How do you express praise on Thanksgiving Day if you’re the turkey?
It’s easy to give thanks when your table is filled with an abundance of flavors and the seats around your table are occupied with family and friends; but when life unravels and you identify more with the turkey in the center of the table than the happy guest around the table, it’s a different matter.
This year I approached Thanksgiving Day with a chip on my shoulder. Three days before Thanksgiving someone smashed the windshield of my truck and stole something of great value to me. Instead of being thankful I was angry and depressed; resentment overshadowed feelings of praise.
I checked my attitude when I read a Facebook post from one of my neighbors. Amanda was expressing praise in spite of the fact that someone stole an Amazon package from her front porch. Her security camera captured the whole episode. Minutes after the delivery guy dropped off her son’s Christmas present a familiar face showed up and made off with the package—a real live Grinch, caught in the act of stealing Christmas on her Ring Camera.
Instead of holding resentments, pressing charges, or getting even, Amanda fixed a Thanksgiving dinner, boxed it up and went looking for the person who stole her son’s Christmas present. Under the viaduct, a few blocks from Amanda’s house, she served her homeless neighbor a homemade dinner and offered him her forgiveness. She empathized with his desperation and thanked God for the way Jesus had made a difference in her life.
Here’s what I learned from Amanda’s story and the smashed window on my truck. Sometimes life sucks. When circumstances beyond our control try to steal our joy we still have a choice on how we respond. We can become consumed with bitterness and resentment. We can try to deny the grief and pretend to be happy campers, offering cheap words of praise from a sulking heart. Or, we can offer a Thanksgiving Lament. Here’s what I mean:
Third, if someone has offended you, pray for the willingness to forgive. Sometimes, we’re just not ready or able to forgive someone who hurt us or harmed people we love. Praying for a willing heart and asking for God’s help may be the first step to offering real forgiveness and finding freedom for your own soul.
When we practice an authentic lament, by processing these five steps, it creates a pathway in our heart to reaffirm the hope we have in Christ; it frees us to offer genuine words of praise and thanksgiving . . . praise that is honest and real.
If you faked your way through Thanksgiving and feel bummed by the whole holiday scene, it might be helpful to practice a Thanksgiving Lament.
Every year around this time, when the gold and red and brown leaves begin to sing, I hear an invitation: Come with me by yourself, to a quiet place and get some rest. These are the words Jesus spoke to his disciples after they spent a long season of serving food to hungry people, teaching them about the kingdom of heaven, meeting their needs, and healing their broken lives.
When I pause and savor the beauty of autumn, I usually begin humming the song Appalachian Melody, written by the late Mark Herd.
If you ran through the summer, on a mad dash of work and service; spending your energy meeting the needs of others, trying to make things that are wrong in the world go right, organizing people, striving for justice, chasing after a grand vision God planted in your heart, it may be time to pause and rest. Let the music of the autumn leaves invite you into a quite place. The beauty of creation will sing a song of restoration. Listen to the music with your eyes and let God’s rhythm of grace restore your soul.
What is better, old or new?
When it comes to wine people say old is better. For me, a bottle of two–dollar wine from Trader Joe’s is good enough. But it wasn’t for Jesus. When he changed water to wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee the “wedding planner” said the wine Jesus made was far better than the wine the groom served.
Later in the story, Jesus makes the case that you can’t have “good old wine” without first putting new wine into new wine skins. If you use worn out wine skins the stitches tear and you lose the wine. If our goal is to enjoy something that gets better with age we must favor the new in order to get the old. Which Jesus says is worth the effort: No one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, the old is better.
It’s the same way with friendship; you can’t have “good old friends” if you don’t make “new friends” from time to time.
How about memories? You will never have fond memories of the past if you’re not willing to make new memories in the present.
Spiritual maturity is no different. If we want a vibrant spiritual life that flavors our community with righteousness, joy, and peace, we must leave behind old patterns of discipleship that hinder spiritual growth. When we discern false narratives that are used to justify self-serving idolatry and consumer-based religion we must expose and dismantle the old paradigm and create new models of beloved community.
In my book, Think Red, I look at the values of Jesus and compare his ways with the prominent values of the evangelical church. When I compare the two it becomes obvious that we need to rethink the way we do church in the twenty-first century. If we want to grow vibrant spiritual leaders who love justice, seek mercy and walk humbly with God we must re-evaluate how we do church, why we do it, and what narratives drive our efforts.
Or to say it metaphorically: If we want good old wine like Jesus made we need some new wine skins!
Larry Stoess is an author, public speaker, and urban church planter. He loves telling stories about how dreaming with God will empower people to make old and broken things new again. Larry and a band of friends founded the Church of the Promise in Louisville's Portland neighborhood; The Table, a pay-what-you-can community café; and Promise Housing Plus, a non-profit construction company. He has written about their experience of dreaming with God in his new book: Think Red.