Scenic view of trees at camp

Navigating Tough Conversations (Especially During the Holidays)

by Chris Legg


About the Author: Chris “Knightlight” Legg currently serves as the lead pastor at South Spring Church in Tyler, Texas and is the founder of Alethia Family Counseling with offices in Houston, College Station, and Tyler, Texas. Prior to that, Chris served eight years in leadership as Pine Cove’s Staff Chaplain and was the visionary behind the Forge leadership program. Chris has remained a trusted resource and friend to Pine Cove for over 20 years. He continues to faithfully pour into Pine Cove’s Forge students, college summer staff, and campers, and returns to speak at our family camps nearly every summer with his wife and five kids.

This time of the year, it is common for people to schedule appointments with us at Alethia Family Counseling Center for no other purpose than to strategize how to have the tough conversations they anticipate during the holidays.

Especially in today’s world, conversations about religion or politics can turn into broken relationships. Family conversations over Christmas dinner or at a New Year’s party can represent a lot of risk, and aren’t to be taken lightly.

So, how do we navigate them?

Well, first, I would like to recommend the mindset created by that word above: “Navigate.”

As a rite of passage, I often take my children canoeing and camping on the Buffalo River. Over the years, we have learned the skills of choosing our route, focusing on where we want to go, and avoiding snags, rocks, and overhangs.

The analogy works. In potentially turbulent conversations, search out routes for success; avoid the things that will capsize you. While canoeing, this requires concentration and focus; in family conversations it involves a skill (and discipline) in which most of us are amateurs: listening.

In his letter to the Church, James challenges “every person” to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” (James 1:19). However, we don’t like to listen. We feel the overwhelming urge to jump in, correct, criticize and to generally let people know how much we love them by telling them just how wrong they are. There is a better way.

Licensed Professional Counselors spend dozens of hours learning to listen. We learn how to give people the space to share what is on their minds and in their hearts. Often, as they talk, they self-adjust, and may ramble themselves into a healthier attitude. Also, we are usually pretty good at realizing that your struggles are really about you and your life and your mindset. We don’t take personally what you verbalize – even if it is directed at us! Our “guidance” is more often about seeking input – seeking to understand – rather than seeking to be understood.

A common question we, as professional listeners, often ask ourselves is found in the acronym “WAIT”: “Why Am I Talking”? If I don’t have an excellent reason, I probably should still be listening. Let people know that you love them by listening a long time before adding in your wisdom.

Amazingly, to paraphrase the meme, once people know that you care, they may care what you know. You can apply these same principles of intentional navigation to your holiday conversations and watch how much they improve!

People are rarely impressed with the ability to argue or critique an argument; after all, we all think we are rather brilliant at both of these skills. However, most people are moved by the attitude of someone who cares and listens. These vital skills can really make the difference in that tough conversation with your parents, cousins, uncles, neighbors or even (no extra charge for these) your children, teens, or your spouse.

Here is another consideration, especially when it comes to Christians communicating well with family members who are not yet Christ followers: remember the principle found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 2. “ For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

This is a concept taught to Pine Cove staff, and especially summer staff. College students often come to training with their own favorite theological fine point or political or personal agenda. It is vital that they begin to understand what Paul is saying about his time with the Corinthians. There are so many clever things that Paul could have emphasized and so many “lofty” ways he could have talked about those things. If he had, people might have been impressed with him. But Paul didn’t want people to be impressed with him, he wanted them to be impressed with Christ and His crucifixion. So, before we get too entangled in the divisive media topic of the moment or get deeply drawn into some theological fine point (which certainly have their place in our discussions with other believers, and may be very important), let’s make sure that we have done a good job of introducing, through word and deed, Jesus Christ and His crucifixion.

I realize that there could be so much more to these kinds of relationships than a 700-word article could ever cover, including issues of trauma, abuse, rejection, mental illness, and even forgiveness. In these cases, seeking help from a trusted, licensed professional counselor can help you process and strategize as you take steps toward stronger, healthier relationships with your loved ones.

Navigating tough conversations with love is hard — no doubt. You should be proud if you are considering doing so. It takes a significant level of strength to take this step, and I applaud you for starting the process.

To check out more resources from Chris and his team at Alethia, visit

Posted Dec 16, 2021

Chris Legg

Pastor, Licensed Professional Counselor

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