Remember last year when we wanted nothing more than to celebrate with family and friends like usual?

Now we're on the brink of a holiday season with hopes as bright as Christmas lights. But with the return of traditions, travel and time together, we may also encounter the gripes, grudges and jostles of family gatherings.

Could a change in perspective make the difference between disaster and delight at your holiday table?

A deacon at our parish once preached a homily that stuck with me for years. He offered three short truths meant to ease interactions between family members. When we got home from Mass that Sunday, I scribbled them down in my journal so I wouldn't forget his wisdom.

It's not about you.

You have to expend energy.

Meet people at their level.

Our deacon was preaching about Mary and Martha, drawing from the Gospel of John where the sisters serve Jesus in contrasting ways, one in the kitchen and one at his feet.

My husband and I listened on that hot July morning, five months after our twin daughters had died. While still in deep grief, we were starting a cross-country road trip to visit relatives and friends – and we wondered how to navigate all the twists and turns of family reunions.

Turned out the deacon's words gave us exactly the fuel we needed.

First, it's not about you. The Christian life is a call to love and service, not an ego boost. Sometimes we have to swallow our pride or set aside our preferences to remember we are here for others.

When particular plans don't suit your fancy, take other perspectives into consideration. How might God be inviting you to grow in humility or compassion by serving others?

Second, you have to expend energy. Waiting for someone to read your mind or make the first move will often lead to disappointment. But if you anticipate that effort and energy will be required, you can prepare for challenges that may arise.

Relationships require hard work. Every family knows this, and our relationship with God is the same. If we want to grow in closeness, love and understanding, then we have to put in the effort.

Third, meet people at their level. You might wish your relatives behaved or believed more like you. But unless you try to meet people where they are, you'll end up exasperated.

As you pass plates round the table this holiday season, ask questions to learn why people think the way they do. Let yourself delight in discovering something new about a relative you've known your whole life. Remember that ours is a God of surprises.

The deacon's three pieces of wisdom speak to family life as a whole, too.

It's not about you: By definition, a family has more than one person. Even newlyweds quickly learn they need to adapt to their spouse's quirks if they're going to survive under the same roof.

You have to expend energy: Family life requires give and take. At every age, we offer what we can to fill each other's needs.

Meet people at their level: Beyond the years when we're bending down to speak with young children, parenting always asks us meet our children where they are – even when we try to lead them where we hope they might end up.

Before you reach your holiday gatherings this year, tuck these three truths alongside your presents and platters of food. The more mercy we bring to the table for others, the more we will find for ourselves.

Jesus Christ – who gave his life for us, who pours out love abundantly and who meets us where we are – promised us exactly this.

Fanucci is a writer, speaker, and author of several books including "Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting." Her work can be found at laurakellyfanucci.com.