I married a chef and this year, we outsourced a lot of our cooking for Thanksgiving. To the grocery store. In the end we ended up making two side dishes and one dessert.
I feel zero guilt or conflict. Some may call it cheating…I call it genius.
We celebrated at home this year. We had just my parents as guests. We enjoyed each others’ company and good food, most of which we only had to heat/re-heat. And we have much to be thankful for.
As a much younger person, I felt a huge conflict about Thanksgiving. The focus on an over the top meal, football and parades, while traditional in modern times put a lot less emphasis on actual gratitude and a lot more on materialistic things. As a kid, we attended Mass often on Thanksgiving. Now people beat each other over the head for a flat screen.
Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts begins with a revelation, Ann hears that at the Last Supper that Jesus, “gave thanks” before He broke the bread and blessed it. The idea of “Eucharisteo” or “giving thanks” is definitely a lost art. Many were inspired by Voskamp to keep journals attempting to collect one thousand things they were thankful for. Cynics dismissed this as a temporary distraction for middle class white Christian women and perhaps for some it was. But as a Catholic, reading Ann’s book was a big dose of validation. Finding gifts in unexpected places, man if that didn’t teach a lesson on redemptive suffering.
I hear Christians all the time who state that God doesn’t allow anyone to come to harm who follows Him. Really? I mean, His only begotten Son underwent abandonment by those who loved Him (aside from His mother and Saint John) and then crucifixion and death. That was an end but also a beginning. Jesus said to His followers,
If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.
Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
John 15: 18-20
That doesn’t sound like no harm or hard times will come to those who are faithful. It sounds like a world of suffering and hurt.
But guess what, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t still to give thanks. Think of the words of St Paul to the church in Thessalonia:
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5: 18
Give thanks when the times are plentiful but never forget what Ann Voskamp calls the “hard eucharisteo.” I have watched friends bury their babies. I have prayed with friends who’ve had devastating diagnoses. I have experienced my own crosses that at times, threatened to crush me. Without the understanding of redemptive suffering and reliance on God in my own weakness, without realizing (usually after resisting) that God would carry me through whatever it was…I for sure would have crumbled like so much brown sugar that went through my fingers and into my apple pie yesterday. And it’s exactly as Ann describes, it’s hard. It feels impossible at times to be thankful amidst so much personal suffering, to speak nothing of the suffering of people worldwide. But as impossible as it feels, it is absolutely necessary for all believers. Like all hard things, it is worth so much more than we can comprehend when we are in the midst.
Thanksgiving isn’t about traditional foods and it isn’t about a meal shared between Pilgrims and Native Americans. It is about realizing we are without help without Him and we owe all we have and are not to our own abilities nor to the actions of world leaders nor CEOs but to Him. And for that, we should all give great thanks.