We are all gathered around the table. I can't keep my eyes off the pumpkin pie, the mashed potatoes, and the creamed corn. I want to devour it all. My mouth is watering. As familiar family faces fade into the background, I develop a personal action plan of what I'll eat, how fast I’ll eat it and when to fill up my plate again.
I hear distant sounds, words and discussions, but I am mesmerized by utter gratefulness as I take it all in - the pure beauty of the Thanksgiving spread set so perfectly on the table. Surely, God knew what he was doing when he gave us food; it truly embodies one of the greatest things we have to be grateful for.
But, as I smile, as I look, as I sit, deafening sounds quickly pull me out of my delightful daydream, and throw me back into reality. A storm is brewing. Someone is annoyed. Agitated. Frustrated.
It could be one of many things - someone got ticked off, another couldn't get drinks fast enough, a rude piercing reply was launched or a digging question was fired over the table. Truly, it could be anything.
Who knows the exact reason why? But, all that mattered to me is that my moment was lost. My joy was stolen. Agitation filled me. Disappointment gripped me. Despite my best efforts to make this Thanksgiving great, someone messed it up. Again.
Why can't we give thanks in peace? Why can't we all get along? Why does it feel that we have to endure Thanksgiving rather than enjoy it?
This is should be a time of thankfulness - of gladness - not a time of madness. Not a time to push buttons. Not a time to get flustered.
Why do I go into Thanksgiving hoping that it will be a dream holiday, only to come face-to-face with a nightmare situation?
Somehow we idealize Thanksgiving and Christmas. We turn them into perfect little gems of days that should only deliver sparkle, joy and peace. We think that, because we control the preparations, the decorations and conversations, everyone should meet our expectations. We hold on to these expectations with such strength that they crush under the pressure. And, this is when the true Thanksgiving weight hits us. We feel bloated with disappointment.
I guess I have come to realize that the bounty is not all about me. If we are going to truly be thankful for the bounty of the Lord, we have to be thankful for who the Lord has created. He created us all with strengths and weaknesses. It can be so hard to do. It can be so overwhelming when a storm blows in, threatening the day, but - if we trust the Lord - we can trust him to work things out.
God calls us to enjoy this day, rather than endure it. He calls us to leave perfect in the kitchen, and embrace imperfect at the table, so that expectations don't leave us hiding in the bathroom with tears.
Jesus ran to the people in need. His heart was inclined to those in pain. He didn't demand what he needed, but he gave what others did.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
We are all chief sinners. But, in so many ways, we stand as chief judge. God is faithful to forgive us. With this, on Thanksgiving Day, let's choose to sit at the foot of the cross. Let's sit as saved sinners, basking in the glory of Him who is high and lifted up.
When we sit in this position, suddenly, we sit with more compassion for the meaningless jabs, frustrating arguments and aggravating words. We sit knowing that we are the same. We sit grateful for the one who paid it all. Who loved despite our actions.
Then, we find we have greater compassion and a heart to love.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Phil. 4:12)
True thankfulness sees both abundance and scarcity and gives thanks. Why? Because both are from the Lord. Both have a purpose. Both are meant to refine.
We can rest in the truth that God has good plans (Ps. 40:5). We can rest in knowing his ways are greater than ours (Is. 55:8-9). We can rest because the Lord promises to work for our good through trials (Ro. 5:4). We will be refined, refreshed and renewed.
When we feel Thanksgiving Day is only giving us yucky food, we can choose to see the great silverware, the great centerpiece and the great God who is at the center of it all.
For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (Is. 41:13)
When we are weak, the power of Christ sits upon us. In the stormy moments, we can run into his arms, feel his embrace and let him recharge us with his love. It can be hard to remember in the moment, but God stands ready to help us. It's ok to feel weak, but it's not ok to feel ruined when God stands ready to help.
Call out to God. He is famous for rescuing and helping in a time of trouble.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers. neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ro. 8:38-39).
People can do what they are going to do. But, none of this impacts our standing with Christ. We are in Him. We are secure. We are loved. We are a new creation. If we stand in Christ, we can't stand outside of him.
We can hold to this truth when the Thanksgiving feast looks like it may topple. No matter what others do, think or say, they are not the essence of who we are. Christ is. We are part of his family. We are his beloved children.
True gratefulness is not just being thankful for all the delicious pickings, but also for the burnt food. If we have food - or family to complain about - we are already blessed. We are blessed with the perfect, but also with the imperfect. Why? Because through the imperfect, we see our need for a Savior. Through our failings, our trials and our frustrations, we find hope in One who is greater than these things.
He makes imperfect burnt food taste delicious when we see it for what it is - an undeserved gift.
That's why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:10)
We can't control things. We can only control ourselves. And no one can take our spirit of thanks away without us allowing them to do it. No one can steal our heart - unless we allow them to.
The fact of the matter is that when we stop looking for everyone to be perfect, we can start enjoying them for who they truly are. When our standards aren't higher than the Thanksgiving Day roof, we can see people's hearts, history and pains. And, we sometimes, can even empathize and minister to them.
Thanksgiving is a special day, a needed day. A day to see all that we have - burnt food and all. If expectations consume us, we may find all we have consumed is an inability to be happy, a heart of discontent and a spirit of bitterness.
The truth is that people will disappoint - and we will disappoint people. No one is perfect - except One. But, the ultimate truth is that God's grace never ends. It nourishes us when Thanksgiving leaves us hungry for more love.
Let's lay this truth on the table so we can pass, dish and eat up all the goodness of grace - in our own hearts and towards the hearts of others.
Kelly Balarie is the author of Fear Fighting and Battle Ready, is a featured blogger at Crosswalk.com and iBelieve.com. A passionate national speaker, she has spent a decade leading groups of women in spiritual growth, marriage building, and Bible studies across the nation. Balarie lives with her husband and two small children near the sun-soaked shores of the East Coast.