How Seriously Can We Take Thanksgiving (And Is It OK that I’m Not Thankful?)

Thanksgiving as come and passed and I’m still processing. For us, it was a very peaceful Thanksgiving. Having just welcomed a newborn, we decided to avoid traveling and other wonderful people’s germs. We enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving turkey dinner and had a fairly easy day. The kids will tell you all about the pumpkin pie, but for Susan and I, we got to catch our breathe a little bit.

We’re obviously grateful for the addition of Baby Bri and we’ve shifted the family story from “We were trying to keep it at 3 …” to “We’ve always asked God for 4 – 2 boys, 2 girls, hashtag answered prayers.” But if i can let you in on a little secret, I’m extremely grateful in the big life picture, but I haven’t always been grateful in the day-to-day operation of life.

It’s not just about welcoming a new-born, three awesome but energetic kids, an amazing wife who unfortunately, only has two hands, a fast-moving ministry calendar, National Grid sending me notices that the price of electricity has gone up by 20%, and a fantasy football season that has not gone as planned.

I should be grateful. I am … most of the time …. some of the time … well it depends on the day really. Then there’s the news cycle. Society contains a few bright spots but is largely disappointing. Racism, violence, sexual assault, the constant exploitation of others and the amazing lack of compassion on social media and the incredible ignorance/contempt that fills too much of it. I have to take a deep breath before clicking on public postings and as desensitized as I think I am, I still flinch at some of the things that are said (even if they are said for the sake of shock-value and out of an immature mentality to provoke others). And two days before Thanksgiving, I officiated a funeral service for a young woman who turned 28 this year who lost her fight with cancer.

How seriously can one supposed to take the holiday of Thanksgiving? Or have I got it wrong this whole time? Maybe it’s not meant to be taken literally. Maybe Thanksgiving is a day to gather with family and friends, to eat up so you can have a ton of energy to do Black Friday shopping and since you spent the day convincing yourself that life isn’t so bad, maybe there is no harm in running up the credit card.

Good news, if this low feels familiar to you, you can be thankful that you are not living in denial and have some sense of reality. If there was one encouragement I could extend to others regarding Thanksgiving is to avoid the temptation to convince yourself that you should be thankful when you don’t actually feel that. Instead … well … let me wait on that.

Thanksgiving is an excellent time to reflect and take inventory of life – a practice we should do regularly. And as we think, process, weigh the realities of life, our own circumstances,  the societal concerns, the pain, the goodness, the bills, the beautiful moments, and all that is in between, if we can uncover where gratitude can be found, then the practice of thanksgiving can actually mean something extremely valuable.

So here’s a few things I had to process through.

One cannot be thankful and deny the painful realities that surround us. Simply put denial is not the path towards thankfulness. Upon reflection this is obvious, but it’s amazing how this feels like an appealing shortcut in the midst of the busyness of life. The reality is it’s only after we confront the painful aspects of life that we can take inventory and move forward. It’s here that we escape any bubble that we are stuck in, it’s here where we examine our fears, it’s also hear that can have an honest conscience – which leads to the next point.

An honest conscience is the place between tension and thankfulness. I’m not sure one needs a clear conscience, though one should never avoid the possibility of having one. But an honest conscience,  one that has taken the step from denial, sees the tension of the world can also see something else – goodness, possibility and from there, hope.

Like everyone I dislike cliches, but after you do the math, some of them are helpful. To cut the word-count on this post a bit, let me use one: “The highs are never that high and the lows are never that low.” This is usually said by the most boring person at a party. You never want to stand next to this guy when watching fireworks, your favorite band in concert, or at a highly anticipated movie, or a big sports event (Now that I think about it, I do all these things alone!).

But in all seriousness, deconstructing the lows is the part where we can focus on. The world feels bent on hurting each other, yet this week, amidst much of the unhelpful interactions I saw, I also witnessed thoughtfulness and gestures of kindness seeking understanding, reconciliation and contributions aimed at mediation, peace-making and helpful perspectives. Thus, I’m thankful for peacemakers in a violent world and it turns out I know some.

Further and on a personal level, a family brought over a meal to us, a few people checked in on my wife, and to cut it short, upon reflection I’ve received and enjoyed a number of moments of what I would describe God-informed humanity. Thus, I find myself grateful for new friendships, enduring ones, and the kind people that pop in to your life where you may exchange a word of kindness and never see each other again. Friendship and kind-hearted people in a world of trolls and hateful types feels like another blessing to be thankful for.

I have a few more, I’ll keep them to myself but I realize that some may not be able to get here in such a short amount of time. I realize our stating points are different. I have no idea how I’m going to afford the realities of life with four kids but when I’m holding a newborn, getting kisses and “I wuv you da-tty” from a three-yard old, and amazing my boys by how skilled I am at Marvel Lego Heroes on our X-Box 360 (I think my wife is impressed too), it’s hard not to enjoy some things. This reminds me that life is filled with both pain and beauty, malice and love, and that life-giving pursuits of justice, peace, forgiveness and hope are not only worthwhile but very possible themes in your life and therefore in the lives that yours bump up against. This reminds me of the hope of Jesus that the Christian faith promises. 

Again, our starting points may be different and it’s ok that you’re not feeling thankful. Maybe you need someone to say, “Yes, life does suck sometimes,” maybe you need to grieve (even if no one has passed away), maybe you need more time to confront the areas in your life that are robbing your joy.

My hope is that you will take the road of embracing the pain in order to find hope versus the road that seeks escape or numbing. Thus may your honest prayers bring a sense of God’s nearness in a way you have not experienced before.

Grace and peace to you.

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