I don’t much like Thanksgiving. What’s not to like? There are the three F’s – food, family and football, not necessarily in that order. I like those three F’s. I do. Even so, I struggle every year. For a long time I felt a vague sense of dread with no ability to name what about Thanksgiving left me feeling bereft. Then I realized that this is a holiday without a direct tie to Jesus. The day isn’t on the liturgical calendar; it is on the secular one, and that’s OK, but it leaves me without an anchor to hold me fast. Without a greater theological cord to which I can be tied, I tend to buy what American culture sells. That’s when I begin to think I am lacking. That’s when I notice that my family doesn’t match the one depicted in the billboards, commercials and magazines.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a great family, but my family is more like Waffle House hash browns – smothered, covered, chunked and diced – than Grandma’s ever present, been-in-the-family-for-years-recipe pumpkin pie. My brother and his husband are in Boston. My dad and his wife live in Alabama. My husband’s dad died 20 years ago. My mom and stepfather are in North Carolina and my mother-in-law, a widow, in North Carolina, too. My sister will be with her husband’s family. My husband’s sister lives in China.
The doorbell won’t ring repeatedly with loved ones coming from near and far bringing heaping plates of food. A few of us will gather, some combination of the above list of people I love but who don’t necessarily all love each other. We will eat well. We will be polite because the years when we haven’t been hang in the air like the aroma of the roasting bird, if not nearly so pleasant. We won’t go around the table and each say what we are thankful for because our family just can’t pull off such an expressive ritual with authenticity. Holding hands for the blessing maxes out our outward show of emotion for the day. Truth be told, most of us would rather be reading – in the same room is fine, but undisturbed by conversation.
None of this matches the Norman Rockwell painting or the Publix ad or the spreads in Southern Living. And without Jesus to remind me of what truly matter, I start to imagine that my family – scattered, divorced, remarried, unsentimental, introverted – doesn’t measure up, isn’t enough, should be somehow other than what it is. That’s why I don’t much like the day on which I am to be the most thankful. I need an explicit connection to Jesus: incarnation, repentance, redemption, resurrection, even crucifixion. That way, I’ll know where to look for God when the tattered ends of relationships start to show and expectations aren’t fully met and world views clash. I need Jesus to be the true north on the compass to help me navigate my way through the meal and the day and the weekend.
So, this year I am going to be sure to invite him. If I invite Jesus, I am certain he will come. He likes to go to people’s homes for dinner. He doesn’t require polite company. He seems unfazed by tableside drama. Even a woman weeping on his feet was welcomed, so perhaps my family can somehow be holy, too. We aren’t the perfect family. We’ve been known to hurt each other. Seasons of estrangement have come and gone. We won’t all be in the same room at the same time this Thanksgiving, but regardless we will be united in Christ, held together by the One who not only ate with sinners, but came to save them. Knowing that assures me that my family is beloved, just as it is. And so is yours.