Thanksgiving can be the best of times or the worst of times. As was said on the iconic '90s sitcom, Friends, “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a little emotional scarring.” Hopefully that won’t be your experience, but when you throw family together with issues simmering under the surface, add a little pressure around what is expected to be a fabulous meal, and things can get a little stressful.
So what can we do to increase the odds that the day will be a good one? In Colossians 3:12-17, St. Paul gives us 4 steps that can start us off on the right track.
1. Wear the right outfit.
No, I’m not talking about making sure we’re wearing yoga pants so that we can eat whatever we want. I’m talking about the attitudes we need to take off and the ones we need to put on in order to welcome the people that God has placed in our lives on this particular day. In the words of St. Paul, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:12-14).
Instead of just stuffing our emotions and doing our best to fake fine, let’s take a moment this week to get alone with God and journal about any hurts we are carrying to the Thanksgiving table. Perhaps there will come a time when we’d benefit from a face-to-face conversation with the person who hurt us, but we don’t need to wait until that opportunity to get rid of an unforgiving, bitter attitude.
Begin this time with the Lord by remembering who you are. Choose to define yourself as God’s beloved daughter. Look at your good qualities. Look at all the gifts you’ve been given. Allow your heart to be filled, not with self-pity but with gratitude. What will result? Freedom. This will clear a path for God’s love to transform and heal you. Because of His healing touch, you’ll be free to offer forgiveness to others.
It is only as our hearts are filled with gratitude that we’re able to forgive. This truth is addressed in the book From Anger to Intimacy: How Forgiveness can Transform Your Marriage:
No matter what has happened, you are invited to forgive just as God has wholly and fully forgiven you. Where do you find that kind of forgiveness? Through the person of Jesus Christ. Matthew 10:8 says, “Freely you have received, freely give”...If you are not a forgiving person, if you have unresolved anger, bitterness or resentment in your heart, and you do nothing to get rid of it, then you have not yet experienced or realized the forgiveness you have received.¹
Do we truly appreciate the forgiveness that Christ purchased for us? Or have we become callous to its reality? Do we take God’s forgiveness for granted?
2. Facilitate life-giving conversation
Paul goes on to encourage us to “let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). One way to avoid tension filled conversation is taking control of what’s being discussed. Our daughter Charlotte’s favorite thing is to put conversation cards by each person’s plate and then discuss them over dinner. You could make up your own questions or use some of these suggestions to direct conversation toward a deeper and more positive sharing of hearts, hopefully avoiding topics that lead to sharp and unkind words:
“Describe your perfect weekend.”
“If you were going to give me a tour of the town you grew up in, where would you take me first?”
“What is bringing you joy right now?”
“What’s saving your life right now?”
“What’s on your bucket list?”
3. Get your heart in the right place.
There is nothing that changes my attitude like music. This is why I really pay attention to what I listen to. I almost always listen to praise and worship music—not because I am so holy, but because without it, I am so weak and prone to complaining. I encourage you to pay attention to which lyrics are filling your mind and how they are altering your mood. If you want to follow St. Paul’s advice, then you’ll “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
To help you get your heart in the right place, check out our Thanksgiving Spotify playlist.
4. Focus on the audience of One.
It doesn’t take much for us to feel sorry for ourselves because of how much work is expected of us over the holidays. Listening to good music can do a lot to keep our hearts in the right places, but we might need a little mind reset, too. St. Paul challenges us to keep our eyes on the One we are serving. Sure, some of the people at your table might not be expressing the gratitude to you that they should, and they may not be helping you in the way that you wish they would. If this is your situation, instead of turning inward and growing bitter, imagine Jesus sitting at your table. Prepare the meal for Him. “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).
Praying for you this Thanksgiving, and thanking God for you!
 Dr. Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham, From Anger to Intimacy: How Forgiveness can Transform Your Marriage (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 137-138.
This post originally appeared on our blog on November 26, 2019.