Do This Before Your Next Family Gathering | A Lesson From An In-Law

Nobody has a perfect family – all families are made up of sinners. But it is possible to leave a family gathering feeling refreshed and encouraged instead of feeling frustrated and beaten down.

It is important to realize that happy, harmonious, encouraging family gatherings don’t just happen. They need prayer and preparation.

The book of Exodus tells the story of how God helped His people escape from their slavery in Egypt. Their journey came about after God did many signs and miracles and began with the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. During all of this, Moses’ wife and children were living in Midian with her family. After the crossing of the Red Sea, the Bible says this:

“Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt… Jethro…came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was encamped at the mountain of God.  And when he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her.” (Exodus 18:1-6)

They were about to have a family reunion! When you hear that your in-laws or extended family are on their way, how do you respond? What kind of gathering are you anticipating? Do you brace yourself for a miserable few days or are you filled with excitement?  Here’s what happened in Moses’s situation:

Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. And they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians.

Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God. (Exodus 18:7-12)

What a great family reunion! You can read the rest of the story here to see what else happened while they were together. I think this is a great model that we can apply to our families. Here’s what they did:

  • Expressed joy and affection when they met
  • Asked questions
  • Were honest with each other
  • Shared what God had done for them – how He had delivered them
  • Worshipped God
  • Offered help and encouragement for the difficulties in their present situations (verses 17-23)
  • Gave Biblical advice (verse 23)
  • Went on to live independent lives (verse 27)

Here are some questions to ask yourself before your next family event, whether it’s a big holiday, a birthday party or a simple Sunday meal:

  • How can I let my family know I’m glad they are here?
  • How can I turn the conversation to let them know I’m interested in their lives?
  • Am I being honest (without overstepping our personal boundaries)?
  • How can I encourage them by sharing what God has done for us?
  • How can we worship God during our time together?
  • How can I encourage them in their present situation?
  • Am I ready to “tell them what I think,” or have I allowed God’s Word to fill my heart and mouth?

When I entertain family in my home, I really want it to look like that reunion between Moses and Jethro. As adult members of our families, we have a responsibility.

It’s not just up to the patriarch or matriarch of our families to set the tone for a gathering – I have the responsibility and the privilege of creating an environment where God is the focus.

Here are a few things you can do to achieve that:

  • Plan ahead so you’re not stressed when family arrives
  • Think of things to ask about their lives
  • Discuss with your spouse a certain time during the gathering that you can purposefully stop to share what God is doing in your lives
  • Lead a time of prayer with family before they leave
  • Play soft, uplifting music to create a calming atmosphere

Most importantly – pray and ask the Lord to prepare your heart and help you be kind, loving, and attentive to everyone’s needs. Here are some verses that will guide you as you pray.

I think the goal of a family reunion like the one Moses and Jethro experienced is important no matter your family dynamic. Whether you have a calm, loving family that usually always gets along or a crazy, dysfunctional family with little in common – you can take steps to honor God with your time.

Please understand that doing these things isn’t like waving a magic wand over your family gatherings. It might still be a train wreck of clashing personalities. There may be situations where you feel like you’re the only one in the room who is making this kind of effort.

Remember: happy, harmonious, encouraging family gatherings don’t just happen. They need prayer and preparation.

I have found that the work God does in my heart as I prepare to be a blessing to others is really the end goal – not making everyone behave the way I think they should. 

As a 30-something wife, this is something I’m constantly working on. Sometimes I’m the Moses of the family who needs encouragement and advice. There are other times that I can be the Jethro and I want to be prepared with Godly wisdom and a heart that’s ready to worship.

Which one are you? How will you prepare for your next family gathering?

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