’t yet ready to hear Christ. If they grow irritated with you even for loving them, just love them even more. I mean genuinely – not obnoxiously. Because being obnoxious about loving them might be a temptation.
By the way, if they want to sing Christmas carols, join them! Why not? You might ask them some year why they sing them, but don’t fret about the fact that they don’t believe them. Don’t you believe them? Besides, there may be more going on in their hearts than you think. Considering how angrily they fight against Jesus, perhaps they are feeling His pull. Would you rather that they be indifferent? Who knows what the Holy Spirit can do? You may all end up saints. Have a blessed Advent and a merry Christmas.
J. Budziszewski is a Professor in the Departments of Government and Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin. His new book, Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Happiness and Ultimate Purpose, will be published by Cambridge University Press in February, 2020. This article has been republished with permission from his blog, The Underground Thomist. See also: God Rest Ye, Melancholics; That Mourns in Exile Here; To Believe; The Object of Uttermost Desire