Food, Family, and Football. Turkey, Touchdowns, and Tranquility. These are the images we get from media, marketing, and my own expectations. Pumpkins and parades take center stage, and we’re all rushing trying to get our travel plans in order. Thanksgiving is meant to be a time to stop, enjoy the blessings of the season, reflect, and thank the Father above for his wonderful good and perfect gifts (James 1:17).
One gift that we seek to celebrate is quality time with family. Brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and of course the newest babies in the family. So many travel to be together to enjoy one another’s company. Wanting to have a good time, poke fun at one another, and by all means avoid the subject of politics with grandma.
For me, my family during our annual get-togethers always seemed to put the “fun” in dysfunctional.
The reality is, for many the day is not all fun. There is quite a bit of pain; the pain of a missionary who is stuck thousands of miles away from their family and friends, or the pain of a student who couldn’t make it back for the holiday, the pain of a widow who is still grieving the loss of a spouse, the pain of a man who has lost their job and would rather avoid the small talk to avoid embarrassment, the pain of a single person watching everyone celebrate all while feeling desperately alone. These are heartbreaking and the list could go on, but a subtle pain that most everybody feels is one of unmet expectations and dysfunctional families.
Thanksgiving is such a unique time. You work so hard to get to the break, you come in with expectations of great fun, memories, rest, and then you are met with dysfunction, frustration, and are left tired. For many, family get-togethers are dreaded and avoided.
Why is this? Why it is so hard to get along with parents and the people you grew up with? You wonder if there is any hope that old, hurtful patterns would ever be changed?
The truth is that every family is flawed, no matter how perfect they may seem and every family needs God’s grace. But how do you manage your expectations and come to grips that this world is one of dysfunction. How do I maintain a thankful heart amidst family difficulty? Here are a few thoughts that the Lord has been teaching me and I am learning and will continue to be learning the rest of my life.
Be honest about your fears, weaknesses, and insecurities coming into the holidays.
Find a friend and acknowledge this openly. Honestly and vulnerability isn’t easy but opening up and dialoguing with your spouse, or a close friend at church is a great blessing from the Lord. God has created the body of believers to support one another while going through difficult things on this earth. It can become very easy to keep things in and push through, but it is amazing what a difference it makes to be honest about the difficulty. Don’t miss out on this blessing.
Come into the holidays with the right frame of mind. Am I looking inward or outward? Inward to what I desire, or outward to serve others? Am I looking for validation and approval from my family? Or will I instead look to affirm, love, and sacrificially serve my family the way Christ came to serve (Mark 10:45)?
As a believer, it is obvious the direction we must lead toward. Our lives must be marked by peace, honor, and humility. Our presence should be one of peace, no matter the circumstance, though this is easier said than done. We should pray and ask God to give us the strength to show honor to our family, giving respect and gratitude even when it doesn’t seem deserved. In most families, there are failing marriages, parenting crises, and a thousand other shards of the curse, and if our first response is to puff ourselves up as we compare our own situation then we’ve missed it.
We must exhibit a posture of humility and serve our family as they walk through the difficulty, leading them toward Jesus year after year.
You may agree with me completely, knowing that we should exhibit the fruit of the Spirit to our broken dysfunctional families. But it is still hard to have a thankful heart at Thanksgiving.
May I challenge you with the story of when Jesus visited Simon the Pharisee’s home and was visited by the sinful woman? Jesus told Simon
“When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”
May we not exhibit a heart posture of Simon – giving more criticism, insecurity and irritation. May we exhibit a heart of thankfulness, as the broken woman whose love for Jesus did. Our sins are just as ugly and numerous, just maybe not as public or notorious. So no matter what happens during our family get together, may we get low – exhibiting a posture of peace, honor, and humility.
Grace runs downhill and we must live and love out of the riches of the grace given to us. Would we wash the feet of our family as Jesus got low and washed our feet. Would we show not a little love, but abundant love as Christ has forgiven us of so much.
Abide with Jesus. Allow thankfulness to run out of your enjoyment with Him.
Feast first with the King in His Word, before ever feasting with your Family during the holidays. Fight to delight in Him, knowing that one day we will dine with Jesus (Rev 19:9). We will dwell in the presence of God forever (Rev 21:3). He will make all things new (Rev 21:5). But until that day may we radiate the love of Jesus to our families, and to our world with a thankful heart.
DIRECTOR OF ADULT MINISTRIES
Isaiah joined our team in 2018. He comes from a big family in Roanoke and is married to an Island girl from West Papua. He enjoys baseball, disc golf, hiking, and anything that involves an adrenaline rush. He seeks to never waste a moment, and live for eternity.
Hear Isaiah’s full story on The Alongside Podcast: