Don’t Invite Your Expectations to Thanksgiving

All your family members have come together for a Thanksgiving feast. As you enjoy delicious food and engaging conversation, you look out across the table and think of how thankful you are for this experience. It would be absolutely perfect, except for one thing.

It’s not real.

No matter how much you may wish for an idyllic Thanksgiving and how hard you may plan for it, year after year you discover that the holiday you actually experience falls far short of perfect. When your expectations are crushed by the weight of your disappointments, there’s only one good thing to do. This year, don’t carry any of your expectations with you to Thanksgiving. Just leave them behind, so you’ll be free to enjoy what actually happens. If you go into Thanksgiving with an open mind, the surprises that come your way won’t ruin your holiday. Instead, with God’s help, you’ll learn something valuable from them.

Here are some all-too-common scenarios that can burst the bubble of unrealistic expectations at Thanksgiving – and what you can do if you encounter them:

Schedule conflicts: It was supposed to be the Thanksgiving of a lifetime. My brother-in-law’s father had rented a large house at a posh ski resort and invited all four of his sons, their wives, and the grandchildren to enjoy the holiday together. But then a major blizzard hit, canceling flights and stranding family members. By the time the frazzled family all arrived, it was two days past Thanksgiving, and all they wanted to do was get some sleep.

Maybe a snowstorm hasn’t blown your Thanksgiving plans apart, but something else has. Perhaps a relative you’d hoped to see will miss the meal due to having to work on Thanksgiving.  Maybe you’ve been divorced, and must navigate through the awkward logistics that come with sharing custody of the kids. Perhaps you’ve just been married, and trying to figure out whose parents’ home to visit on Thanksgiving is causing a huge amount of stress.

Whatever schedule conflicts you encounter this Thanksgiving, let them remind you to be grateful for the gift of time. Choose to focus on the people you are able to celebrate with, and use your time with them well. For example, if you haven’t seen Uncle Earl in a long time, ask him some open-ended questions to learn more about him and what’s been going on in his life lately. Take the time to really listen to what he has to say; the time you share with him may lead to a closer relationship. Use your time to relax, as well. Let go of the stress you felt figuring out your Thanksgiving plans and decide to be content with what you’re doing this holiday. Ask God to surprise you with moments of joy as you let go of your own agenda and live in the present moment.

Embarrassing Moments: When my cousin’s husband (who works at a funeral home), was busy carving our Thanksgiving turkey one year, he commented on how well-stuffed the bird was – and how much it reminded him of the skill it takes to fill bodies with embalming fluid.  Suffice it to say, none of us ate much turkey or stuffing that year.

Who hasn’t had some kind of embarrassing moment intrude on Thanksgiving?  Maybe someone stops the conversation by telling an offensive joke. Perhaps someone drinks too much wine at the meal and starts acting foolish. Maybe someone makes a snide comment (“You don’t really want that pumpkin pie while you’re trying to lose weight, do you?” or “Wow, I’m so impressed by how you actually cleaned your house before we came over.”) Maybe one of your kids gets carried away by the excitement of Thanksgiving, runs around grandma’s house, and breaks a family heirloom.

No matter what embarrasses you this Thanksgiving, let it help you appreciate God’s grace more. Remember the many times you’ve messed up in life, only to have God keep loving you and forgiving you when you turn to Him. Let your gratitude for God’s grace motivate you to forgive others who do or say something embarrassing this Thanksgiving. Know that your forgiveness will show them Christ’s love in action and possibly move lost family members closer to a relationship with Him. And if you’re the one responsible for an embarrassing moment this Thanksgiving, forgive yourself and move on in the freedom of knowing that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved.

Ruined Food: Our Thanksgiving dinner was going well one year until a pet cat jumped up on the table and walked straight through the green bean casserole and mashed potatoes.  At least we could eat the food that was left, which is more than I can say for a friend whose quest to deep fry a turkey ended in a fire that burned not just the bird, but her stove as well. She and her family had to go out to eat that Thanksgiving. If you’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinner long enough, chances are that you’ve had some sort of disaster with some part of the menu. But when you lose some or all of your meal, it becomes easier to see that Thanksgiving isn’t just about a feast of good food.

Let your meal mishaps lead you to be grateful for how God provides. Run through a mental list of the many valuable things you’ve received from God lately – from something as basic as the air you breathe to close friends and rewarding work. Devote a good amount of time to expressing your gratitude to God through prayer. Ask God to make you hungrier for Him than for even the most delicious food.

Arguments: After a great Thanksgiving meal, we all sat down in the living room to relax while watching a football game on TV. But none of us could relax when two people started arguing loudly about which game to watch. After the exchange of unfriendly words, no one felt much like watching any game. Whether it’s a minor debate about smooth versus chunky cranberry sauce or a major disagreement between relatives who start talking politics at the table, arguments can erupt quickly at Thanksgiving.

If an argument intrudes on your Thanksgiving, let it teach you to be grateful for Christ’s peace. Do all you can to follow Christ’s call to be a peacemaker. Encourage the people involved in the conflict to listen to each other respectfully. If necessary, act as a mediator to help them work the issue out. Thank God that His peace overcomes even the most stressful circumstances.

Illness or Injuries: One of my husband’s friends found out just how dangerous Thanksgiving can be when he accidentally cut off the tip of one of his fingers while slicing vegetables for a salad. Some of the guests had arrived early, and while talking to one of them and trying to rush the meal preparations, he got distracted – and all of a sudden, the guests were searching for his finger tip to pack in ice so it could be reattached at a nearby hospital.

Maybe that’s never happened to you (I hope not!), but you may have had someone have an allergic reaction to a food on the menu, someone show up with a bad cold and cough all over you, or someone (most likely a kid) eat too much and throw up after the meal.

So what can you do if illness or injury strikes you or someone you love this Thanksgiving? Be thankful that you can rely on God’s strength when you’re weak. Pray for whoever is sick or injured, and offer whatever practical help you can to care for them. Ask God to bring healing into the situation.

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