Thanksgiving: The name says it all. It is the traditional time to give thanks to God, to count one’s blessings and be grateful for our spiritual bounty.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 107:1
For some, this is easy.
Carrie Mummert, associate director of stewardship in the Diocese of Charleston, said she loves Thanksgiving because her family doesn’t travel anywhere, there’s no decorating, and she doesn’t stress about cooking.
“If the mashed potatoes are a little lumpy, the gravy is runny and the turkey is dry, it is all OK. I remind myself and my family about all the less fortunate people who don’t have food, clothing and shelter,” she said. “Today and every day, we should take time to think of all the blessings we have received from God.”
Others say Thanksgiving, while more low-key than Christmas, is not without its stressors, such as travel, cooking, and family, which is ironic because family is also the source of greatest happiness.
Diocesan employees have offered some sage advice on how to maintain a thankful heart and keep the focus on what really matters.
Not getting to see your family or missing loved ones who have died can cause loneliness and depression. On the flip side, the very thought of having the entire clan together can lead some to thoughts of hiding in a closet until it’s all over.
Let’s face it, not all family members get along. Pray for peace and tranquility, and put those potential
antagonists at opposite ends of the table.
Sister Sandra Makowski, chancellor, said the grief that comes from missing loved ones is especially stressful at the holidays because everyone is expected to be happy.
“As much as you try to put on a merry face when meeting your friends or relatives for the holiday dinner, your mind is consumed with those who have gone before you. You miss them — you miss their laughter, their little quirks, their presence in the room, their jokes,” she said.
One way to cope is to understand that you will feel lonesome and sad, and accept it as part of the emotions of the holiday.
Counselors also suggest acknowledging the empty chair by putting up a photo, lighting a candle, or saying a prayer.
Kathy Schmugge, assistant director of the family life office, said she was feeling lost one year when she couldn’t be with her parents and siblings for Thanksgiving. Instead, she created a different dynamic by inviting other family members to her. She even asked a relative stranger to join them.
“Without knowing it, I was moving from self pity to the desire to make this day special for someone else,” she said.
Some people love to cook and entertain a crowd, others, not so much.
Counselors have one word of advice for the latter group: delegate.
Sit down beforehand and divide responsibilities for getting ready and then cleaning up. Assign dishes and drinks to each guest. Start a new tradition, like an outdoor picnic in the style of the Pilgrims and Native Americans, or make reservations at one of the restaurants specializing in Thanksgiving meals.
Sometimes there isn’t much one can do about the cost of traveling, or squabbling relatives, and the only solution is to find peace in God.
Matt Dwyer, director of stewardship and mission advancement, suggested taking 15 minutes to pray each day, especially the Jesuit examination of conscious.
“Try to see God in everything that comes up in your day, good and bad,” he said. “I see God in the help and assistance He gives me to survive and endure the bad things that happen. So when we suffer, we have a prime example of suffering in Jesus Christ. To me, that brings some consolation to know that He suffered for us, and it’s only natural for us to experience some suffering here in our lives.”
Dwyer said it’s important to focus on the things we tend to take for granted, such as family and friends, and the basics of food, water and shelter.
The mayo clinic agrees that laughter does the body good. When you laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body that reduce stress.
So keep a sense of humor.
Several employees recommended holiday movies. Check out the USCCB’s movie reviews for a good family fit at www.usccb.org.
And remember G.K. Chesterton’s advice: Saying grace before a meal is good, but saying grace before all we do cultivates a thankful heart.