Advice on dealing with difficult family situations?

December 1, 2009 | 43 comments

A reader recently emailed me to ask for advice on the topic of handling challenging family situations. I couldn’t think of any great advice, so I thought I’d turn it over to you guys. He writes:

My wife and I are converts to Catholicism. We live in the same area as my family and there has been a lot of conflict with them lately, especially since the holiday season has begun and we’re all together more often. None of them are religious (most of them are agnostic or into New Age). The religious differences don’t bother us, but it does bother them.

To say that they’re hostile to our beliefs would be an understatement. Occasionally they make serious comments threatening us about how dangerous and silly our Christian faith is, but mostly the conflict is in the form of “jokes” and “casual comments.” They’ll say something that is critical of or belittles our faith, and if we try to defend ourselves they’ll react as if we’re the ones stirring up trouble because they were “just joking.” When we’ve tried to have talks with them about respecting our beliefs it has never gone well since there are a lot of communication issues between us.

My wife and I have been praying about it but aren’t sure what to do. On the one hand we do love them and want to show them love, on the other hand we sometimes wonder if these situations don’t push us beyond our abilities to be charitable. Sometimes we consider taking a step back from family involvement, but the problem is that they would feel insulted if we went that route, and we don’t want to “abandon” them.

I guess the fundamental issues are:

  • How do you balance showing Christian love to people with defending frequent attacks on your beliefs, especially when you feel pushed to your limit?
  • Is there ever a time to temporarily withdraw from engaging with family members who are (I don’t know how else to put this) driving you crazy?
  • If so, how do you do that without hurting their feelings?

If you or your readers have any advice we would appreciate it.

This person mentioned that he is going to consult with a trusted spiritual advisor on the matter, but I wanted to put the question out there since I know a lot of people struggle with this. Anyone have any good advice or books to recommend that might offer inspiration to people in this situation?


  1. Multiple Mom T

    I am awaiting the results of this, as we are in exactly the same position with my husband's family!

  2. Anonymous

    * How do you balance showing Christian love to people with defending frequent attacks on your beliefs, especially when you feel pushed to your limit?

    It is not loving or compassionate to confirm people in their sins. It's absolutely fine to tell them that their comments are rude and hurtful. They may believe as they wish, but it must stop at attacking your beliefs.

    * Is there ever a time to temporarily withdraw from engaging with family members who are (I don't know how else to put this) driving you crazy?

    Absolutely. And tell them why you're doing it — as kindly but firmly as possible. You don't have to tolerate rude behavior, even from relatives. They must then decide if their "fun" is worth not seeing you. Be prepared that they may decide that it is.

    * If so, how do you do that without hurting their feelings?

    If they're being hostile and rude, why worry about hurting their feelings? They don't seem very worried about hurting yours. It's obvious they feel threatened in some way, so it's their issue, not yours. Be cheerful, be positive, live your life as you wish, wish them well and leave them be.

  3. Anna

    I think my advice would be that, if you decide to keep hanging with the family, make sure you pray a lot. Before each gathering, pray specifically for each person you expect to be there, and also ask Jesus to give you (both) the grace to be at peace and filled with His joy during the gathering. During the time with the family, whenever you start to feel riled or just stressed, take a deep breath and try to let go of any inner tension and say a quick inner prayer for grace, and maybe one for whoever is being difficult. When the gathering is over, (or if you happen to have some alone time during an extended time at family's house), spend some quiet time opening up your heart to God, talking about how it went, what's gone right and what hasn't, asking forgiveness for any wrong you did and forgiving any wrong done to you.

    When you're feeling pushed to the limit of your own resources, you need to draw on God's infinite resources, through prayer. You have to surrender the situation to him and allow him to fill you with what you need.

  4. Michelle

    We are in a similar situation, made more complicated because we have three young children who don't need to be hearing insensitive comments about our faith constantly. We have, after exhausting all discussion options, drawn some boundaries, limited the time we do spend with them, and told them we will leave group situations if they cross the line. It's been painful so far, but effective. As for hurt feelings, when they're playing at the "just joking" game, you're going to be told you hurt their feelings no matter what. We told our kids that we love God more than anyone else, and we must insist that our loved ones be respectful about Him, even if their faiths are different. Definitely a hard spot to be in, but mutual respect is key to any decent relationship.

  5. Carrien

    Perhaps the key is to not try to defend yourselves against such joking. A big smile and say something like, "I know you don't understand it and it frightens you that I believe in a God who knows me, loves me anyway, and lives with and in me, but that's ok, I love you anyway. It's because I love you that I choose to spend time with you even though I know you are unable to stop saying hurtful and insulting things to me about my faith."

    If you are completely unruffled when you say something like that and then go on as if nothing happened it will eventually have an effect.

  6. MoiraElizabeth

    Our parish priest asks his guardian angel to talk with the guardian angel(s) of the people he plans to be around, especially in difficult situations. This could be a good tactic.

    However, my own inclination would be to do it this way: minimize family get togethers, try to keep them at your house (because then you dictate the rules), and stick to your guns (rules, traditions, etc.). For example, in my own family background there are relatives who aren't practicing Catholics. My dad decided "when they are over, we are saying grace just like we would normally do. If they don't like it, that's their problem." So he continues to do this. The result – (and I'm sure this is from a combination of things) they aren't so antagonistic anymore. They seem to really enjoy spending time together. However, my dad still minimizes the time my brothers spend with them. That way, there is less opportunity for outside influences to affect them.

    Anyways, God bless your endeavors! Oh, and our family rule is to: always demonstrate the love of Christ. So even in difficult situations, we try not to lose our temper.

  7. Bethany Hudson

    So been there. It's hard; there's no other word for it and there's no easy fix. I could write volumes, but here are my answersto the specific questions raised:

    •How do you balance showing Christian love to people with defending frequent attacks on your beliefs, especially when you feel pushed to your limit?

    First, (provided you've already done it and are still trying) QUIT the evangelization. Nothing turns people off to Christ more than a bible thumper, even a well-intentioned and sympathetic one.

    Second, ignore the jibes and stings. Remember that the Devil and the Holy Spirit are fighting it out in these people's lives. Try to find compassion, and let the comments roll off your back. Incidentally, not getting so defensive is likely to show others how confident you are in your faith; it often intrigues people when you're so secure in your beliefs that you don't NEED to defend them. It gets them curious. Not that this is the reason to do it. The reason to do it is to keep yourself sane and pick your battles. Arguing about transubstantiation with an atheist–probably not going anywhere good, am I right?

    Lastly, PRAY for them!! This is the greatest way you can show Christian love to your non-Christian relatives. And, don't just pray for their conversion. Remember C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters? Pray for their struggles in all areas, for their health, praise God for their triumphs! Just pray. Unite them to God in your prayers. The more you pray, the more you're likely to feel compassion for them, as well, which helps with the whole relational thing in general.

    •Is there ever a time to temporarily withdraw from engaging with family members who are (I don't know how else to put this) driving you crazy?

    Yes and no. I would never completely cut someone off. However, in the case of holidays, I think it is appropriate to find times to celebrate with other believers and not family. If I had to spend every feastday with my non-believing relatives who were going to either secularize the heck out of the whole day or pick on me through the celebration, I would be worn ragged. You need time to celebrate your faith. Maybe do a special Christmas Eve with Midnight Mass and a Vigil dinner and prayers. Fill your spiritual tank. Celebrate Jesus. Then, go drink some eggnog and ho ho ho with the family and when they poke fun at you, remember the stillness and the beauty of the Consecration at Midnight Mass, and let it slide.

    •If so, how do you do that without hurting their feelings?

    Still, some relatives want you to do EVERYTHING as a family. Just be straightforward about the fact that you need some time to celebrate in your new faith, that you don't want to pressure them by involving them in that, but that you need this for YOU. Hopefully, if they're any kind of loving relatives at all, they'll understand this and respect your wishes. Be clear that you DO want to spend time with them, too, but that you need some outlets for your own spiritual growth.

    Hope that helps! My prayers are with you, even though I don't know your name. This is a hard row to hoe. But, seriously, the best way you can show Christ to others is to BE Christ to others. Serve them. Sacrifice for them. And, remember what Jesus said on the road to Calvary. That's right. He didn't say anything. He just walked the walk.

    Love in Christ,

  8. Kingdom Mama

    Not to be trite, but my advice is to "Count it all JOY!"

    BTW Jen, you should stop by and enter our contest!! Red River is a great place to visit (and I have to figure out some way to meet you!)

  9. Smoochagator

    I would suggest that your reader reframe his defensive responses to these "jokes." Instead of correcting the offending family member, or instructing him or her to be more respectful, simply say, "I know you're just kidding around, but it still hurts my feelings. Would you mind watching what you say about my religious beliefs? And if there's any way that I've unintentionally hurt you with things I've said, I hope you'll let me know so I can return the favor." This way your reader doesn't come off as scolding his family for being mean old heathens.

  10. Misty

    I have struggled with very similar questions, although my personal situation is very different. Still, over time and with God's sweet revelation I have been able to see that it is okay to be separate for awhile. It doesn't mean that it has to be permanent but sometimes it can be helpful. You are not abandoning them but you are telling them that thier behavior is not okay.

    I HIGHLY recommend the book "Boundaries" by Dr.s Cloud and Townsend.

  11. Anonymous

    * How do you balance showing Christian love to people with defending frequent attacks on your beliefs, especially when you feel pushed to your limit?

    Phrase it differently. This won't solve all the problems, but it might help them listen better if they aren't feeling attacked. Start with yourself in the sentence, e.g. "I feel attacked and unloved when I hear belittling jokes like that." They may never own up to having hurt you, or apologize for it, but see if the jokes stop after that.

    * Is there ever a time to temporarily withdraw from engaging with family members who are (I don't know how else to put this) driving you crazy?

    Yes, but be careful not to lose touch with the important things that are going on in their lives. They may not show you love in appropriate ways, but it is still your responsibility to show them love when they're hurting or going through something difficult. Showing them Christian love should help.

    * If so, how do you do that without hurting their feelings?

    You don't need to make a grand exit with an explanation as to what caused you to leave. Simply excuse yourself from larger family events saying you're not feeling well (which is true–their jokes make you feel bad emotionally), but then feel free to make plans to visit with family members one at a time or in small groups as seems natural. If they ask why you've been absent, you can explain it then as gently as possible–that when family members make jokes about your beliefs it makes you feel hurt and you needed a break from that for awhile, but that you still love everyone.

  12. sarah

    I don't know if this is worthwhile advice or not, but I would say instead of praying about the situation, I would pray for the people involved. I would see this as an opportunity to be an angel in their lives by lovingly praying that they develop kindness, respect and consideration for others.

    In past years I might have been tempted to verbally confront them on this, but I know now that kind of thing rarely works, whereas private prayer so often does direct a more positive energy their way.

    I also think you have to take care of yourself, so if there comes a time when withdrawal is necessary, then do so without feeling bad. On the other hand, if that time has not yet come, then the best advocate for Christianity you can provide is not to discuss it or debate it, simply to live in and provide a beautiful example. I can tell you from experience that example really is a powerful agent.

    If the other people insist on bringing the subject up, just say, "I respect your right to believe differently from me," and then refuse to discuss it further. If nothing else, this will aggravate them no end!

  13. Young Mom

    I am also looking forward to the responses. Having a conservative protestant family makes this a very hard conversion to consider.
    Even mentioning an interest in Catholicism a while back caused major arguements and hurt feelings, concerns that we were leaving the christian faith and conerns that we must not think that they are christians if we would switch. Its all so difficult to explain.

  14. Susan

    An excellent book that really has helped me tremendously is called: "Sandpaper People" by Mary Southerland.

    Also, the only way I have been able to respond in love to the "sandpaper" people in my life is to take a good, long look at the cross. I was born an enemy of God, dead in my sins, unable to save myself,and doomed to a horrific eternity…yet, in His amazing grace, He chose to save me. And I know that in His tremendous love and mercy, He desires to save those lost loved ones in my life too. Seeing them in that light keeps my heart tender, as I ask the Lord to love them through me. Unconditional love is a powerful thing.


  15. MarY


    I deal with this too….but I have come to realize that ALL families have stress and drama. I used to idolize some families I knew, but then found out that they had other, different kinds of dramas. I think the best thing is to follow the advice of Anna, and to try to keep things somewhat light. You cannot convert or change people who perceive you to be adversarial. I think they will be won over slowly by watching the fruits of your marriage and by seeing how you remain steadfast, kind and even jovial in the face of their annoying behavior. That is how I have come to change my own heart…by watching the behavior of people over a long time and seeing who was truly happy and truly living a kind and decent life.

  16. Valley_Home

    I was one of those New Age-y people (and prior to that, pagan). I couldn't understand Christians and the ones I grew up around were far from a good example!

    To say the least, I was the one invited to scare others and was called upon when someone wanted a discussion (usually, I'd go to some church and would spend the evening yelled at by the group and feeling vindicated because of their "attack").

    Through all of this, I had a few acquaintences who were Christians who were not about to make a big deal out of my being different. Looking back, it would have validated everything I thought about Christians (at the time) if they had gotten angry or verbal. Instead, if I ever brought up our religious differences or make a mockery of their ways, they would just nod their heads, say "Ok" and keep inviting me to small groups or services. They changed my view of what a Christian looked like just by not getting agitated with me.

    I don't think I would be the Christian I am today if they had given up on me. They showed that they would still be my friend when I was at my most hateful… That example left an incredible impression on me. I would not have turned my life to God without first seeing the error in my misconception (through my friend's treatment of me).

  17. deanna

    I am not going to repeat all the great advice,, but will second the book "Boundaries" as a great tool. And pray.

  18. Martha

    It's hard to give advice in a combox when you don't know the particulars. So, I'd suggest 2 things: one, reading a book by Greg Popcak (a Catholic therapist) called God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Crazy. And the other: a sort of biblical based approach is one, tell the person they are hurting you, by yourself; two, if it continues, tell them with another person present (if you have a good longtime family friend or a counselor who could help.) And three, if those don't work, consider how you can limit contact with them.
    If people are really angry at you, continuing to act unruffled can prompt them to escalate the attacks sometime. And do you really want to spend Christmas or any holiday dealing with that?

  19. Suburban Correspondent

    Don't forget humor – that often deflects the jibes quite effectively. Family comment: "The Pope is against birth control because he wants there to be more Catholics." Your response: "Exactly. (Look at watch) Hey, honey, we've got to be getting home and working on that one."

    Family comment: "You're sending the kids to CCD to learn lies?"
    Your response: "Indoctrination can never start too early!" or "Isn't it awful how parents mess up their kids? I can't believe I'm allowed to have any."

    These people aren't looking to be convinced. If you keep deflecting their comments with humor, they see that you are too confident to pay attention to their pokes.

    My family's Jewish, so I get to use a line I heard on The Daily Show: "Catholicism's great! I get to keep all the guilt, plus I free up my Saturdays!"

  20. Lisette

    I don't know if you are dealing with profanity, but I had some friends whose family members would constantly take the Lord's name in vain in front of their children. They taught their children to say a silent prayer of "Blessed be His Holy Name" whenever they heard something like that. I have used that many a time in my own life since then (like, especially when watching movies). I have found this a beautiful way to bring some order in response to disorder, as well as to avoid becoming calloused.

    You could also come up with another quick prayer that would be more specific to your situations, and pray it silently in the moment.

    And of course all those great things that everyone else said about prayer and Christian charity. 🙂

  21. Roxane B. Salonen

    Another note on boundaries, which I think is key here…oftentimes, I believe, people who are testing and pushing boundaries are actually(even if subconsciously) WANTING a boundary to be firmed up. It is an act of love to do so. I think people test boundaries when they feel out of control, or somewhere deep inside, feel something is off track within their own soul. It becomes a control issue, and being sarcastic or belittling is one way of gaining controlling, albeit inappropriately. Keep in mind that while setting boundaries can be very difficult to do initially, if you can carry it off with fortitude and grace combined (and yes, with the support of your spouse), everything looks brighter on the other side of that "confrontation." If you live within it without confronting it at all, you could grow very resentful. Much as you might desire to respond as Jesus would and take a more passive approach, we humans need to respond to such situations, or, as it's also been suggested, limit contact. But if that's the decision, then graciously state the reasons, affirm that you don't want to cut off contact altogether, but that you have to limit time together until you can feel respected. Remind them that they don't have to agree with you to love you, just as you don't have to agree with everything they believe to love them. I have a feeling you will get more than enough advice here to approach this in a prayerful, effective way. (I think praying beforehand is the key…)
    Good luck! It's not an easy spot to be in, but then again, being a Christian does not mean life will be easy. In fact, it can be very opposite of that many times, but ultimately, it's still a much more fulfilling, rewarding life than the alternatives. I think if you approach this with care and grace it will make an impression that will not be soon forgotten, even if it's not fully absorbed short term. I wish you well!

  22. Anonymous

    Hi, Great discussion. If it's any condolence,I think we've all been there at least once. My advice, for whatever it's worth, would be to say nothing. Their lack of faith is God's problem and the Holy Spirit will do the heavy lifting. If it helps, think of Jesus with His crown of thorns. The servant is not better than the master-what he endured, we who follow Him will endure to a lesser degree. I love Psalm 37 which says,"Commit your life to the Lord, trust in him and He will act". Remember, He will act.

  23. Lady Caitie in the Pretty City

    I find that a few short words can wake people up more than long conversations.

    For example:

    If someone makes a demeaning comment and says they're joking,
    you could say, "Just because you call something a joke doesn't mean it's not offensive."

    If they respond, say something like, "Look, we're not going to get into this again. We've talked about it a million times. The fact is, you know it bothers us. We don't ask for your approval or your involvement, though we would love that, but we do ask for your respect and I think that's an appropriate thing to get from family. End of story."

    Don't engage in anymore conversation.

    You've tried discussion and that is clearly not working. Now you need to get the point across that enough is enough. It's not about converting anyone or making them understand your beliefs, it's about respect.

    Think about when you're engaging in conversation with a small child. They may be whining about something they don't want to do and at first you will explain to them why they must. As the whining continues, you may have to get into deeper explanation or try different tactics, but eventually, if things keep going, you may need to clap your hands, put on your Scary-Eye-Momma-Face and nip it in the bud. That's what, I find, these to-the-point comments do. They say, "This is not open for discussion. Stop it."

    Obviously, this is a last resort and may not work for you at all. You should not take this tactic when it is a rare occurrence. This must go along with prayer and should be done with a loving heart, but remember tough love can sometimes be the best love. As a Christian you are called to challenge others to be better people, not let sleeping dogs lie. When you truly love someone, you tell them the truth and the fact that you deserve respect is nothing more than the truth.

  24. Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin

    ARrgh. I really wish I still had, at hand, "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior" (though it may have been "Miss Manners' Guide to the Turn of the Millenium"). It has an excellent section on how to courteously deal with rude people. I remember that her number one rule is that, there is nothing more rude than directly pointing out the rudeness of others. Instead of using the word "rude," you have to use other warning signals. There are many more degrees of warning than these:

    "Excuse me?" Relatively mild.

    "I beg your pardon?" Moderate.

    "I beg your pardon!" Strong. This got me a prompt retraction and apology after a coworker had gravely insulted my wife to my face. I would suppose that he really did not know any better; he seemed shocked that I had taken offense at his comment.

    "How dare you!" This is extreme, a declaration of war.

  25. Anonymous

    Lots of good advice here. Remember that you may be the only Catholics your family knows in the flesh, and that they are laboring under a great deal of prejudice and misunderstanding. Not only is Catholic doctrine widely misunderstood by non-Catholics, but most Catholics also don't understand the teachings of their church. As a convert, you may have very little opportunity for a direct and open conversation about your beliefs, but you have abundant opportunity to show them Christ's love every time you see them. Their criticism and insults reflect feelings of insecurity, maybe even jealousy. If you can ride out the storm with grace, you will be a powerful example. Most new Catholic converts credit positive real-life examples in their conversion, NOT any kind of conversation or persuasive reading material. That means that they met someone who was Catholic who made a positive impression on them. I know that's what happened to me, and recently I was startled to realize that I might be that kind of an influence on another. The bottom line is be on your best behavior. Do you want to be right, do you want to "defend yourself," or do you want to have peaceful loving relationships with your family and maybe open their hearts to your beliefs a little bit.

  26. KimP

    I'm a convert (20 years and counting), and my experience has been that your conversion is probably very threatening to your relatives: you are thinking about things they would rather not think about, you are believing things they definitely don't want to think about, and you are doing things that shock them to their core. Your conversion is stirring up their most primitive emotions and basically scaring the hell of them (hopefully!). They are internalizing your decision and taking it personally, feeling that your conversion is a judgment upon them. Of course, the truth is that your conversion had nothing to do with them at all: the only reason to be Catholic is because you believe it is true.

    The issues are theirs. You, in turn, are taking their remarks, which are born of their fears and insecurities, personally. It's hard not to do, but easier if you realize that your beliefs are threatening to them, and you are the lighting rod which attracts their insecurities. They are working out their issues on you. You are in a delicate place here: they are watching how you will react as a Christian believer. You have an incredible opportunity here to witness to them by your behavior – and show them how this Christianity works.

    There are a few things to keep in mind: 1) remember that no matter what they say DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY 2) use humor (as recommended above) to show them love, compassion, and the quiet confidence that being a Christian means; and 3) don't rise to the bait. My method usually involves not responding to the remark and just smiling, and treating it as the "joke" they say it is. Then I ask them how their mother is doing, or how their son is doing in soccer, or something actually meaningful. I try to respond by being compassionately interested in something important in their life and finding how how they are.

    Of course, that is the ideal. I won't pretend I have failed plenty of times. I feel the best way I can witness is to be happy and joyful, and not let someone else's insecurities and attacks make me angry. When your relatives seeing how happy you are as a Christian, they may eventually think, "Maybe there really is something to this Christianity thing."

    I will say all bets are off, however, if you have children and your kids are subject to these "jokes" and nasty comments. Then I would definitely limit contact with the relatives. Protecting your children is your number 1 concern.

    Hope this helps!

  27. Courageous Grace

    I have a friend who is (well, claims to be but doesn't act) Buddhist. He was constantly deriding the Christian faith and bible. After a few years of my husband and I just ignoring him when he started to rant or changing the subject, he rarely brings it up. Turns out he just liked trying to get people agitated. Also, he only did it when we visited his home, never when he visited ours.

    And his wife (such a sweet woman) is Catholic. Go figure.

  28. SteveG

    Is there ever a time to temporarily withdraw from engaging with family members who are (I don't know how else to put this) driving you crazy?

    The answer here is an unequivocal yes. In fact, you may very well have a duty to do just that.

    From your description, it sounds like the interactions are at a point where simply getting together may be a near occasion of sin. If you feel at your breaking point, that means you are close to an aggressive outburst of some type. If you see this coming, and do nothing to avoid it, you may be setting yourself up for something you'll regret.

    Likewise, if simply being confronted by your faith (in that it exists in you) is causing your family members to be irreverent, sacrilegious, and uncharitable, you may also be providing them with a near occasion of sin.

    When things have devolved to what you describe, it seems to me that at a minimum, a temporary parting of the ways may be in order. Sometimes that is the loving and charitable thing to do for the good of everyone's soul.

    If so, how do you do that without hurting their feelings?

    You may not be able to accomplish this, but ultimately it may be for their, and your, greater good.

    Hurt feelings are not always bad. As long as they are not maliciously inflicted, they can even be an opportunity for real change.

    If you handle this well, their hurt feelings may be just what are called for in order to get them thinking about how they have behaved. It may not work out that way, but as long as you act with charity and respect in whatever you do, that is not your responsibility.

    As to how to go about it, my own thoughts would be to put the responsibility for such a schism back where it belongs…on them. I'd say something to the effect of…

    “It should be obvious to you by now that we are very troubled and hurt by your negative comments and 'jokes' about our faith.

    We understand that you do not approve, and we can live with that. But your continual hostility (even if you say you are joking, it should be obvious that it is hurtful to us) about this shows a lack of respect for us as individuals, and a lack of caring for your relationship with us.

    That our faith is important to us should be enough of a reason for you to refrain from such hurtful comments towards something so dear to us. If you don't respect us enough, and if you don't find our relationship important enough to refrain from such behavior, then for our own peace of mind, we'll have to back out of participating in these interactions.

    The door is always open, and our love for you remains intact. If at any time you decide that our relationship is more important than your need to 'joke' about it, then we will be overjoyed to mend things. Until then, we have decided to keep these interactions to an absolute minimum.”

  29. Tomi

    I would strongly second Bethany Hudson's advices.

  30. Marie

    I HIGHLY recommend the book "Boundaries" by Dr.s Cloud and Townsend,,,,

    YES YES YES!!!! This is a life changing book!

    You say you are concerned about hurting people's feelings. But as as Mother Angelica has said, you are called to be GOOD , not nice. You responsible for being good and doing what is right for yourselves and your family. If that "hurts" someone's feelings it is not your responsibility.

    Jesus came to set you free. Freedom from unhealthy relationships. If YOU act healthy this is the most LOVING manner to positively effect your family members. Even if they are not thrilled.

    People don't like change. Your changing forces them to have to look at their lives. They don't want to change so they get annoyed with you!! Your first priority is your family. So decide what is acceptable and what isn't and plan accordingly. If a little space is needed, make space. If you are feeling like you are up to the challenge, set the boundaries and invite them over. You are not doormats.

  31. Anonymous

    Lots of good ideas. When we are around people like that, we have to try to act as we think Jesus would. First, He would understand and love them. He would know they are deeply conflicted in their own souls. He would not back away, nor break the broken reed. Nor would he cast pearls before swine. A gentle rebuke might be appropriate if necessary.

  32. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary

    Tomi – for some reason I'm having trouble publishing your comment. I'll keep trying, but just wanted you to know I didn't intentionally reject it.

    Thanks for all your comments – excellent advice!

  33. Johanna Lamb =)

    There is a double standard in our culture. If you took that antagonizing view toward their beliefs then you would be intolerant and pushy but somehow it's culturally acceptable for them to say these things to you.

    I can't say I have any new advice, I will keep your family in my prayers.

    If there is anything you can to to disarm them (humor, compassion) that might help.

    Inside each one of the family members is a soul longing to hear the truth. If what you had wasn't so important they wouldn't say anything about it. They may be closer to the kingdom than we realize:)

  34. Anonymous

    For they will know we are Christians by our love.

    Love was Jesus' answer to all the ridicule, hatred, and anger he faced. Loving your family in spite of their cruel words and insensitive jibes is the Christian response. Your consistent turning of the other cheek and loving acceptance of them inspite of their flaws and failings will convince them more than any arguement that you truly BELIEVE and practice what you preach. This is of course much easier said than done. Pray, pray, pray! The Lord will provide the grace you need.

    Blessings and prayers.

  35. maria

    Laugh it off! Don't give it some power it really does not have! And, it's always more fun to pick on someone who is easily annoyed!
    As for distancing yourself from the offenders, I would advise you against it in principle. God is supposed to bring people together, not create barriers between them. Isolation will only give the offenders grounds for criticizing your religious options.

  36. Anonymous

    I find that saying "I don't understand why that is funny" in response to an inappropriate or bigoted comment is the best response. If the joke-teller is forced to explain, he'll realize it's not funny at all. And if you respond this way every time, he'll stop telling such jokes.

    I agree with those who said that you need to keep your children out of earshot of blasphemous or bigoted comments.

  37. Mike L

    Two things that I heard a long time ago have been of great help to me. The first was that "sometimes the best relationship is a separation of 2000 miles and an anonymous card at Christmas." While I don't think I have ever had to really put this into practice, I find a truth in it that calms me enough that I don't have to follow it.

    The second piece of advice was, "when you change, the balance changes, and the family will demand you change back to restore the old balance. If you don't they will in effect say change back or else. If you continue on they will either adjust to a new balance, or will exclude you." I suspect in this case that they will accept the change eventually and a new balance will be established.

    One point that has been already pointed out, but I will reinforce is that there is no need for you to justify your actions to them or defend yourself. Engaging in either action kind of indicates that maybe you are open to going back to the old balance and keeps the game going.

    My daughter has left the Catholic Church and joined the Lutheran Church. While it upset me, I find I have to accept her choice since I know challenging her would simply drive a wedge between us. For now I am happy to know that she is practicing her Christianity (probably more so than many Catholics I know), and hope that in the future the Holy Spirit will bring her back.

  38. Liza Rose

    I agree with the above comments, and believe them to be excellent advice. Personally, there are a couple things I would keep in mind when making your decision.

    1) Do not lose your peace. Whatever happens, you will know you are doing God's will if you have internal peace. If being around your relatives causes you to lose your peace (not just patience 😀 ), then it may not be good to stay around them.

    2) In terms of talking things over with your relatives, you have two options since they do not seem open to verbal communication. First, you can demonstrate your beliefs by your actions. As Matthew Kelly described in his book "Rediscovering Catholicism," people in this day and age are begging "Don't tell me; show me!" This may entail not associating as much with your relatives, but it really depends on your personal situation. (Obviously, as several people mentioned before, it is extremely important that your relatives' actions don't affect your faith and that of your children.)

    Secondly, don't forget prayer (I'm sure you haven't, though). Remember your family in heaven! You–and your relatives–have a Father who is ever so ready and willing to help. He is sustaining you with His grace right now, and will provide whatever is necessary to make it through this difficult time. There is a reason Jesus gave Mary to us to be our spiritual mother: she is always there to comfort her children and take them to her divine Son. Don't disregard her assistance! Also, you have hosts of brothers and sisters (by flesh and blood — Christ's on the cross which is received in the Eucharist) in heaven ready to intercede on your behalf.

    3) Offer things up for the conversion of your relatives. Our Lord told St Faustina, "I desire that you know more profoundly the love that burns in My Heart for souls, and you will understand this when you meditate upon My Passion. Call upon My mercy on behalf of sinners; I desire their salvation. When you say this prayer, with a contrite heart and with faith on behalf of some sinner, I will give him the grace of conversion. This is the prayer:
    "O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.""

    God bless you and your family! I hope that it all smoothes out!
    Know that you and your family will be in my prayers!

  39. Warren

    Here are my own rules. How I handle this:

    1. Family will always be family.

    2. I will attend family functions, when I am invited.

    3. I will leave the room, when I am spoken to with no respect. I will leave the place, and go home if I am disrespected repeatedly.

    4. If I am disrespected in my own home, then I will say something. But when I am not at home, I prefer not to say much more than "I found that hurtful".

    5. Friends are different. I don't have a problem with circling the wagons, and leaving a friend out of the circle, if they can't be safely included in it.

    I think speaking the truth is part of loving.


  40. cl00bie

    I think a big part of the snide comments is to get a rise out of you and have you invalidate your own faith by your actions.

    Many times they cluck their tongues at you when you've risen to their bait and ask: "What would Jesus do?"

    I reply: "In this case probably freak out, turn over tables, and beat you about the head with a knotted cord".


  41. Mamie Farish

    I think I would try to minimize times when negative things are said by having activities like games, cooking, serving others–going to nursing homes at Christmas time to sing carols… try to emphasize the best in everybody. I probably would pray at meals and do the things I normally do as a Catholic. They may think I'm quirky, but I'm the first to admit, "I am."

  42. Anonymous

    The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur might have some insights.

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