Thanksgiving: Not Just For Thanksgiving Anymore

I love Thanksgiving. Ask anyone who knows me. I have even been known to celebrate it multiple times a year. Because of my passion for T-day people usually assume that my favorite food is turkey or mashed potatoes. Well, I like pumpkin pie as much as the next gal but that is not why I am a Thanksgiving evangelist.

It is because Thanksgiving is one of the most vivid pictures of the Kingdom of God that is commonly experienced by the masses. Like a form of prevenient grace, the Thanksgiving meal is a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. Christ came to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth. He spent time eating and drinking with people, demonstrating in the flesh what this Kingdom banquet would be like.

Creating culture is challenging in church planting. We may have strategies for building community, practicing generosity, and incorporating a rule and rhythm, for instance, but if these are not part of our culture we will be hard-pressed to get traction.

Peter Drucker wisely said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  That’s why the table is so important. This Thanksgiving, as we gather around the table, let’s reflect on ways this meal demonstrates God’s Kingdom and replicate them in our communities and around our tables.

Slowing Down

Thanksgiving is a day off for most people, which means that people have time to enjoy the meal without rushing off to something. People are always rushing. Thanksgiving affords the opportunity to be fully present with whomever we share the day.

Many years ago I became aware of the Slow Food movement, which sought to slow down and savor meals and build connections around the table. Their dinner parties had a hard start time but no end time. The meal was the last thing people planned for that evening to eliminate a sense of hurry. They ate and talked late into the evening. This fostered deep friendships and provided a soul satisfying experience that kept people coming back for more. It’s no wonder why. To be fully present and unhurried is not only a counter-cultural experience, it is the type of rhythm we were made for.

Here are some steps you can take to create the culture of slowing down at the table.

  1. Make a habit of scheduling “marginal space” after you meet with someone. If you don’t feel rushed, you can be more fully present.
  2. Make community meals distraction free by surrendering cell phones during the meal. Either or both of these with help to create a culture of being more fully present to the community, which can be easily transferred over into the experience of being fully present with God.

Redefining Family

People expect to spend Thanksgiving with family. But for those who cannot be with family or who have strained family relationships, Thanksgiving can be difficult. Feelings of loneliness and isolation peak during the holidays as the absence of family is felt more profoundly. By viewing the table as the place of hospitality we can create a culture of family that embodies the message of the Kingdom in a way that our culture desperately needs. People are looking for meaningful connection and a sense of belonging because that is what they were made for.

When I lived in Massachusetts I hosted Thanksgiving for anyone who did not have plans. People came to expect Thanksgiving at Becky’s. It felt like a Thanksgiving family. Each year new people joined because they were invited by another “family” member who felt so comfortable extending an invitation to others. That’s what family does.

Here are two rhythms to help create a culture of family:

  1. Meet with people around the table in your home instead of at a restaurant; even if the food you eat is take-out.
  2. Set a regular time for a “family meal.” Call it that. Invite people to join you. Add a family tradition. It could be something simple like always making brownies.

Whatever it is, keep doing it until it becomes a part of your family tradition. Either or both of these will help build a culture of family.

Abundance

We joke about how much we eat on Thanksgiving, about overdosing on tryptophan, about needing to wear stretchy pants. Maybe that’s just me. Regardless, Thanksgiving connotes abundance. There is much could be said about gluttony and wastefulness and I am not saying they are good but there is something reflective of the Kingdom of God in the abundance of this meal. Always more than enough food and always room for more people at the table.

So it is with the Kingdom of God. The extravagance of the feast and the generosity of the host remind us of the core message of the Gospel; that we come empty handed to God and He provides everything we need for abundant life in Him. The community of God’s people can live out this reality in vivid and compelling ways.

College students are frequent guests around my Thanksgiving table. After being invited they graciously ask what they can bring. The term “starving college student” is legitimate. Dorm life and tight budgets make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to bring anything. So when they hear the words, “Just come!  We will have more than enough!” they are filled with relief and gratitude.

Here are a couple rhythms to create a culture of abundance:

  1. Consider who you might invite to share a meal with you who could never repay you. Act on it.
  2. Create a structure of a meal where the “there is always room for more” culture is prevalent; a regular meal with an open invite.

Gather a team of people around you and challenge them to think extravagantly and abundantly. By doing either or both of these things, you will demonstrate the abundance and invitational heart of the Master.

Reflection

Thanksgiving has not been tainted with commercialism like other holidays. No one is buying Thanksgiving presents or getting their pictures with the Thanksgiving Turkey. We eat and share what we are thankful for. It is refreshingly simple. This is liturgy. This is rhythm.

One Thanksgiving years ago I gathered everyone in a circle before the meal. I asked that we go around the circle, introduce ourselves and share briefly what they were thankful for. What I thought would be a quick, pre-prayer exercise turned into a beautiful, vulnerable, tear-producing, laughter-inspiring 45 minutes of sharing. The food was getting cold but nobody cared. It could wait. The weight of that moment was palpable as the presence of Christ was thick in the room that day. People shared sincerely, from the heart. Connections were made. People were listened to.

Here is a rhythm to build a culture of reflection in your community: begin every meal with a question. It could be as simple as what the “high” and “low” of the day was. We can rush through the meal without creating space to listen to one another. This rhythm teaches people to self-reflect and gives language for lament and celebration.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. May you experience the beauty and abundance of the Kingdom in and through your Thanksgiving meal this year. Not only that, may your community embody the unhurried, hospitable, abundant and celebratory nature of God’s Kingdom in your regular community rhythms so that all may get a glimpse of the goodness of God and be brought into His Kingdom banquet.

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Becky Lahna
Becky is a graduate of the University of Washington and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. After 17 years of serving in college ministry she moved to Santa Barbara in June 2016 to plant Goodland Church. She's a loyal Seahawks fan and recovering granola girl who's always on the hunt for the world's best almond croissant and loves to gather people, especially around the table.
Becky Lahna

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