We are moved to give during the Christmas season and may restrain from going overboard on the Christmas gifts because of our awareness of others going without. Our culture emphasizes the charity we give outside of our homes during the Christmas season but Thanksgiving offers us an invitation to offer that same charity to the person we sit next to and across from during the Thanksgiving meal.
Thanksgiving is a feast for the heart and everything that fills it. A warm meal, connection, conversation, community, familiar faces, and a place to feel secured by the love of others is available to us on this day.
We intentionally gather with family, friends, and loved ones to set time apart to share a meal while expressing gratitude for everyone and everything that surrounds the table.
The Heart of the Family
Look around the table. What do you see?
Maybe the table decorations catch your eye and the fall colors of the table exude joy, warmth, and welcome. The table settings evoke hospitality as your eyes land on your plate and the shiny utensils that have been set out for you. Your seat is a reminder that you have a place of belonging here at this table.
Perhaps it’s been a while since you have sat at this table or have gathered for a meal with extended family.
Take a minute to look around and give the thanks to the Lord for this moment to be present. To be there.
Who Do You See?
Last year’s Thanksgiving celebration may have been outside the norm. Perhaps not everyone was able to gather together, some were constrained because of travel restrictions, or there was a desire to protect the elderly in your family and taking a meal versus sharing one was the most prudent decision for that time.
Maybe there are family members who aren’t present this year. Take the time to remember them. It’s okay to feel the ache. Be present to the family members who are still overcome with grief. Fight the temptation that feeling the heartache or grief will sour the mood or make the gathering feel less like Thanksgiving. If anything, this kind of vulnerability with family leads to more openness, receptivity, love, and gratitude towards one another.
In the world we may not be allowed to feel this ache, but under the same roof with our family it is where we find this type of refuge.
If you are blessed with having everyone at the table praise the Lord for the gift of everyone’s lives and to be able to share this meal together once again. Far too often we take these moments of togetherness for granted because we may experience them on a regular basis and the gratitude escapes us.
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Take the Time to Notice
This is a good time to check in with the hearts of the people surrounding you. Has there been a significant source of suffering? Has there been immense joy? Is someone having a hard time with the season of life that they are currently in?
You don’t have to get into family drama or past hurts to listen to the hearts of your loved ones. Sometimes relating to one another is all that is needed to allow Jesus’ permission to offer His healing grace.
1 Thessalonians 18 encourages us:
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
This is an opportunity for us to practice this with the people who need us the most and who we sometimes overlook precisely because they’re our family.
The Heart of a Good Conversation
This is an extraordinary moment to sit together with family to exchange stories, laugh, cry, reminisce, and share memories with everyone who is gathered.
It’s nice to exchange pleasantries (“Oh the turkey is so moist!” … “So-and-so makes the best stuffing, baked beans, green bean casserole”). It’s easy to keep the conversation there, but that’s not what creates memories or drives fruitful conversation.
Maybe there is a part of us that is apprehensive about the conversations that take place. Maybe we cringe when a certain family member shares the same story repeatedly like a broken record. Instead of cringing or allowing that agitation to rise up within us, maybe we can put aside how it makes us feel and turn our hearts towards this person with gratitude.
We Get to Choose How We Respond
While we cannot control other people’s behaviors at the table, we can choose to respond differently than the way we have responded at previous family gatherings.
Often times in my own life I have noticed that when I change my attitude towards a certain family member about their favorite topic of conversation (that I may not share) and just allow myself to be grateful for them (not necessarily what they’re talking about) I am able to tolerate that conversation that I otherwise would have been annoyed about.
For one day we can put our annoyances, frustrations, and reservations towards our family or individual family members aside and allow the gratitude for them to lead us to experience that joy which is far too often fleeting in our worldly lives.
Lean into the Quiet Conversation
Maybe you have the exact opposite problem at your family table as the forks clunking on the plates are a reminder of the lack of conversation. This lull during dinner may feel awkward, but it is good. We are so used to living with noise that we forget how necessary being still and quiet is for us. There may be an automatic response to fill that moment with dull conversation, but just remember you can do that any other day. This is a day of thanksgiving.
Although the quiet can feel unsettling it is a good way to be thankful for the other and enjoy one another’s presence. We don’t always need to talk to experience that harmony and unity of a family.
Savor the Meal
The conversation should represent the feast itself. As you savor the meal, glance up from your plate and savor the moment. New memories are being created; ones that the little people around the table will grow up to share at their own table someday.
This meal has taken time; maybe the collective time of the family as others contributed to the meal or the meal has rested on one person’s shoulders. Someone chopped the celery and carrots, baked the pies, carried the turkey from the store to the car, put it in the freezer, took it out to thaw, and then cooked it. This meal has taken several steps to get to the dinner table and the conversation should reflect that. The time table for conversation should equal the amount of time and intention it took for each meal that is on the dinner table.
Maybe we should take a cue from our little ones and take our sweet time to eat our dinner. Typically chatty children are reminded to eat their dinner before it gets cold. That’s the kind of pace we need to adapt at the table on Thanksgiving. Taking our sweet time because we are lost in good meaningful conversation, are wrapped up in the moment, unguarded, and have lost track of time.
Prayers for the Thanksgiving Table
Before the feast, read this article and put these steps into action when you feel the anxiety creep in of having to get everything done.
On the day of, download these prayer cards and place them at the table for everyone to look at. Pray the Thanksgiving service meal and lead the conversation with intention. Print out this PDF for a Thanksgiving table blessing. Being intentional about how the meal begins can create that space for a deeper sense of gratitude.
Let’s take a note from St. Thérèse of Lisieux and approach this Thanksgiving with childlike love. Let’s embrace the moments when the house starts to look untidy, the floors start to become filled with crumbs, and a little pumpkin pie that fell off the table that was stepped on by tiny feet looks like the inside of a diaper.
We know Thanksgiving isn’t about pretenses or putting up a false image of our ideal but when the temptation does arise look around at who is there. Let the laughter fill the house, let the memories that are being made shun the voice that says, “things aren’t going how you envisioned them.” Be present to all of it. Let your heart be grateful. That’s all you need.
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