It’s Thanksgiving week, and although COVID-19 has messed with a fair share of travel plans, I would guess that many of us will still be sharing the holiday with loved ones. While this is something that can result in joyful feelings of anticipation, it also leaves some of us worried about how people are going to get along around the table.
If only we all agreed on religion and politics.
If only awkward and hurtful things wouldn’t ever be said.
If only we knew how to encourage one another in a way that really hit the mark. Wouldn’t that make things easier?
I think we often conclude that the only way to get through holidays with sticky relationships is to keep things on a very superficial level and not talk about anything that really matters. But when we settle for this, our relationships aren’t very satisfying. How can we take things to a deeper level without things getting fractious?
I believe that asking certain questions and truly listening to the responses can be a game changer. Here’s a link to some conversation starters that we’ve created with diverse groups of people in mind. Most of us have different views represented around the Thanksgiving table. These questions help us to get to know one another on the heart level without focusing on our differences.
Perhaps there is someone on your heart who you know is not open to God and spiritual growth. If the opportunity presented itself and the groundwork has been laid first with good listening, you might want to ask him or her, “What if there’s more?” Allow that question to sink in. Respect the question enough to allow time for silence and processing. Don’t hesitate to leave your loved one with the question hanging. It’s a good one to wrestle with.
When asked how to evangelize in a culture that is indifferent to God and religion, Bishop Robert Barron has said that we should begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which points you to the truth. We need to show that Christianity is attractive. As Blaise Pascal famously said, we are to make good men wish it was true.
So how do we do this? How do we begin with the beautiful? Creating a lovely Thanksgiving table is a quiet way of ministering to the heart. Beauty breaks down barriers. Another way is to increase our exposure to beautiful and good literature, art, and music. The imagination can offer a spiritual opening as we begin to consider the possibility that there is something of meaning, something that moves us, something more than the superficial things that surround us.
Bishop Barron has said, “Agnostics are often deeply interested in beauty, goodness and truth. Find out which one they are interested in—that’s your hook. That’s your string that you need to follow. Keep going in that search for ultimate meaning. The passion for justice is an echo of the voice of God in you. It’s summoning you. The conscience—what is it—what is calling you to something better, something good, something just? Could that be God?”
Perhaps there is someone at your Thanksgiving table who is spiritually searching, but he or she is searching in the wrong direction. You are probably really tempted to point out what is wrong about their search. I would encourage you to resist that temptation. Instead, you might want to consider pointing out the things he or she is doing well. Is he seeking truth? Desiring a life of purpose? Let her know you are proud of her. This is something we never stop needing to hear.
I pray that you start having more conversations with your loved ones about the topics of meaning in life, purpose, what we want out of life, how we can be truly fulfilled, and how we can be happy. I pray you’d be able to enter into these conversations and listen. To resist the urge to give the answer. To allow your children to talk.
In preparation for Thanksgiving, you might want to pray the following for the loved ones who will be around your table and those far away.
I ask that you would give my loved ones a heart to know you, that you are the Lord, so that they will be your people and you will be their God. May they return to you with their whole hearts. (Jeremiah 24:7)
I pray that you would give my loved ones a new heart and a new spirit…that you would remove their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)
May you open my loved ones’ eyes and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in you. (Acts 26:18)
I pray that you would grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil. (2 Timothy 2:25-26)
God, we know that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. May you draw our loved ones to you. (John 6:44)
May you overwhelm our loved ones with the reality of your love, so that he or she can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)
For I declare that “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26)
I declare that you “will contend with those who contend with us, and you will save our children.” (Isaiah 49:25)
I declare that “not one word has failed of all your good promises.” (1 Kings 8:56)
I declare that the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers. (1 Peter 3:12)
I declare that all my children shall be taught by the Lord; and great shall be my children’s peace. (Isaiah 54:13)
I declare that you have begun a good work in my loved ones' lives, and you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Happy Thanksgiving, my friend!
Grace and peace,
Thanksgiving can be the best of times or the worst of times. As was said on the iconic 90’s sitcom, Friends, “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a little emotional scarring.” Hopefully that won’t be your experience, but when you throw family together with issues simmering under the surface, add a little pressure around what is expected to be a fabulous meal, and things can get a little stressful.
So what can we do to increase the odds that the day will be a good one? In Colossians 3:12-17, St. Paul gives us 4 steps that can start us off on the right track.
1. Wear the right outfit.
No, I’m not talking about making sure we’re wearing yoga pants so that we can eat whatever we want. I’m talking about the attitudes we need to take off and the ones we need to put on in order to welcome the people that God has placed in our lives on this particular day. In the words of St. Paul, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:12-14).
Instead of just stuffing our emotions and doing our best to fake fine, let’s take a moment this week to get alone with God and journal about any hurts we are carrying to the Thanksgiving table. Perhaps there will come a time when we’d benefit from a face-to-face conversation with the person who hurt us, but we don’t need to wait until that opportunity to get rid of an unforgiving, bitter attitude.
Begin this time with the Lord by remembering who you are. Choose to define yourself as God’s beloved daughter. Look at your good qualities. Look at all the gifts you’ve been given. Allow your heart to be filled, not with self-pity but with gratitude. What will result? Freedom. This will clear a path for God’s love to transform and heal you. Because of His healing touch, you’ll be free to offer forgiveness to others.
It is only as our hearts are filled with gratitude that we’re able to forgive. This truth is addressed in the book From Anger to Intimacy: How Forgiveness can Transform Your Marriage:
No matter what has happened, you are invited to forgive just as God has wholly and fully forgiven you. Where do you find that kind of forgiveness? Through the person of Jesus Christ. Matthew 10:8 says, “Freely you have received, freely give”...If you are not a forgiving person, if you have unresolved anger, bitterness or resentment in your heart- and you do nothing to get rid of it, then you have not yet experienced or realized the forgiveness you have received.¹
Do we truly appreciate the forgiveness that Christ purchased for us? Or have we become callous to its reality? Do we take God’s forgiveness for granted?
2. Facilitate life-giving conversation
Paul goes on to encourage us to “let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). One way to avoid tension filled conversation is taking control of what’s being discussed. Our daughter Charlotte’s favorite thing is to put conversation cards by each person’s plate and then discuss them over dinner. You could make up your own questions or use some of these suggestions to direct conversation toward a deeper and more positive sharing of hearts, hopefully avoiding topics that lead to sharp and unkind words:
“Describe your perfect weekend.”
“If you were going to give me a tour of the town you grew up in, where would you take me first?”
“What is bringing you joy right now?”
“What’s saving your life right now?”
“What’s on your bucket list?”
3. Get your heart in the right place.
There is nothing that changes my attitude like music. This is why I really pay attention to what I listen to. I almost always listen to praise and worship music—not because I am so holy, but because without it, I am so weak and prone to complaining. I encourage you to pay attention to which lyrics are filling your mind and how they are altering your mood. If you want to follow St. Paul’s advice, then you’ll “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
To help you get your heart in the right place, check out our Thanksgiving Spotify playlist.
4. Focus on the audience of One.
It doesn’t take much for us to feel sorry for ourselves because of how much work is expected of us over the holidays. Listening to good music can do a lot to keep our hearts in the right places, but we might need a little mind reset, too. St. Paul challenges us to keep our eyes on the One we are serving. Sure, some of the people at your table might not be expressing the gratitude to you that they should, and they may not be helping you in the way that you wish they would. If this is your situation, instead of turning inward and growing bitter, imagine Jesus sitting at your table. Prepare the meal for Him. “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).
Praying for you this Thanksgiving, and thanking God for you!
¹ Dr. Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham, From Anger to Intimacy: How Forgiveness can Transform Your Marriage (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 137-138.
More than ever, I am grateful for Scripture. For truth. For hope with handles, a faith I can grasp with both hands. God's promises? No small thing. They are what get me up and out of bed, sustain me throughout the day, and tuck me in, safe and sound, each and every night. For His Word, I am so incredibly grateful.
But sometimes? Sometimes I forget. Sometimes, I fail to give thanks. But praise be to God, He always manages to pull me back in and remind me of His goodness. Through a stranger's welcoming smile, or tucked inside an encouraging word from a friend, He reminds me. This week, it was through an unexpected encounter while driving through the city; the opportunity to hand whatever was in my wallet to the homeless man begging on the street. The man, whose eyes grew wide as he held the ten dollar bill in his hand, who lit up like a Christmas tree and shouted from the heart, “THANK YOU!” And then, after he gave thanks, offered to help me.
“I can clean up your yard...I am good in the yard…” he said. After I told him I did not live nearby, I asked for his name. Because I thought I should know it, as much as he should say it out loud. He was named after all, by a mother like me. “Benjamin,” he said. And just before I drove away, I promised, “Benjamin, consider yourself covered in prayer.” Holding the ten dollar bill pressed against his chest he nodded his head and said, “Pray for me.” And then, he thanked me, again.
Gratitude. It is so powerful.
You see, I believe that gratitude is “holy medicine.” I believe it is healing. I believe that being grateful is the antidote to everything. I also believe that if Christ dwells inside of us, no matter the circumstance, we can be grateful. Like Benjamin, homeless on the side of the road. Like Jesus, among friends on the night He was betrayed. Both, in utterly distressing situations, found reason to give thanks.
This message of gratitude should not be reserved for the month of November or Thanksgiving Day, and should be passed on to everyone we encounter, most especially, our children. Sure, we teach them to say thank you, but to understand real gratitude, to fully grasp the meaning of blessing, they need to start with Jesus. They need to encounter Him. In order to give thanks in all things, knowing truth is essential because the reality is, sometimes being grateful is hard.
The Walking With Purpose middle school girls' ministry, Blaze, offers Between You And Me, a 40-day devotional conversation guide for mothers and daughters that is the perfect way to teach our daughters about the gift of truth, about gratefulness that does not depend on circumstance. Written to read together, each day compares a lie of our secular culture with the truth found in Scripture. I have begun this practice with my own daughters, and I love how it allows us the opportunity to journal, discuss, ask questions, and pray. It has been instrumental in teaching my girls to recognize the lie, to learn truth, and to look for the blessings. Whether it is over breakfast before school, or with a bag of chips in bed at night, it is exactly the tool I needed to enrich my relationship with my daughters, as well as with Christ.
As the month of gratitude starts its wind down, and December, in all its madness, is just around the corner, I have been thinking about how we can all hang on to, and continue to pass on, this message of gratitude and truth. And I was thinking...what if we gifted all of our daughters this Christmas with the Between You And Me devotional? What if our daughters gave them to their friends as gifts? What if we passed them on to our mommy friends, to share with their girls? What if we placed it in the Christmas stocking of the new mom, expecting a daughter? Better than a candle or coffee shop gift card, how about we give the gift that has the ability to change lives, and better our most important relationships? What if we make this year the year we give the gift that we can all truly be grateful for?
Know that on this Thanksgiving Day, and every day, I will be praying and thanking God for the blessing of you and the Walking With Purpose community. May we continue to seek the truth, pass it on, and look for the blessings.
And if you would, please pray for my friend Benjamin, a blessing on the side of the road; who healed my own lack of gratitude and taught me what it means to give thanks...in all things.
Your Sister in Christ,
Want to join me in gifting your girls with a Christmas gift that matters? Purchase the Between You And Me devotional here!
The holidays are coming and the influx of catalogs in my mailbox confirms it. I can't seem to throw them away because their contents might offer me the perfect Christmas gift for my husband, the ideal accessory for my house, or to-die-for shoes. The likelihood of me actually buying something from them is very slim, but there's an underlying sense that I might miss out on something great if I just toss them in the garbage.
We see around 4,000 ads per day (1) which causes a number of things to happen simultaneously. We notice the smooth skin and perfect body on the model and wish we looked differently. We start to dwell on what we don't have instead of being grateful for what we do. Comparisons are made and contentment is eaten away. No matter what's been already given, we want more.
I can blame social media for my discontentment, but the women of Discovering Our Dignity remind me that there is nothing new under the sun. Writing this study on women of the Bible made it clear to me that the problems of comparison and contentment aren't caused by overzealous marketing; it's an age-old wrestling match within the heart. Eve wasn't measuring herself against her Instagram feed, but she struggled as much as we do. Why? Because the enemy has always known that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6), so from the beginning of time he's been messing with our desires.
Satan's message to Eve was, “Are you longing for something more? More knowledge? More wisdom? Then you should be able to have it! Why should you have to experience unfulfilled longings? Take matters into your own hands!” His message is the same to us today. He convinces us that we shouldn't have unfulfilled longings. And our world chimes in, suggesting all sorts of remedies. Do you want something you can't afford? Put it on a credit card. Are you longing for affirmation and attention? Dress seductively to get it. Are you discontent in your marriage? Satisfy your emotional needs with another man.
It's important to note that the longing itself is not sinful. In fact, God put this longing into our hearts to draw us to Him. But we get into trouble when we insist on fulfilling that longing with things of earth, and when we're willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill it, regardless of right or wrong (2).
Before sin entered the world, God satisfied man's desires because they were directed at Him. But everything changed when Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Desire became misdirected, and ever since that fateful day, we've battled the lie that the fulfillment of our longings will come through temporal achievements or possessions. Desire isn't the problem. The problem is where we go to satisfy it. It's interesting that the word “sin” means missing the mark. It's a picture of us aiming for the wrong thing, and disobeying God in the process.
God doesn't want to squelch or take away our desires; He wants to redeem them and raise them to new heights. He knows what's going to deeply satisfy us, and what will leave us empty.
We have 18 days until Thanksgiving. How do we root out discontentment and cultivate gratitude between now and then? We can do it with the WWP Gratitude Challenge. I hope you keep going to the end because the best one is Day 17. I'm laughing just thinking about it.
We can do this one day at a time!
Day 1: Measure yourself today by contentment and laughter rather than by inches and pounds.
Day 2: Carry a rock in your pocket and every time you touch it, thank God for something.
Day 3: Thank God for three things you like to hear.
Day 4: Satisfy your desire for beauty by listening to 'Duettino- Sull'aria' by Mozart
Day 5: Find someone who works in the service industry and say thanks for the help they provide.
Day 6: When you get in the shower, start to list your blessings and don't stop until you turn off the water.
Day 7: Thank God for three things that you like to taste.
Day 8: Throw out your merchandise catalogs.
Day 9: Go through a drive-through line and pay for the person behind you.
Day 10: Fast from social media for the day.
Day 11: Think of three friends you are grateful for; text them and let them know.
Day 12: Measure today by how many people you complimented instead of how many people got on your nerves.
Day 13: Write a note of appreciation to someone who has taught you something or inspired you.
Day 14: Thank God for three things in your home.
Day 15: Watch a sunset in the most quiet place possible.
Day 16: Unsubscribe from email lists of 20 companies that send you too many ads.
Day 17: Binge watch John Crist videos. As in WATCH THEM ALL. You're welcome.
Day 18: Thanksgiving!
Grateful for you-
1. Ron Marshall, “How Many Ads Do You See In One Day?”, Red Crow Marketing, https://www.redcrowmarketing.com/2015/09/10/many-ads-see-one-day/, accessed October 29, 2018.
2. Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Walking with Purpose, Discovering Our Dignity, 2017, 20-21.