Thanksgiving is a mixed plate for me. I long for a home with a full table of loved ones where everyone realizes what matters most in life.
But reality is not a Hallmark movie. Sorrow sits at our thanksgiving tables too. Broken relationships. Job losses. Grieving loved ones. We sit beside one another with both a longing to be joyful and an aching to be mended.
Wasn’t it the same way for the first Thanksgiving folks?
As the legend goes, those faithful pilgrims, left Europe because of religious persecution, fared salty winds and boat-laden sickness, persevered across the Atlantic Ocean, and their ship hit land in Cape Cod.
That was just the beginning.
The first winter many died because of the cold and lack of supplies and shelter, and sickness—so the stories go. We don’t tell the sordid tale to our kindergartners. No, we tell how happy they were to land in America and meet their new friends the Native Americans who helped them unpack their bags. They were so happy—they had a feast.
But, in reality, the feasting came after the suffering. And around that first Thanksgiving table, with abundance after their first harvest—family members were missing. I imagine some feasted in gratitude while still longing for their home in Europe, where the streets were filled with the wafting stew from the local boarding house. I imagine others might have feared how to make a way in this new world.
But they still gave thanks.
And this is the secret sauce to Thanksgiving thankfulness. Surveying the reality of life—the brokenness. The husband that left. The child that died. The bills unmet. The job not offered. And seeing what is around us anyway. The food before us. The roof above us—whatever kind that is. And giving thanks.
Just as in our present life, the feasting comes after the suffering in the Kingdom of God—when we will all be gathered together for a grand gala. No more pain. No more suffering. No more wondering what next year will bring.
Maybe our mini feasts on earth that are mixed with sorrow and ache, can somehow point us to the greater feast that awaits us—for those who are in Christ by faith.
Maybe, in fact, our Thanksgiving feasts can prepare our hearts for our Advent waiting.
Thanksgiving, after all, opens the door to our Advent season this year, where we remember the past waiting for the first coming of our Messiah and we look forward with longing for his return—his return when we will celebrate the great feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.
This view of gratitude. Hope. Thanksgiving—offers us possibility for deep joy in the midst of the suffering in and around us.
Like Paul from Philippians 4, this hope helps me rejoice in all circumstances. Our future hope in the Kingdom awaits us, so in Christ we can persevere our own Atlantic Ocean voyages and winter months of loss—and still sit to banquet with thankfulness.
And in this, we rejoice.
I’m not sure what your Thanksgiving plate will look like this year. Whether it will be a paper plate from Walmart in an apartment with a few friends. Or a fine china plate at a fancy estate feast. Or maybe, across the table from that aunt who never stops asking you when you will finally go back to work—or finish that degree—or leave that job.
But wherever your ship lands on Thanksgiving—even if you sit solo at a local diner. May your plate be filled with the reality that sorrow and joy can co-mingle. They always will until Christ returns and makes all things new. We can look forward to the perfect feast that awaits.
About The Author
Seana Scott writes and speaks to equip women to know the Bible, walk closely with God, and live with purpose. She is working toward a degree from Dallas Theological Seminary while raising three kids with her husband in Pittsburgh. You can find her writing at SeanaScott.org and elsewhere.