Trials of Thanksgiving 2016

o-thanksgiving-dinner-argument-generator-facebook-1024x512The day after the election, one of my friends sarcastically updated his Facebook status to read “Great! Now everyone’s Thanksgiving is ruined!” His words would probably have rung true no matter who won. The last I checked, there were about 200+ “likes” on his status thus lending peer credibility to his declaration.

He was voicing the words of a divided nation with divided families and his exclamation was probably cathartic to a great number of us who will gather with family in a few days and dance alongside an implicit directive, “Don’t talk about politics or the election results!”
And while I am sure that this proverb is pragmatic, what I hope we can learn about Thanksgiving is this. The act of thanksgiving (not just the holiday) is an important step on the healing journey. Like many of us, I’ve read Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. But some time later, I came across Joseph Nassal who wrote a book entitled Premeditated Mercy. He pointed out that true healing from grief can only be achieved through giving thanks for the enmity we faced.*

*A quick note. His advice is heroically challenging and definitely fruitful, but does not apply in the same way to situations of abuse or traumatic harm. If you, or someone you know is a victim of such behavior, please seek professional help. If necessary, call the rectory so our pastoral team can help make a referral.

But in our everyday harms, annoyances, irritations, frustration, and anger, something is going on that we tend to overlook. God allows for us to experience transgressions, even at family reunions.

Your everyday atheist or agnostic would infer that this is just proof that God doesn’t exist or worse, does exist and doesn’t care, but a Christian attuned to the healing journey would identify that any triggering event is actually God’s invitation to holistic wellness. Instead of asking “Why would God allow me to suffer?” we should ask “Why is this angering me?” and follow up with “Why does that anger me?”

If you ask the later questions, then new discoveries are made. Let’s take one of many examples that could be used. If someone cuts me off in traffic, I might be tempted to honk my horn and yell obscenities. But if instead I stop and ask “Why is this angering me?” Well… because I’m late for an appointment. “Why am I late for appointment?” Well… because I’m doing too much and couldn’t get everything done in time. “Why am I doing too much?” Well… because money, stature, career, ambition, etc. have replaced my freedom of being a child of God, a God who has made me to live in joy and beauty. Hey wait. I’m not living in joy and beauty! Now then. That is a state of being that God can heal. That is a situation in which God can work. That is something God can change, even if the mechanism for initiating the change was unpleasant. The anger was never about the fool who cut me off, it was about the fool enshrined in me.

Which is why the author of Premeditated Mercy recommends gratitude as medicine for the harms, irritations, triggers, and annoyances of life. Through thanksgiving, our disagreements and derailments become opportunities for personal transformation and healing.
It almost seems paradoxical. So much of our faith does. But experience shows us there really is no other way. When gathered around the Thanksgiving table this week, let it be a place of healing. If politics doesn’t set you off, there will probably be something else that does. Be grateful for that, and ask God to show you how that trigger is an invitation to go deeper into yourself and let God heal wounds still left unhealed.

And when we gather at the Thanksgiving table of the Lord every Sunday at Mass, we have an incredible opportunity to show gratitude, not just for the things we appreciate, but also for the things that bother us. For if we can offer gratitude at church, even for our disappointments, then Christ’s church can be the starting point for healing the world, a world which is desperately in need of hope and healing.

-David Heimann, Pastoral Associate

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