A day dedicated to two quintessentially American things: football and overeating.
Oh, and being thankful. More on that in a moment.
Thanksgiving is also the time wherein the nuts from every limb of the family tree can come together for calm, rational, even enlightened conversation on non-controversial topics like politics, religion, and the NFL.
It’s also a day in which, inevitably, a crazy uncle or pushy inlaw will insist on offering you unsolicited advice on everything from your dating habits, your child-rearing practices, or your personal hygiene.
And if they’re going to do it, so will I. Here’s my unsolicited advice for your Thanksgiving Day:
“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”
Yes, I’m not even offering original unsolicited advice.
It’s Maya Angelou’s advice, I’m just quoting it.
And in good, unsolicited advice fashion, it’s actually two pieces of advice disguised as one:
It’s simple, but it matters.
At the risk of being obvious, let’s reverse the order and start here because being thankful shouldn’t be shocking advice on a day literally named for it.
But, for some reason, it’s hard for us to be thankful, even on Thanksgiving.
In part, that’s because we’re an entitled society. We expect a certain level of comfort, ease, and security and if those criteria aren’t met, well, let’s just say we’re not handing out gratitude like candy.
But our struggle with thankfulness goes beyond an entitlement issue. I think it has its genesis in a myopic understanding of life. What do I mean?
I mean that it’s hard to be thankful when we can’t see beyond ourselves. We imagine that life’s sole purpose is for me to get mine. It’s impossible to be thankful when you’re starting assumption is that you are the center of the universe.
Thankfulness requires de-centering our selves.
Thankfulness requires us to recognize someone or something other than ourselves as the source of our happiness.
It doesn’t play well today, but the only way we’ll be thankful is if we quit imagining life is about us and re-recognize the one who created life: God.
Thanksgiving started as a recognition of God’s provision, not of extravagance, but of the basic necessities of life. He was the one at the center. He was the source. And thankfulness was possible.
We’re not entitled to anything. We’re not at the center of anything. Everything we have and everything we are is God’s gift.
We have two options:
1) Grouse about, looking for a return receipt.
2) Acknowledge him and his provision for us.
Only one of those options will help reestablish thankfulness in us this Thanksgiving.
Thankfulness is centered on God; being present is centered on others.
We have a tendency, in this modern, individualistic world, to wrap everything around ourselves. We dedicate our every waking moment to curating a fundamentally egocentric experience of the world. Social media, gaming apps, and streaming video: we control the quality, quantity, and nature of our interaction with reality, filtered through our smartphone screens.
That’s why, when Thanksgiving Day rolls around, so many of us struggle. Because we can’t control what happens when Bernie Bro Cousin Joe and MAGA Grandpa Jones get going. In real life, there’s no “Mute” button for Aunt Joyce’s lifestyle advice column like there is on social media.
But, contrary to our preference, that’s ok.
We need the reminder to be present because we’re usually not. Too often anymore, getting together with the family means sitting in the same room as we occupy different digital worlds.
So, use this Thanksgiving to flip the script.
Put the phone down.
Play football in the backyard.
Hang around the kitchen for quality control purposes. And for the conversation. Of course.
Sit in the den after dinner simply contemplating the sheer goodness of elastic waistbands.
Enjoy the company of other real, air-breathing, flesh-and-blood, people. Revel in the oddity of your family. Find joy in the mundane and the minutia.
Don’t try to escape, don’t retreat into your digital world: be present.
And, for heaven’s sake, spill the gravy on Cousin Joe before “that idiot Tru…” finishes passing his lips.