Thanksgiving Leftovers

I’ll bet you think this is an article about how to use up your leftover turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce after the big feast.  If you are anything like me, you always make way too much, then end up eating Thanksgiving dinner for the next 5 days.  While it might be interesting to talk about how to use up food that’s already prepared and just needs to be heated up, my focus is about the leftover thoughts and feelings that Thanksgiving tends to stir up, after the table has been cleared, the guests have gone home, and the house is quiet again.

First, the obvious: we are all getting older.  The college kids are now married.  The teenage kids are now in college.  The little kids are in middle school and high school.  We baby-boomer are starting to look like our parents, and our parents, well, we’re just glad they’re still around. Many families are not so fortunate.

But people don’t change much, aside from the obvious.  Without naming names, many in my family, including myself, are eternally grappling with something, whether it’s addiction, depression, despair, joblessness, stress, strained relationships, all kinds of regret, greed, excess, backbiting, jealousy, bad habits, and bad choices.  And always, when we get together, we act like most families- we make nice on the surface, while stuffing our frustrations and gripes about each other, and ourselves, under a freshly showered surface. We can all still laugh together about certain movies, or politicians, or things we did as kids, we still eat wonderful food and raise a glass, but the pain is still there.

Every year, my hope is that we can all just come out and talk honestly about the things that frustrate us. We humans are all the same.  We are all carrying around some kind of pain.  Why do we have to cover it up?  Why can’t we work through it?  I know why: because it’s a “holiday”.  We don’t cook all that nice food, and clean our houses, and put out the Pilgrim figurines just so we can rant at each other, right?

So! What’s the solution?  I don’t know about your family, but there will be a cold day in Hell before any of mine will gather together for a group therapy session.  Besides, who would agree on which shrink to use, anyway?

The answer, my friends, is God. This holiday season, learn to pray.  Practice lifting each other up in prayer.  As you lift a particularly troublesome family member up, you will be the one who is blessed.  It’s a mathematical certainty.  God sees our pain and He’s the only one who can heal us.  Sometimes I laugh and/or cry about the fact that He put us together to push each other’s buttons, but also to help us realize that we are all dependent on Him for true happiness, which has nothing to do with appearances, or stuff, and everything to do with admitting to ourselves that we are not the ones in charge.  He is.

Maybe, in addition to exchanging store-bought gifts this Christmas, when we will all be seeing each other again, we will do something different.  Maybe we should all write down something that we love about every single person in our extended family.  By focusing on the positive, we will crowd out the negative.  It won’t have a chance to grow and multiply.  Maybe we can do this just to remind ourselves that we do in fact belong to a family, even if we don’t all “love” each other like we wish we could.

Tell you what.  If I get the nerve up to suggest this new ritual to my family, I will let you know.  It’s not easy to change that dance that we all do around the holidays, but I challenge us to try.  If you can’t, just pray.  Pray for me to have the strength to suggest something that might be unpopular, but that could deliver just the thing we all really wish for- true acceptance and God’s love, expressed in our families.  And in return, I’ll pray for you, too.

A blessed holiday season, to you all.

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