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 | By Steve and Bridget Patton

He says: I’m not going to my brother’s house for Christmas

What do they do?

There’s been a river of bad blood running between brothers ever since Cain first hated Abel, and sometimes the smartest thing brothers can do about it is to stay on their separate shores.

On the other hand, keeping the rift alive by maintaining separation on holidays is not moving forward with the hard work of family reconciliation. Jim, perhaps you can write a note to your brother before the holiday. Don’t dig up any hatchets, and keep it simple — just something like this: “I’m sorry for our differences over the years, and I’m sorry for how I have contributed to them. I truly wish things weren’t the way they are.”

You can never underestimate the healing effect of words spoken in kindness, regardless of the issues that have separated you throughout the years.

But Gretchen, if visiting Jim’s brother’s home would be too difficult for him, then respectfully take him at his word and let him stay home, especially since he’s welcomed you to go with the kids. Sure it’s less than ideal, but it still counts as a family get-together. Make sure the two of you talk openly about this, and that Jim sincerely doesn’t mind being home alone on Christmas. Your first priority as a married couple is to each other.

Jim, please do a couple of things.

Pray for a newfound peace with your brother and do whatever you can to establish it. St. Paul wrote: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Rom 12:18)

The peace St. Paul speaks of is not a mere absence of conflict, but rather a harmony that flows out of mutual understanding, compassion and respect. It may not be possible in this life to reach that kind of peace with your brother, especially if he doesn’t want it. And even if he does, be prepared for missteps. While you shouldn’t allow yourself to be bullied, you should be prepared to bite your tongue, to return words of kindness for words of anger and to ask for forgiveness even when you don’t fully see that it is fitting. At the birth of Jesus, the angels proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Let God’s peace rest anew within you, Jim. Then do what you can to share it with your brother.