When we gather for our imperfect celebrations, our only hope for joy is to look at our loss and then to give thanks.

Gratitude: Look at the Loss and then Give Thanks

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.

Since no one had expected Ma to be well enough to come home for Thanksgiving, most of the family had made other plans for the day, so there we were: my husband and I in our cute matching sweaters, my very ill mother-in-law, my father-in-law in advanced stages of dementia, my brother-in-law who announced that he would be fasting for the day . . . and a mountain of food.

Ma made a valiant effort, but could swallow only a few bites. My patient husband and I filled our plates, labored hard in conversation, and spent the afternoon packaging up left-overs and cleaning up the aftermath.

The haze of disappointment hung heavy in the air.

God graciously gave us another ten years with Ma, and a good many celebrations as well. However, 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.

When we gather for our imperfect celebrations, our only hope for joy is to look at our loss and then to give thanks.

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. By acknowledging and even embracing lament — an art we have lost here in North America — our celebration can be restored. Our feasting can be deeply sincere, even in a context of deep suffering or deep disappointment.

In the Old Testament, Nehemiah pronounced words of blessing over a feast during a time when the people of Israel were citizens in captivity, living as an oppressed people. Forking over up to 50% of their earnings in taxes to the Persian Empire, they were only just beginning to recover from the exile’s comprehensive shattering of their self-perception as God’s people. They were still in the process of learning their way back into fellowship with God. Governor Nehemiah’s gracious pronouncement to kick-off their feasting was desperately needed:

Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

And so it is today. By acknowledging and even embracing lament, our celebration can be restored. Until Jesus comes, it will be this longing and this feasting that keeps my heart’s sonar trolling for kingdom shalom. I will lament the loss and allow my heart to feel the disappointment of longings unfulfilled, to sing the wistful tune of the broken hallelujah.

But when I grasp warm hands and gaze at the faces around my table, by faith I will celebrate the given, see the beauty, hear the laughter. I will give thanks for the forgiveness that lubricates our relational gears; for the gifts of transformation and wholeness that mend the broken; and for the cords of grace that hold our hearts in joy.

By faith I will celebrate the given, see the beauty, hear the laughter.

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.

Michele Morin

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On the Third Thursday of every month, (Next week!) I send biblical encouragement and newsy insights to newsletter subscribers. Click here to subscribe and be sure to spread the word. This month, I’m offering newsletter subscribers access to a free PDF of my Thanksgiving devotionals: Make Gratitude the Music of Your Life, my gift to you as you prepare your hearts for a truly thankful Thanksgiving Day.

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Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

This post first appeared at (in)courage.

84 thoughts on “Gratitude: Look at the Loss and then Give Thanks”

    1. We do, even on the most perfect holiday setting, have loss to contend with–the things we wish could be as well as the things we would rather not look at. It’s a challenging season, made more so this year by pandemic issues. So grateful for your thoughts here, Bev. Blessings to you!

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  1. This will be a very different Thanksgiving for so many of us this year, but as you’ve said here, Michele, we need to give thanks even in the brokenness, pain and loss. These words were truly inspirational.
    Blessings!

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    1. Yes, and I think the who celebration is still a moving target for most of us as we await the unfolding of state mandates and family health patterns. I’m grateful whenever my words land with inspiration on hearts, Martha, and you are a steady source of encouragement to me!

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  2. Oh my! No “wistful tune of broken hallelujah” here after reading this marvelously encouraging and edifying post. Rather a hearty shout of “Glory!.” I will read this word a few times to allow all the warmth and grace to soak into my spirit as I face the bit of holiday relational trepidation approaching! Earnestly praying to uncover that can of gear oil labeled “Forgiveness .” (LOVE that!)
    God bless you, Michelle. And God bless your ministry. We readers are thankful for you. Happy Thanks-Living!!

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    1. Lori, you never fail to encourage me whenever I hear from you! Thanks for reading and for taking to heart the words God has sent. It’s true that holidays always come with a side order of relational complications. Trusting along with you for the contents of that grace can!

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  3. Yes, and Yes. “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.” We live in both lament and gratitude. There is room for both.

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  4. Your description of a less-than-perfect Thanksgiving brought back memories of my own Thanksgiving fiascos. Thank goodness there was no social media pressure to deal with then. This will be a smaller, quieter holiday for our family for sure, but the thanks we give will be just as sincere and joyful. I like your idea of allowing ourselves to lament. We need that freedom.

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    1. The longer we live (and the longer we’re married and dealing with inlaws!) the more great stories we collect! I love your resolve to give sincere and joyful thanks in spite of challenging circumstances. Thank you for your good thoughts here.

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  5. I love that “we live with one foot in celebration and one in lament.” as I’m sure many of us have had our own version of that Thanksgiving dinner! And to lift our expectations off a perceived perfection and focus on the joy of the Lord – thank you for a beautiful reminder as I start to plan for Christmas!

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    1. I’m beginning to plan for Christmas a bit earlier than usual this year because distance has become an issue for us. This is my opportunity to give thanks, right? When geography cuts across my preferences, I must choose to look at the given and be grateful for all of it!

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  6. Thank you, Michelle, I appreciate this. Sometimes we need to embrace the lament before giving thanks. I tend to put up a front and be a cheerleader, but that is not the best way in every case. God gives us the language of lament, and even in the lament Psalms the psalmist closes by giving thanks. Great perspective!

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  7. “Broken hallelujahs”–I like the juxtaposition of that phrase. At any given time, each of us experiences brokenness, heartache, difficulty, and pain. We ARE broken people living in a broken world. But! There are still reasons to sing hallelujah, although we may have to look diligently to find them. With you I want to celebrate the given, see the beauty, hear the laughter–all by faith. Thank you, Michele. Another beautiful, thought-provoking post!

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  8. On one of our imperfect Thanksgivings, our car broke down on our way out of town to be with friends, we ate lunch at a Burger King because we were late due to the car, and my youngest got sick on the mountain roads of TN and threw up in the back seat of the rental car. We arrived at our friends’ house just in time for leftovers. But in some ways that one was more memorable because of all the fiascos, which have made their way into family lore. The first time our oldest decided not to come down for Thanksgiving was hard. And this year will have its challenges. I have to remind myself it’s not about having a picture-perfect holiday, but intentionally thanking God in every circumstance.

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  9. This is a beautiful post! I think lament and celebration are often more intertwined more closely than we think. There are so many things we’ve missed out on and lamented in 2020 but it also seems like we celebrate the little things more and appreciate things we may have taken for granted in the past.

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  10. Ahhh, Michele. This post spoke to me. I’ve had times where I tried to be the perfect hostess, only to have it disintegrate into disappointment. Thank you for the reminders you’ve shared and especially the reminder that lament is a good thing, a needed thing.

    This quote is the one I’m taking with me today: “By acknowledging and even embracing lament, our celebration can be restored.”

    Thank you.

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  11. Just lovely! Thank you for sharing this much needed perspective for the upcoming holidays. And a book giveaway, too! I think that I’d read Always There first. I’m glad to have found and followed you on FaceBook this year. Happy Thanksgiving!

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  12. Beautifully put, Michele. Honestly, I’m no really thinking about Thanksgiving yet. But now you have me strolling down memory lane, thinking of holiday meals I’ve hosted with loved ones who are no longer with us … bittersweet memories, for sure. But, at least for today, it’s the sweetness that stand out to me more. And I’m grateful for that.

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    1. It’s a gift when God allows our memories to mellow and we begin to look back on past holidays through a lens of grace.
      I’m grateful for the ways our stories have overlapped , Lois, because I think we add layers of understanding to one another as we share the process of acceptance and growing peace.

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    1. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s never perfect, but then again, neither am I, and I’ve stopped going for Pinterest Perfection. I’m just grateful that our kids still love us and are willing to gather with us whenever they can!

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  13. After losing my father so unexpectedly – I never take get togethers or moments with family for granted. Always a gratitude to spend a day with them – Thanksgiving or not. What a beautifully written post – as always

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Michelle, Always apropos!! Thank you much for your insight. The Bible mentions professional wailers, yet I know that is probably not the lament you refer to. I have not yet suffered a loss so lack the understanding you have. Having gone through the anguish of having an endangered family member facing a critical problem is the closest I can get to know what you refer to. Lord help us to feel the joy in spite of the pain in Jesus’ name!

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  15. 3 years ago, my aunt had passed away two weeks before Thanksgiving, and my mother was admitted to the hospital in Thanksgiving Eve. I spent Thanksgiving Day in my mother’s hospital room while my husband and daughters went to the Thanksgiving celebration at his niece’s house. I am an only child, and my mother was in the throes of dementia. Worst Thanksgiving ever. I spent the day pondering all the good memories over the years and trying to be thankful we had at least those. But yeah, I had a huge pity party. I couldn’t eat. At all. It didn’t seem fair.

    Holidays have shifted so much. I have now become resigned to the fact that nothing will ever be the same again. And this year COVID is not helping at all.

    It is a somber reminder that no matter what we plan, God is in charge and our little human celebrations really don’t amount to a hill of beans. He has a better plan, but it may be a while before we see it. Just thanking him that we had a lot of great memories and that heaven is going to be far more than we can ever imagine.

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    1. Shauna, I hear the pain behind your strong words here. We look at the empty chairs and the plans that go awry and our right response is gratitude. I also know that God does not abandon us in our sadness, and just as he cried at the grave of Lazarus, he accompanies us in our pain. Thank you for giving the gift of your very personal story here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Michele. I suppose I do sound extremely sarcastic and ungrateful in my comment. I truly am thankful for the good memories.

        We all have stories to share. Thank you for listening to part of mine. (I currently work as a nurse in a call transfer center—meaning my team works with physicians and staff to direct patient flow into our 3 hospitals, including behavioral health patients. Never would I have dreamed we would have such challenges as we are experiencing right now!)

        Liked by 1 person

  16. I love this post Michele. While we don’t have the tradition of Thanksgiving here in Australia, we do have family celebrations & I haven’t had one perfectly planned celebration go to plan yet!
    It’s about accepting the imperfections & being grateful for His perfect presence in the imperfection of relationships on planet Earth. Don’t you think?
    Blessings,
    Jennifer

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  17. One foot in celebration and one foot in lament – that is the very best description I have ever read. And, it will be how Thanksgiving will be approached, in my house, this year. Simply the nature of life. Thank you for linking up. I always enjoy your posts.

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  18. Yes, there will be many Pinterest-planned ideas that will go awry this Thanksgiving not to mention all the other disappointments and losses to navigate, Michele. But, like you, I’m choosing to focus on the faces around my table and the One who makes it all possible! Thanks for this inspiring perspective!

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  19. I love this post! And yes, I’ve had those moments of lament when my expectations were greater than reality. It’s so disappointing when things don’t turn out the way we hope. If we choose to focus on the blessings, then we can find the beauty in the circumstances.

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  20. In many ways I’m grateful there have been no family traditions that my husband, kids and I have been part of over the years, as we lived away for most of it. We did our own thing at different times, it’s not family gatherings I notice my father isn’t at, it’s when I go to the football match or i travel abroad and there is an empty space on my phone where I can no longer ring him and describe where I am to ask if it’s changed and to describe what’s going on when he was too ill to travel anymore. Thanks for linking with #pocolo and hope to see you back later this week

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  21. ********************************************************
    Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn
    ********************************************************

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  22. This is such a beautiful look at how we can handle Thanksgiving and any accompanying disappointments and still feel gratitude. It’s similar to that “But at least…” idea. Thank you for sharing this timely insight! Have a blessed day Michele!

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  23. This is beautiful post. One foot in celebration and one in lament. covid has brought loss in every family, yet life goes on and being thankful for what we have is the right thing to do.

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  24. Thanks for sharing your story with us. I, too, have learned that plans are made by man but God is always our peace.

    I’m so happy to see your link at ‘My Corner of the World’ this week!

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  25. Michele, these words were just what I needed. Instead of last year’s gathering with all my sons, my daughter-in-law, and dear friends from Michigan with whom we’ve celebrated 15 Thanksgivings, this year’s gathering will just be four of us. I’ve been thinking about lament a lot lately; we need to recapture that practice!

    Thanks so much for joining the Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace. I’m featuring you this week!

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  26. Beautiful post, my friend! I am a firm believer that sometimes it just takes a tiny shift in perspective to return to a place of gratitude and thankfulness. I was just complaining to my husband last night how I am really getting more and more depressed being locked in my house all the time. And then I quickly shifted to….but at least I have a house that is warm and safe and comfortable and filled with love and security. And there really is no other place I would rather be. Thanks for always inspiring with your messages!

    Shelbee
    http://www.shelbeeontheedge.com

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  27. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the uK but the same can be applied to Christmas. The joy of the season should not be extinguished by a terrible year and lockdown restrictions. We have so much to be grateful for and should enjoy however we can. Thanks for linking up with #dreamteamlinky

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  28. Michele,
    Thanks so much for sharing at Farm Fresh Tuesdays Blog Hop. What a wonderful post. I think we all needed this right now. I am featuring your post at this week’s hop. I hope you will stop by to visit.
    Melissa | Little Frugal Homestead

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