When I think about Thanksgiving, I immediately think about tables. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is a holiday centered around a meal, focused on gathering with friends and family.
Maybe it’s because so many of my best Thanksgiving memories include a table. For starters, The Dessert Table. Even a chocolate lover like myself can’t be mad at a table filled with cookies, pies, and pumpkin rolls.
Then, there’s The Kids’ Table that was nestled in my grandparent’s kitchen. The table where my cousins, sister, and I laughed and ate, played games, snuck our first helping of dessert, and only got quiet to eavesdrop on the adults in the other room.
But mostly, I think about the antique oval table in their dining room. The table where we all eventually ate together even though, technically, there wasn’t room. But if one cousin graduated to The Grown Up’s Table, why not let us all come over? So for years, at least twelve people would squeeze around that wooden table, turning the placemats vertical. I remember the tassels of the placemats tickling my legs as I focused on keeping my elbows tucked into my ribs while shoveling forkfuls of mashed potatoes and gravy into my mouth.
We were not a rowdy bunch. We took turns sharing life updates, asking my grandparents to tell stories, and commenting on every delicious bite we took throughout the meal.
Today, that old oval table sits in my dining room and, other than myself, none of the original twelve people will gather around it this Thanksgiving. Instead, six of us will sprawl out around it, leaving plenty of elbow room for our neighbors.
The conversation will unfold in fits and starts as we cut our toddler’s food, pass a baby around, remind our preschooler about proper mealtime etiquette, and sing silly songs. While there will be so much joy and countless things to be thankful for, there will still be underlying moments of sadness.
Because this table will look so different than it used to. My sister and her family will sit around a table with our parents in Texas. My aunts, uncles and cousins will remain spread out around the world at their own tables. My grandparents are with Jesus. I miss my grandparents and the simplicity of holidays when you’re a kid. I wish we lived closer to family, so that our Thanksgiving table was loud and crowded and full. But even still, we will make new memories around that old table and remember the best ones from years past.
And so can you.
Your table can still be filled with joy even though disappointment settles in next to it. It is possible to have both. It is okay to look at the people gathered around your table and swell with love for them while your heart aches for those who are not sitting with you.
Maybe there is an empty chair reminding you of the spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, or child that has passed. There is room for your grief.
Maybe you chose to join one table and wonder if your absence from the other is causing pain. There is room for your hesitation.
Maybe there is unresolved tension, a topic of conversation you pray everyone avoids, or an apology you long to hear. There is room for your pain.
Maybe there is a portion of your family who is gathered around another table this year and your table feels incomplete. There is room for your disappointment.
Joy and pain can sit at the same table. Jesus knows this. He once sat around a table with loved ones, sharing a special meal, overcome with love for them while fighting back tears for the empty chair next to him—and the heaviness that came with Judas’ absence.
What a friend we have in Jesus! He is a Friend who truly understands what you are feeling. A Friend who promises to sit with you during the hard moments of this holiday. A Friend who can redeem the day when we want to skip it altogether because we’re too hurt to be thankful.
While the Thanksgiving holiday is not a Christian holiday, the concept of giving thanks comes from God. In fact, the idea of thankfulness or expressing gratitude appears 102 times in the Old Testament and 71 times in the New Testament.
However, in its original context, thankfulness has nothing to do with politeness or a basic recognition of the good things in our lives. Thankfulness has everything to do with God and who He is. Thanksgiving is a form of worship. And worship is possible even in the middle of pain and hardship.
2 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
This is not an insensitive rule God gives to His children. It is an invitation to reflect on Jesus despite our circumstances. When our gratitude is tied up in His character, there is always something to be thankful for. We may battle conflicting emotions, but in Jesus, we have hope, peace, joy, and love.
So take a minute to reflect on what Jesus has done in your life, what He has given to you, and who He has been to you. Even as you acknowledge the pain and disappointment that may come with the holiday, because of Jesus, there is still a reason to be thankful.
As you gather around your table this Thanksgiving, talk about the gifts God has given to you and the people He has placed in your life. Remember the legacy of those who have gone on before you, and recount your favorite Thanksgiving memories. Even if your table looks different than you wish, Jesus can transform the laughter and love that fills your table into your new favorite memories.
A Thanksgiving Prayer:
God, I believe that you are good and have good things in store for me.
Thank you for your faithfulness and your presence.
Thank you for the promise that you are near to the broken-hearted and bind up their wounds.
Thank you for the people you have placed in my life and the way you provide for me.
Today, I praise you for the people gathered around my table and I give you the pain I feel for everything my table is not.
Thank you for holding onto my hurt and holding onto me.
I love you, and I trust you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Callie Clayton writes to encourage others (and remind herself) that it’s possible to experience God right where you are. She enjoys teaching the Bible to teenagers, having good conversation over meals she didn’t cook, and baking all the chocolate desserts. Embracing her role as a boy-mom to three little ones, she and her husband are worn out, but loving the adventure of parenthood.