The steaming turkey is just out of the oven. Cranberry sauce is bubbling on the stove while the mashed potatoes and gravy have had every lump beat out of them. The wine is perfectly chilled. Mother is beaming as she places the pumpkin pies in the oven and Father carves the big bird with confidence and ease. Wait. Is this the Norman Rockwell scene we all grew up with?
At the very least, we would like to pat ourselves on the back for exercising utmost civility and tolerance while we endure Aunt Sue’s endless grumbling about her job, overlook our younger sister’s perpetually greasy hair and sour disposition, and do our best to avoid Grandpa’s breath that could stop a train. Aunt Betty was asked to bring the salad ready to place on the table, and yet another precious 15 minutes slip by as she throws it together all the while hollering at her bickering children. Meanwhile the dog takes advantage of this distraction by snatching a turkey leg and dashing away unnoticed. We are acutely aware that our attention is on the food is getting colder, and not on the blessing Dad delivers. Finally we choke down the dry, tasteless turkey that Grandma insists is her best yet when she refused help and complained how hard it was to cook. Does anyone else’s family vaguely resemble this scene?
We go through the annual ritual of saying thanks because the calendar tells us so, but do we really understand what this means and how important it is to do it consistently?
God wants us to learn to give thanks – every day and in all circumstances. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (Thessalonians 5: 16) Giving thanks when blessings are abundant is elementary, yet it’s a wonderful opportunity to start practicing, and I need all the help I can get. Thank goodness His mercies are new every morning because it gives me yet another chance to refocus my perspective. I’ve heard it said that once gratitude becomes a daily habit, disappointments and setbacks don’t sting as much because you can more quickly recognize the silver lining. When the budget is broke, the car breaks down, and the test results confirm our worst fears, and we continue to give thanks, God smiles and prepares the next blessing.
Maintaining an attitude of gratitude for me, however, is like staying on a bucking bronco. One minute I’m clinging to my joyful heart and the next minute self-pity slams me down on my butt. Comparing myself to others is almost always my trigger. Just like people who are trying to lose weight must make food choices based on calories, I must choose every day to trade complaining over what I don’t have for thanking God for what He has already given me. This takes the ability to recognize blessings and the willingness to speak the blessings and praises out loud.
When I am tempted to complain that my heaping plate of food this Thursday is cooling too quickly, I will remember someone I know struggling with anorexia. When my husband reminds me yet again to pick up my clutter spread out on our office floor, I will thank him for his patience and for challenging me to develop better habits. I will then pray for another woman I know struggling in an abusive marriage.
Perhaps this year, I can offer Grandpa a breath mint and remind Aunt Sue about all her job’s benefits. Maybe I can offer to take my sister to a hair salon and chat over a cup of coffee. This holiday shouldn’t be about the perfect turkey and tolerating or impressing the in-laws, but learning to love, value and appreciate family. Blessings are hidden not in the stuffing, but in our relationships. A table piled high with food just provides the catalyst for giving thanks and practicing grace.