Thanksgiving Celebration and Lament

Nearly thirty years ago, I married into a family that celebrated Thanksgiving Day with All-American fervor, featuring a day-long gathering and a loaded table. As the new bride, I was eager to prove that I had what it took to be the holiday hostess. Having done my research, I had planned all the best sides, multiple-choice pie selections, and a huge bird to fill the oven — but I had not planned for my mother-in-law’s life-threatening illness.

We rejoiced when she was released from the hospital on the Wednesday before the Big Day and decided to take the party to her place. As we rose early to prepare the feast, she was delighted to be present for all the kitchen activity, savoring the aroma of fresh rolls and roasted turkey from her recliner. We set the table with her best china, rolled out the amazing feast, and gathered for the celebration.

It sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

But read on . . .

CaptureI’m sharing the whole story over at (in)courage today, and the truth is, I have spent the years since that first fiasco of a feast slowly learning that whenever we gather on this planet, it is for an imperfect celebration in which our only hope for joy is to look squarely at the empty seat, at the strained relationships, at the flawed execution of all our Pinterest-worthy plans.

And then to give thanks.

I’m giving thanks for you today! May your season of Thanksgiving be filled with joy and an abiding gratitude for all that God has given — and for the Giver Himself as He presides over your celebration.

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20 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Celebration and Lament”

  1. Your post touched me deeply, Michele, especially this line – “Thanksgiving Day serves as an annual reminder that we live with one foot in celebration and the other in lament. Our only prayer for peace is to own the sadness; to recognize the power that grinding sorrow has over our hearts — and then to throw the door wide open to the feast.” So true. I think the more we own the sadness instead of burying it down deep, the wider open we can open that door to the feast without feeling guilty. Thank you! Thanksgiving blessings and hugs!


    1. Great thought, Trudy. I do think we gain nothing by stuffing our feelings and pretending all is well. By the same token, we lose so much when we close up our hearts to joy, even in the midst of loss.
      Blessings to you as you celebrate this year. We have so much to be thankful for.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Awww, Michele. This post. Wow. You’re so right. Very few celebrations will go the way we planned. But God. I loved what you said about us being able to celebrate but also become comfortable with lament. As my MIL moves closer toward her finals days on earth, I need to remember to fully enter in to celebrating, even while being open to lamenting. I have never thought about this in the way you shared.

    Beautifully written, friend.


    1. Thank you, Jeanne. This openness to celebration in the midst of lament has been crucial for me this year with the death of my mum and so many “firsts” without her — and so many momentous and joyous occasions in my family going forward. God is gracious, and joy is His gift.


  3. Dear Michele,
    It was so good to read your words over I-ncourage today! As one who has begun developing the Biblical form of Lament in my own life, I can validate the need to be open with our feelings before the Lord! As you said, that is most often when the whole of our heart can truly be moved to find the Lord’s Praises there in the midst of our days also. May you have a Blessed Thanksgiving!


    1. Yes, and by sharing our hearts with Him, I really believe we become less dependent upon the “sympathy” of our family and friends. He is able to meet our heart’s need in a way no one else can.
      Blessings to you, Bettie, as you celebrate tomorrow.


  4. Oh, Michele, these words are so wise, and true and beautiful. Sometimes we try to ignore the loss, or pretend it’s not there, but that’s just a farce and really doesn’t work. Your advice to look squarely at our loss and then to give thanks resonates with me on a deep level. It really is our only hope for joy. By looking at my losses and the scars they leave behind, I’m reminded of my need of and acceptance by a loving Saviour. And that fills me with hope, and yes even joy, in the midst of my imperfect celebration. Blessings to you, my friend!


  5. “whenever we gather on this planet, it is for an imperfect celebration”…I wish it weren’t true, but I am also glad it is. If it were perfect, it would be heaven.

    Also, in short order, here is what some of our Thanksgivings have brought: bedrest for me during IVF treatments, appendicitis for my sister-in-law, food poisoning for everybody, and this year, a stomach bug for my and Jody starting Friday and continuing on…


  6. Your full post reminded me of the Civil War era poem that was set to music – “The Vacant Chair.” The chorus: “We shall meet, but we shall miss him. There will be one vacant chair. We shall linger to caress him while we breathe our ev’ning prayer.” Every Thanksgiving and Christmas for the last 10 years has been spent with the reminder that my husband’s youngest son is no longer with us. That is the lament. However, we’ve also spent those holidays knowing that Allen is with our Lord in heaven. That’s the celebration! Our hearts ache with “what might have been,” but rejoice at what is.


    1. Julie, you have captured the essence of the longing and the feasting with your words. Thank you for taking time to share your story here, and for allowing the comfort and joy of Christ to shape the way you view holiday celebration in the shadow of loss.


  7. OH to prepare a mountain of food with no one really eating! Yep, I’ve been there!

    I haven’t yet had a Thanksgiving that has felt like this but so often Christmas does to me. I often try to ignore the sadness I feel and pretend like everything is fine but somehow that takes away from those true moments of joy that are to be found. It’s hard to pretend and actually feel at the same time. These past few years I gave up hosting entirely and just allowed myself to feel however I needed to feel and have found the holidays are really quite enjoyable when I let go of the need to make it perfect and just enjoy it for the moment in time that is. Thanks for sharing with us at Love to Learn. Pinned.


    1. Oh, yes . . . when we pretend that we are in control of the universe and then things cave in anyway, it’s pretty rough. Thanks for this testimonial to the importance of stepping out of the middle of the celebration and allowing Christ to be the center.


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