On Being Thankful for the Jerk at Your Table

Think my title’s harsh?
It drew you here, didn’t it?
So you have one – you know – a jerk who will be at your Thanksgiving table.
Maybe an uncle who drones on about your lifestyle or your politics
A brother who can’t get over himself
A sister-in-law with issues, who causes strife at every event
A mother with a martyr complex
A father with the sensitivity of a charging rhino
A sister with a critical spirit
An adolescent who has taken to dressing in black and sulking whenever unplugged from social media
A child whose parents aren’t into discipline
A husband in a mid-life crisis
A wife who’ll become a nervous wreck trying to please everyone
A lonely neighbor who has some uncomfortable opinions about people of other races
Ah, Thanksgiving.
Even now, you’re plotting your escape.
You never thought you’d be one to go to the mall on a holiday but
Now you’re convincing yourself it’s good stewardship to shop the sales and
good self-care to escape the family stress.
I get it.
I’ve been at that family table.
I’ve dreaded a holiday gathering.
I’ve dined with a jerk.
And sometimes I’ve been one.
Funny how sometimes the same jerk shows up every year
But sometimes we rotate the role.
Share a table with the same people long enough and everyone gets a turn.
Because we inherited an original jerky nature from our ancestors
And the gene for jerkiness is strong.
I’m not a big fan of romanticizing the first Thanksgiving,
I avoid all articles lamenting the loss of the good old days.
Ecclesiastes 7:10 warns us against such thinking: “Don’t always be asking, “Where are the good old days?” Wise folks don’t ask questions like that.” (The Message)
And, mostly I just don’t see the point.
What we have is now, not last year or a hundred years ago.
Plus, I imagine that just like then, today there is some good and some bad and God placed me in these times.
So here I am
At this table
With this jerk.
But I do resist the modern thinking that Thanksgiving is an event to be tolerated and then escaped as soon as possible
With a quick trip to Walmart.
Jesus didn’t come to deliver us savings on merchandise
He came to save
The very people who share your table.
And I think that sometimes we all act like jerks
But then some of us get stuck there because
In the funky world of group dynamics, somehow that becomes our role around the table and
often we don’t even really see one another because we’re so busy looking at our memory of last year.
I get why people who don’t know Jesus get stuck in this endless loop
But Christians have no excuse.
We can slide through the wormhole of grace and gain a new perspective at any time.
We have access to power that changes things – hearts, minds, attitudes.
I was thinking about another table
On the night Jesus was betrayed
Where He shared bread with Judas
The prince of jerks
Judas was a poser, a thief, a greedy, lying betrayer
But after a night sharing a table with the other disciples, they couldn’t tell, by the way Jesus treated him, that he was any different from the rest.
When Jesus indicated that one of them would betray him,
They didn’t know which one it would be.
Jesus must have been able to enjoy His meal and the company
Even knowing what was ahead
Even knowing what was on Judas’ heart
Even knowing this was the last meal they would all share.
And sometimes it’s important to do that –
Just sit and share a meal and let everything else go just for a time.
Take a long deep breath of grace.
And Jesus lives in us
So we can share tables, too, with jerks or martyrs or critics or pouters or rebels or troublemakers
And not just say grace
But also extend it
So that if we were to say, “One of us sharing the cheesy bread basket at this table is a jerk”
Our table-mates would look around and say, “Is it I? Am I the jerk?”
Because they wouldn’t be able to tell from the way we’d treated anyone at dinner.
Sure, sin needs to be confronted,
Relationships ironed out
Jerks need to be told the truth about how they affect others
But sometimes we all just need take a break,
Share a meal,
Tell a story,
Eat a pie
And thank God that we aren’t alone.
I wonder how many nights, after Jesus had ascended and many of the disciples had been scattered or killed,
Did John sit to eat alone on the Island of Patmos
And think back to that meal where they were all together
And draw strength from that memory,
and the hope of the vision of a table awaiting us on the other side
Where there will be laughter and warm bread and full glasses
And all the forgiven jerks will sit together and be thankful for one another without reservation.
May His kingdom come to our tables even now.
Set an empty place for Jesus and remind yourself – If He can share a table with these jerks with joy than so can I.
This Thanksgiving, don’t just say grace – extend it as it has been extended, also, to you.
Who knows but next year, you may be dining alone on Patmos?

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    The Conversation

  1. Lori, I love your brutal honesty! It’s similarcto a writer friend who pens as Grit & Grace. You have that grit and grace. And it moves me. Thank you for this awesome post, girl. You do not speak Christianese and that is what I love about your writing, as well as the fact that you pull no punches. Love you and may your table be blrssef with the love of Jesus always.

  2. This is great, Lori! I was brought up short by the idea that we all have our turn at being the jerk. I’m sure I’ve never been the jerk at the table – just don’t ask any of my relatives about that. 🙁

  3. Wow. Definitely thought-provoking and challenging.

  4. Betty Green says: