Thanksgiving. A day of turkey, touchdowns, and tryptophan, when pumpkins and parades take center stage, and I am left wondering why Aunt Millie even bothered to bring those yams. It is a time to step back, reflect, and thank the Father of Lights for his many good and perfect gifts (James 1:17).
For many, one gift of the season is quality time with family. Grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, new grandbabies, all gathering to enjoy one another’s company, avoid the subject of politics, and poke fun at one another. My family’s annual get-together always managed to put the “fun” in dysfunctional.
And yet for some, the day is not all fun. For some there is pain; the pain of a student or young professional stuck two thousand miles away from family and friends, the pain of a widow whose memory of a recently deceased spouse is fresh and raw, the pain of a single person watching everyone else celebrate together while feeling desperately alone. Who would have thought that on a day centered on being together, one could feel so isolated?
The truth is that on this day — or any day, whether it is Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or any Tuesday — there is a tension. Paul names this tension in Romans 12:15 when he says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Each of these realities is true of someone you know on Thanksgiving. So how should we respond?
How do we live in the moment of our own reality without being insensitive to the joys and the pains that surround us?
To Those Weeping
I know what it is like to feel alone. I know what it is like to watch everyone else celebrate an endless number of special occasions with someone whose presence is simply assumed as absolute, while I scroll through my contacts trying to find a friend who isn’t “already busy.” In those times, the last thing that I want to do is “rejoice with those who rejoice.”
It is easy to throw a personal pity party. However, I have found that the less naval-gazing I indulge in, and the more outward focused I become, the more my singleness starts to feel like the gift that it is. This might sound a bit odd, since singleness is rarely thought of as a gift these days (and more like a plague to be eradicated). And yet, Jesus says that if you are single — whether by choice or circumstance — then in this moment of your life, it is actually better for you that you aren’t married (Matthew 19:10–12). And Paul explicitly labels singleness as a gift that is equal in beauty to marriage (1 Corinthians 7:7).
How is it a gift? It is a gift because those who are single in Christ have a monument and a name better than sons and daughters (Isaiah 56:5). It is a gift because there is no one who has given up mothers and fathers and children and houses for Christ’s sake who will not receive those things one hundred-fold in the body of Christ (Mark 10:29–30). It is a gift because the single person is free to devote time and energy toward service, hospitality, and sacrificial love instead of a spouse and children (1 Corinthians 7:32–34). And in these ways, singleness actually becomes more than simply a lack; it becomes an invitation into gospel community.
This doesn’t mean that no one will be left alone on Thanksgiving. There is a time for weeping (Ecclesiastes 3:4), and the holidays may be as good a time as any. But don’t stop there. Lift your eyes from your circumstances, give thanks to God for your good gift of singleness, and in so doing rejoice with those who rejoice.
To Those Rejoicing
What about those for whom Thanksgiving is a wonderful celebration where your heart feels so full it could burst? To you I say, remember those who are weeping. You may not want to. After all, it might put a damper on the festivities to consider the lonely, the outcast, the marginalized, those without a special meal, or a warm embrace. But allow your heart just a taste of what that must feel like, and weep with those who weep.
But don’t stop there; let your feeling turn to action. Consider the fact that when you welcome one of the least of these, you welcome Christ himself (Matthew 25:35–40). Consider that the bonds between brothers and sisters in Christ run deeper than blood in the true family of God (Colossians 1:2; 1 John 3:2). As a member of that family, you have the opportunity to become the hundredfold mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and children that Jesus promises to provide in Mark 10.
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to practice. Author Lauren Winner writes that every dinner party should have an odd number of chairs, breaking the barriers between married and single folks. This Thanksgiving, why not set an extra place for someone who would otherwise be alone? And why not consider other ways to tangibly express our family ties in Christ, and in so doing bear the burdens of those who weep?
And in all of this, remember to give thanks for his gifts. No matter your circumstance, no matter your season of life, the gift God has given you is the one you need.