Navigating Hard Conversations Over Turkey

abstract-1239146_640Brace yourselves. All across the land, we’ll gather in small groups this week to re-enact the most overlooked aspect of the first Thanksgiving.

Feasting on seafood (which was likely served along with turkey)? No, that’s not it. Thanking our Creator? No, that’s close and will be neglected at many a table but that’s not it.

What we often neglect to recall is that there was an inherent tension present at the first Thanksgiving that needed to be carefully navigated since the Pilgrims were settling on land that belonged to the Native Americans joining their feast. Now, that required grace on everyone’s part. Oh, to have been a fly on the stuffing.

We’ll carry on this tradition in spades this year as we, once again, try to join two vastly different groups in one sit-down meal. The first group are the peace-lovers. These are those of us who anxiously shop, clean, decorate, travel, and cook hoping and praying that the meal will be sumptuous enough to calm the other group into laying down arms for a single day (or even just the length of the meal) to enjoy the turkey-316050_640feast without a helping of stress-induced indigestion. Then, there are the pot stirrers. This second group are those of us with opinions just begging to be stated, agendas that can’t possibly be parked with car, or long-standing issues that never take a holiday.  Half of us have doubled and tripled our prayer times just to defensively intercede for the rest.

Have mercy. We not only need to say grace, we need to extend it throughout the meal and, for some, the extended family visit. How do we navigate hard conversations certain to arise as we pass the gravy? Well, I think we can consider what must have been at work during the first Thanksgiving as a guide.

First, with suffering comes humility. The Pilgrim’s first year was an exercise in endurance to say the least. After setting out with high hopes and a lofty vision to bring Christ to the New World while enjoying true freedom, they weren’t able to land where they’d planned, over half their number died in the first months, and they lived under harsh conditions that tested them in ways they’d never imagined. They had to rely on God in ways they’d never had to learn in the Old World. To add to their humility, God supplied some of what they needed through humble-732566_640the Native Americans already living in the land, the very people they’d hoped to teach about their God. Now, they were the ones learning because God often prefers to work through our weaknesses instead of our strengths.

So, let’s be willing to pursue humility as we gather. Let’s take some long looks in the mirror before we look at the other faces around the table, and let’s remember how often we fail, get things wrong, require forgiveness, or cry out to God to save us. Bringing this to the table will be more appreciated than a green bean casserole with those crunchy onions on top, I guarantee.

Second, in a new world we must rely on God more than on our own understanding. The Pilgrims had to completely rely on God to meet every need, to communicate with their neighbors, to understand the new landscape in which they lived, and to keep them alive. So do we. The writer of Proverbs tells us all “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV

So, let’s double up on the listening this Thanksgiving, take second helpings. Keep an ear open to the Holy Spirit – be quick to listenman-1574124_640, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Just imagine you know as little of others’ language as the Pilgrims did of their dining partners. Pay attention. Ask questions. Give silence a chance to work. Smile. Hug. Play some football. Don’t just pretend to listen by nodding while you mentally prepare your answer. Trust the Holy Spirit to supply an answer and give your entire self over to listening. Listen to older people. Listen to teens. Listen to angry siblings. Listen to children.

Third, spend your words as if they cost money and lay out most of your budget on blessings. Be a listener first, a blesser second, and let the Holy Spirit give you words for the rest. We can be confident there were words of blessing spoken at that first Thanksgiving – words of welcome, words of appreciation for those gathered, words of thanks to God. Let there be words of blessing spoken in our kitchens, at our tables, in front of the big game, and in the car ride home. Continue the tradition and let blessing reign.

sign-1719887_640Oh, we’ll be tested but that’s all right. We’re ready for it. We’re up for it. We’re the people of God. Allow me to give you some handy phrases for those who want to push the boundaries of grace –

“Tell me more about why that concerns you. I care about you and I want to understand.”

“I don’t have an answer for that today but let’s make plans to talk more about it over coffee this week.”

“I hear how passionately you feel about this and you have some well thought out arguments. You deserve more than I can just say off the cuff today. I appreciate how important this is to you.”

“Even though we disagree, I value you deeply. Thank you for staying in relationship with me. I understand many people have lost relationships over these issues and I’m glad we haven’t.”

“I want to be sure I’ve heard you so let me summarize what I think you’re saying. You probably know I disagree. Are you interested in my thoughts and how I’ve reached them?”

Okay, I know. We’re not going to iron out all the kinks with a few phrases but it can help to have a plan. There will be tense meals as long as we gather to celebrate this side of glory so embrace the tension as part of the tradition.

And reRoeleveld Headshot 2015member this, we endure conflict every day of the year, at least on this one there will also be turkey and pie.

I’m grateful for each of you, your encouragement, your constructive feedback, your love and support, just knowing you’re out there. I’m praying for all of you this Thanksgiving where ever you gather and I hope you’ll pray for me. Be open to trusting God to be present and at work in the midst of all our messes. Many blessings on you all. Mercy and grace, Lori

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1 Comment

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  1. Norma Gail says:

    Excellent advice, Lori! Very helpful as I contemplate our family get-together. Thank you for sharing your godly wisdom.