December 3, 2019
I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. I wonder how many times I said to someone, “Happy Thanksgiving!” and how many times I heard it back. What do you suppose we actually mean when we say that? Though food is a big part of Thanksgiving for all of us, we mean so much more than “hope the food is good!” when we say, “Happy Thanksgiving!”
Our family did have a happy thanksgiving, but it was a new normal for us. Maybe you had an experience like mine. As our family gathered around the table, there were precious people missing. Loved ones who were at the heart of our family were there last year and gone this year. There was a time in my life that when we went around the table to each share our blessings, one of the things that was always mentioned was, “I am so glad our family circle isn’t broken.” We said how grateful we were that we are all still here together. We can’t say that anymore. My mother emptied the first seat at the table when she left us for heaven in 2008. We had a significant time of grief after that, but then in 2016 we began a new season. In quick succession, before we could barely catch our breath, my sister Jeannie died, my father died, my brother-in-law David (Jeannie’s husband), and in January this year, my brother-in-law Charlie died without a warning. Things just aren’t the same.
Here’s what I know for sure. At best, life is short and there are no guarantees. We have no control over how long that circle stays intact, and who or when will leave the next empty seat. But we have a great deal of control over the peace and comfort we can experience when it happens. We can make sure when that day comes, we can face it with clean grief, no regrets, and great hope.
We do it by focusing right now on healthy relationships. There is nothing that makes for a happier Thanksgiving than having strong and healthy relationships with the people who are closest to you. My Thanksgiving was happy over the top even though we deeply missed some of our loved ones because I spent the day with people I love and who love me.
Relationships don’t have to be perfect—I mean, what relationship is perfect? Every relationship is made of two imperfect people. But any relationship can be healthy. Healthy relationships take humility, intentionality, and work. But nothing is more satisfying than to know you are in a good place with your spouse, your children, your siblings, parents, in-laws—everyone. To have a day when you know that as far as you can make it so, you are at peace and in health with all of your important people---well, that is the secret to a Happy Thanksgiving, and happiness on ordinary days as well. Joy, peace, and contentment are impossible when your relationships are unsettled and in chaos. But they abound as the fruits of healthy relationships.
The most basic key to developing and having great relationships is making sure that your relationship with your heavenly Father is strong and healthy. When you are strongly connected with Him, you will have wisdom, focus, and humility to make sure the rest of your relationships are right. You will think like He does, so you will pursue peace.
There’s an eternal benefit as well. Before we ate Thanksgiving dinner, we addressed our newest empty seat and owned the loss we feel. But we reminded ourselves that because we all know and follow Jesus, there is a great reunion coming. While we gathered around the table here, our other family members were gathered there, and one day, we’ll all be together again. Now that’s a Happy Thanksgiving!