Family. Just the word brings so many comforting and positive thoughts to mind: love, support, fellowship, unity, bond and closeness.

Although family means all these things, there are some difficult words that come to mind as well: conflict, loss, hurt, disagreements and disappointment.

The holidays are quickly approaching, and they present a time to focus on our gifts and the birth of our Savior. Thanksgiving and Christmas give us opportunities to be with family and enjoy each other and celebrate, but they sometimes bring about difficulties.

Even in the best of circumstances, holidays can be tough on families, and all the more when there are crises, struggles, tragedies — or pandemics.

We find ourselves facing the COVID-19 pandemic again this upcoming holiday season. It is a difficult time to try and gather as families and celebrate special occasions.

Some of us find ourselves facing the holidays for the first time without a loved one. Grief is a difficult journey, and the holidays are an especially overwhelming time for those who have lost a loved one.

For some of us, navigating the holidays with family is difficult because of past hurt within our family, different opinions about things, or other types of discord.

Whatever difficulties your family may be facing this year, there are some things you can do to successfully maneuver the hurdles and enjoy the holidays.

Focus on Jesus
The most important thing to remember while navigating the holidays is to focus on what’s most important. Thanksgiving and Christmas offer us a time to focus on the gifts God has given us and celebrate the birth of His Son.

Focusing on Jesus is key to successfully getting through the busyness and demands of the holidays. Isaiah 26:3 reads like this: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts you.”

In order for us to have perfect peace, we need to first focus on Jesus. We can do this by remembering why we celebrate these holidays and keep Him at the center of them. We can make sure we spend time daily with Him and in His Word.

Focus on family
Family is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, and we need to make sure we acknowledge the gift that it is. James 1:17 tells us that every good and perfect gift is from God the Father. Even with its challenges, family is a gift He has given us to enjoy.

Focus on gratitude
An effective way to focus on the good things He has given us is to keep a gratitude journal. It has been proven that those who keep a gratitude journal are happier, healthier and more successful than those who don’t.

It’s simple to do: just write down a few things each day for which you are grateful.

You can do this individually or involve the entire family. You can make a gratitude chain with the children in your family by writing the things you are thankful for on strips of paper and connecting them. You can have a gratitude box or jar and slips of paper available where family members can write things and put them inside.

Read them together at a set time like New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.

Thanksgiving and Christmas give us opportunities to be with family and enjoy each other and celebrate.

Focus on others
Putting others’ needs ahead of our own is a wonderful way to avoid family disagreements and discord. We are instructed in Romans 12:10 to “outdo one another in showing honor.” A few verses later, Paul instructs us to “live at peace with everyone” as much as we are able. We need to always be patient and respectful of others when we are gathered as a family.

Focus on peace
Some topics may need to be labeled as “non-discussable” to keep the celebrations light and joyful. If a family member offends us, it’s acceptable and even preferable to walk away for a moment and take a breath rather than respond harshly.

James gives us this wise word: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). It’s always a good idea to pray Psalm 141:3 for ourselves: “Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips!” I pray this one for myself often.

Focus on healing from grief
For those facing the holidays after losing a loved one, it is important to be gentle with yourself and give yourself and others grace. Unfortunately, there is no rule book for grieving and everyone grieves differently. Do what you are comfortable with this season, and allow others that same freedom.

If you want to honor family traditions, do that. If you want to celebrate in a completely different way this year, do that. Prioritize the activities and tasks of the holidays and do what’s most important to you. Don’t over commit yourself and allow others to help you.

You may want to honor your family member by sharing treasured memories or funny stories about them when you gather together. You may want to light a candle in their memory to acknowledge them.

Their absence will feel enormous, and it may seem like you will never feel joy at the holidays again. But most people find that they do enjoy holidays again after some time passes.

Focus on time together, even if apart
For families who choose not to gather together because of the pandemic, there are many good options for gathering virtually.

You can share family recipes and join together to share a holiday meal via Zoom. Family members can take turns reading holiday stories to extended family via Zoom or other teleconferencing means. Families can create crafts or ornaments together, have a time of Christmas caroling, or even have a virtual photo shoot via Zoom or FaceTime.

One thing the COVID-19 crisis has done is give us an opportunity to reevaluate what’s really important in life. Remembering why we celebrate is key to enjoying the holidays as a family.

We may find that focusing on some of the simple pleasures will allow us to enjoy the holidays in a more meaningful way.

However you choose to celebrate this year, I pray that you are able to focus on Jesus, cherish your family members and have a joy-filled season.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sherri McAteer serves the Union Baptist Association’s counseling ministry. She is a licensed clinical mental health counselor in North Carolina.