Starting at the end of October, we are often inundated with images of happy, harmonious families gathering around the table to enjoy a huge Thanksgiving feast. The implication is that all families are joyfully united at Thanksgiving because, well, it’s Thanksgiving and everybody’s happy at Thanksgiving.
For those who have difficult family situations, Thanksgiving can be a dreaded event that means dashed hopes, conflict, and sadness. But it needn't be that way.
The bad news is that difficult family situations are exactly that—difficult—and there’s no way out but through, to use an old cliche. The good news is that you don’t have to navigate Thanksgiving on your own.
In my book Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace, I discuss how prayer can help with the pain of all kinds of difficult family situations. If your Thanksgiving is cause for dread rather than gratitude, the time has come to share your burden with Jesus.
Our Lord is right there with you. He understands your sorrow because he experienced sorrow himself during his lifetime.
Jesus was abandoned by his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, viciously challenged by the scribes and Pharisees repeatedly, doubted by skeptics, and labeled a troublemaker by the Jewish and Roman authorities. Those he came to minister crucified him. Jesus knows well what it’s like to be caught in a difficult situation. That’s why leaning on him for counsel and consolation is the perfect way to spend your Thanksgiving, regardless of who will be at your table or whose table you’ll be at this year.
The tough stuff probably has already begun, with you worrying about what might happen, could happen or, in your estimation, probably will happen on Thanksgiving. Before you allow yourself to go in that direction, first place yourself and all your concerns before God. Put some time aside to have a one-on-one chat with Jesus, if possible in Eucharistic Adoration. Tell him everything. Lay out all your thoughts, feelings, and fears. Gripe to him, rant to him, cry to him – whatever you need to do to unload—as long as you’re not judging or wishing evil upon others. That, of course, would be sinful.
The idea is to get your worries out before Thanksgiving so that they don’t ruin your holiday once it begins. Our Lord knows you and understands you better than anyone else. Who better to share your deepest stirrings with?
Don’t stop there. Once you’ve poured out your inner feelings to Jesus, ask him to please release you from them and replace them with humility, compassion, prudence, patience, and confidence in his power to see you through. Ask him for the gift of a peaceful heart. If you do this, you’ll head into Thanksgiving far ahead of the game, so to speak.
As often as necessary, remind yourself of your conversation with Jesus and your commitment to turn it all over to him and allow him to take control. If you need, put up visual reminders like Post-it notes or even a holy card tacked to the kitchen cabinet. Soothing and sacred music can be of great help in keeping your mood stable and your thoughts God-centered. Play it in the background as you go about your day. Who knows? It could tame other hearts as well.
Finally, create for yourself a motto or brief prayer that you’ll memorize and repeat whenever you need extra strength or feel yourself slipping into anger, frustration or hopelessness. Say it to yourself before you react to the people and situation around you. It could be as simple as, “Lord, help me!” or something longer and more poetic.
The Psalms have a wealth of little verses that remind us of God’s love for us and his readiness to rescue us in any type of distress. Here are two that I find to be exceptionally helpful:
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit (Ps 34:18).
You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance (Ps 32:7).
No matter what happens on Thanksgiving, leaning on Jesus will uphold and bless you. And that’s something for which you can be truly thankful.