It’s Thanksgiving week, which means many of us will gather with some of the people we love best in the world, and we’ll eat amazing favorite foods, and we’ll share the things we’re grateful for, and we’ll celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season by checking off the first gift-shopping on our to-do lists.
For others of us, this holiday week won’t look anything like how the old nostalgic movies show it. If we gather with our families at all, we’ll be walking on eggshells and trying to dodge any topics that might give away the deep, unspoken rifts between us. The Black Friday bargains may still not be bargain enough for our budgets. We may be frustrated by the discrepancy between the mythology and the actual history behind this holiday and prefer to avoid any observance of it at all. Taco bar, anyone?
No matter how—or if—we celebrate Thanksgiving, giving thanks is necessary. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that thanksgiving should always be part of their lives together (1:16). Giving thanks is not just for one day of the year, or even a long weekend, but a constant practice of faith and community. However, gratitude is hard to feel when our minds are chronically rehearsing all our fears, angers, demands, and resentments. One day (or long weekend) of giving thanks cannot make up for years of complaining, criticizing, and condemning.
When Paul gives thanks for the Ephesians, he also prays for them to experience wisdom and revelation, enlightenment and hope, and the greatness of God’s power (1:17-19). God is not a complainer, a critic, or a condemner, but “rich in mercy,” full of “great love” that brings the dead back to life, showing “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us” (2:4-7). The believers can give thanks always not because of their own doing (2:9) but because God created them “in Christ Jesus for good works” (2:10).
What might Thanksgiving be like—and what might our constant giving thanks be like—without the complaints, critiques, and condemnations that buzz in our minds all year long? What might Thanksgiving and giving thanks be like if we seek and celebrate grace and goodness instead of burrowing into fear, anger, demands, resentments? How would it change our conversations around the table if we could point one another to the grace and goodness in the world—and seek it in one another? How might God’s grace and goodness bring life back into our relationships, kindness into our communities, and the power and the love of Jesus Christ into our hearts?
- Reflect on your expectations and hopes for the Thanksgiving holiday. Why are certain traditions important to you (or not)? How does the celebration reflect your relationships with the people you will be with?
- Many of us disagree with people in our family and community about politics and other topics that are on our minds every day of the year. How do you manage these disagreements? Are there “potholes” you know you have to avoid when you gather with people (whether on a holiday like Thanksgiving, or regular gatherings like church)? How have you and your community handled those “potholes” in the past? Is there a better way?
- What “grace” and “good” can you think of in the people in your community, especially those with whom you disagree? When you are frustrated or at odds with them, how might remembering God’s grace and goodness help you care for your relationships?
- If you expect your Thanksgiving celebration to be fraught with complaints, criticism, and condemnation about the state of the world, politics, or culture, how might you redirect people’s attention to the grace and good in the world?
Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.
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