My little Halloween pumpkin is rotting on my front step. Here in Tennessee, our unseasonably warm fall has not treated our carved decorations well. I know it is time to move on, to grab the pumpkin by the stem and toss it, but seeing that little guy hearkens me back to a happier time.
Remember a few weeks ago when it was Halloween? We were all focused on Harvest parties and costumes and how to avoid eating too much of our children’s candy.
Then the election happened. Now confessional Christmas tree postings are blowing up my Facebook and Instagram feeds. It seems earlier than usual, and it’s not really all that surprising. This year, maybe more than ever, I can understand wanting to jump into a season of joy.
We are ready to move on to the sparkle and the twinkle, to the familiar songs and family traditions. We want to step out into the crisp air and see the lights glowing from each wreath on the door and tree in the window.
We want that. But what about Thanksgiving?
My heart is tugging at me right now. It’s telling me to be careful not to jump over a season of gratitude straight into to a season of joy. I’m being asked not to forfeit thanksgiving for a season of getting and giving.
There’s nothing wrong in wanting the twinkle and the familiar. Many of us have rich traditions that combat the commercial giving season. We are generous with time and money. We gather with and love on dear friends and family. We focus on celebrating the miracle of a baby who came to save us.
But I keep seeing this image of myself approaching that dusty manger with my arms full of pretty packages, and every date on my calendar is full, and really, I’m too busy and too distracted to receive. Even though I’m focused on giving and not getting, I just miss it. I miss the wonder of it all because back there on Thanksgiving, I didn’t stop. I mowed Thanksgiving over with my shiny joy because frankly, I needed it more.
There’s a beauty to Thanksgiving that I could easily miss. Its colors are more muted, earthier, than the colors of the season of giving. With my modern sensibilities I’m disconnected from the idea of harvest, but I find I don’t want to be.
When I really look beyond the history and the significance of those pilgrim days, there’s a strong theme of peace and of coming together. I’m struck how the gathering around the table isn’t just part of the ritual, it is the ritual.
Because the meal isn’t a means to getting to the pretty presents like in the giving season, perhaps Thanksgiving is an opportunity for true gratitude. Maybe it’s a signal of stopping and taking in the year so far and finding all the moments and pieces that are calling for gratitude.
I come to the table, and I realize I have to sit down and rest to be truly present there. I realize I have to open my hands to eat. To eat, not just for nourishment, but to eat in a manner that allows for time to savor the goodness before me. This means letting go of my phone, and the TV, and my other many distractions and taking it all in.
I come to the table, and I realize I have to be quiet and soften my heart to have a meal that I won’t forget. If I listen well and love well, I can relate better to the people sitting next to and across from me. I can do this even if I am with my family and best friends. I can do this even if there have been many other days so far this year that I’d rather forget.
When I study the elements of prayer, I see how being thankful is essential to prayer. Being thankful comes before petitions or asking for what I want and hope for. I notice that the very word Thanksgiving offers insight into the posture I can take into this season.
“Thanks” before “giving.” There’s a tiny space between those words, but it is an important space. Gratefulness before getting. Gratitude before joy. This space is the split second before Christmas arrives.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 18 (NIV)
I’m invited to live in that tiny space. I’m encouraged to go beyond the thoughts and feelings of today to experience deeply grateful living. No jumping over what I need the most right now. I pray to keep my feet on the ground.
Thanksgiving is my path to the season of joy and all that comes with it.
Kim Messer is the Executive Communications Director for Challenge Preparatory Charter School in Far Rockaway, NY and co-owner of Vincent Creative Group, a creative services company. Kim has spent her 20-year career helping artists, companies and organizations communicate through overseeing and managing projects in a variety of mediums. As a professional consultant, she spends time editing books, creating content for websites and social media channels, doctoring and developing scripts for audio, stage and video recordings and planning and executing events. In her free time, she runs, cooks and eats. Kim lives in Franklin, TN with her artistic daughter, handsome husband, and their awesome pets. You can find her at www.facebook.com/kimwrites or @kiminnashvegas on Twitter and Instagram.