Thanksgiving is tomorrow! And there’s so much to be thankful for! After all, you are not a refugee seeking a new place to call home. Your Thanksgiving table is not limited to whatever the good people at the church or the food bank or the Lion’s Club put in your basket or box this year. You are (most likely) not an election commissioner in a state with an unresolved race. Your level of gratitude should be through the roof!
Except that maybe it’s not. Maybe you are just not very grateful right now. Maybe you’re not in great health. Maybe someone you love is in really rotten health. Maybe it’s your ex’s turn to have the kids this holiday. Maybe you’re already anticipating the argument that two of your relatives will launch as soon as the turkey hits the table. Or maybe someone who has been at your table for years is not going to be there for the first time ever. Or maybe it’s the tenth year he or she has been absent, and you still feel the loss deeply.
For whatever reason, this year, you may not be able to muster a lot of gratitude. But you can easily access feelings of guilt because, after all, shouldn’t you be more grateful?
Allow me to let you off the hook if your entire being isn’t bursting with gratitude this Thanksgiving. But even if it feels as though something is trying to suck the life right out of you, I encourage you not to ditch the day altogether. On this day that revolves around gathering at a table and enjoying good food, I urge you to take your place at the table…any table.
There is something powerful about sitting down at a table and breaking bread with others (there’s a reason Jesus chose the table and food and drink as the way to remember Him). In her book, Eating Together, Alice Julier asserts that dining with others can radically shift your perspective–about the other diners and about yourself. She claims that we are more accepting of one another when we are gathered around a table and sharing a meal than we are in other social situations.
And though I have no book to reference, I will assert that as imperfect as our holiday rituals and accompanying relations are, gathering together for a feast is one of our best ways to get a glimpse of the Kingdom to come.
But here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armies
will throw a feast for all the people of the world,
A feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines,
a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts. —Isaiah 25:6 [The Message]
They shall hunger no more; neither shall they thirst –Revelation 7:16a [NRSV]
A feast of many courses with all the best foods. No one leaves hungry or thirsty. Sounds a lot like Thanksgiving to me.
So being ungrateful is no excuse for skipping out on Thanksgiving. You need it most of all. Be it your mom’s kitchen table with relatives you’ve known (and possibly wish you didn’t) your entire life or the counter at the local Waffle House surrounded by strangers, pull up a chair this Thanksgiving. Bring your grief and your anger and your disappointment and your exhaustion and your doubt and pick up a fork and dig in.
Know that the now and the not yet are not the same thing at all (aka life will not always feel this way).
Know that Jesus always welcomes us to the table, regardless of our mood or state of mind.
Discover that turkey and dressing (or stuffing, for the Northern readers) and cranberries and pumpkin and/or pecan pie have restorative powers that neither scientists nor theologians can explain.
Don’t let your inability to make a list of things-to-be-thankful-for keep you from celebrating Thanksgiving. Gratitude might just sneak up on you somewhere between your second serving of mashed potatoes and your post-meal nap.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.