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Reimaging Thanksgiving

Have you ever asked God for something and then regretted asking?

As I was thinking about sharing some ideas for making Thanksgiving more enjoyable, I asked God for a “Great Uncle Harry” story to share with you. If you are wondering who Great Uncle Harry is, he is the relative or friend you wish you didn’t have to include in your invitations to your Thanksgiving meal—he is too loud, shares his same old stories, asks intrusive questions, likes to proclaim his political views…you know who I mean! Because our family is just my husband and me and our kids and grandies, we don’t have anyone like that in our family, so I was asking God for a story. Unfortunately, (!) God reminded me of an incident that had happened a few weeks earlier. So, here is my story!

My grandson and I were wandering happily around a holiday bazaar at one of our local churches. Suddenly, I saw an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while. I greeted him in delight. He focused on the message on my grandson’s t-shirt and began addressing my grandson, sharing emphatically his political views in a way that embarrassed my grandson and annoyed me…reminding me of some interactions we had had in the past. I muttered something about having to go and hurried my grandson away.

A classic example of how not to respond to “Great Uncle Harry”! I am mistress of the flight part of the fight/flight way of dealing with things. In retrospect, I thought of all the things I could have asked to change the focus of the interaction and felt disappointed in my response to this friend.

I wonder, as you are preparing for your Thanksgiving gathering, if there are people or situations that you dread.

I wonder if there is an invitation from God to look at these in a different light.

Do you typically fight back with words, or is your coping style to disappear into the kitchen on an errand? Or do you freeze, not sure what to say or do?

Don’t let your wounds or past experiences dictate what you expect to happen at your Thanksgiving gathering this year.

Anticipating that something will happen in a certain way can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. What you look for, you will find.

And, what we reject in others is usually what we reject in ourselves; this is always a challenge to consider, but can help us be compassionate towards others.

Albert Einstein is attributed to saying that “the definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Is there a way to look differently at what you anticipate will happen, to be able to respond rather than react?

Caroline Oakes, in her recent book Practice the Pause, talks extensively about Jesus’ “third way”; instead of flight/fight, an alternative, loving, but nevertheless authoritative response is to pause and open oneself to God’s love and power so as to respond thoughtfully with grace and understanding, without fear, with a deep-listening compassion and insight, while remaining grounded in the presence and grace of God within.

Sound challenging? Is there a hint of invitation here? Can you practice pausing before responding, opening yourself to God’s love and then allowing that love to flow through you to your relative or friend?

Caroline talks about this taking practice, as I can attest from my story at the bazaar, and as I have tried to practice pausing in potentially conflictual situations since!

Think about how Jesus responded so often to those who sought to antagonize Him. He would answer a question with a question. Often, he seemed to bypass the question altogether.

One great way to change the topic is to ask a question—maybe think ahead of some questions you could ask. Everyone is looking for attention and affirmation and belonging. Can you give people the courtesy of showing that you are interested in who they are? Maybe you could try my favorite words, “I wonder…” I find they offer an invitation rather than an attack.

What sets wise people apart is their capacity to see the other’s perspective, to walk in their shoes, to have gentle empathy.

I invite you to plan ahead and to look with positive anticipation for this year’s Thanksgiving gathering.

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