When Thanksgiving’s Not the Same: Three Ways to Recover Gratitude

Ungrateful. Unsettled. Unexcited. I’m sorry to admit that was the state of my heart when I first contemplated Thanksgiving this year. My gratitude journal reflected numerous blessings, but the thought of another holiday without my mother saddened me.

Mama was the heart of festivities for every holiday gathering. She created traditions that made Thanksgiving my favorite day of the year–decorations and flower arrangements, prayer in a circle with family holding hands, croquet games after lunch, Monopoly after supper. What I miss most is being loved by her and hugging her.

Oh, the Thanksgiving meal– the world’s best dressing, steamed cauliflower with cheese sauce, turkey, rice with giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, tiny green peas, green bean casserole, apple salad, and rolls.

Supper was my favorite though–turkey sandwiches with lettuce, light mayo, salt and pepper, and a bit of sweet pickles. Sides included chips, congealed salad, and ambrosia, followed by numerous desserts served with coffee and laughter.

As I reflected on the Thanksgiving celebration I couldn’t enjoy this year, I chose to do what my parents did. I turned to the Lord and counted my blessings.

Are holidays difficult for you? Do you lament the unwelcome changes like I sometimes do? There are many reasons special occasions are painful. Tonight, I prayed for a friend who lost her husband this week and the family of a wayward teen who recently left home. Holiday celebrations seem to sharpen the pain of hurting hearts, don’t they?

When I turned to God last week, He renewed my heart, helped me recover my gratitude, and created an excitement for this special day set aside for giving thanks. Although I’m not suffering as many are this week, I have three suggestions to help us enjoy a Thanksgiving that is “not the same.”

No, it’s not as simple as 1, 2, 3, and I’m not pretending my words could heal your heart or renew your holiday joy. However, God can transform our Ungrateful, Unsettled, and Unexcited into Grateful, Peaceful, and Joyous.

Three Ways to Recover Gratitude

1. Reflect on past joys.

Ponder sweet memories of past Thanksgivings. Write them in a journal to treasure.

If tears come, cry.

My mom spent her last Thanksgiving in bed. As my brother’s poodle trotted from her bedside to the table wondering why Mema had not joined us, my heart broke.

If funny happenings come to mind, laugh.

One year my mother used a disposable pan for the dressing. When she removed it from the oven, some of the “took-a-whole-day-to-make” delicacy flipped out onto the floor. My normally meticulous mother quickly scooped it up with a spoon, returned it to the pan, and said, “It’s okay; I just mopped this floor. But don’t tell anyone!” I never told—until now. Shhhhh!

2. Remember to “brighten someone’s day.”

That’s the tagline for my website because encouraging people toward the truths of God’s Word offers hope and comfort. Who in your circle of influence needs those blessings?

  • Is this the first Thanksgiving without a loved one for someone you know? How could you add sunshine to their day?
  • Can you call someone to say thank you for their influence in your life?
  • Is there a busy cook who would appreciate a helping hand and acknowledgment of hard work?
  • Would a restless child in a room full of relatives enjoy taking a walk or playing a game?
  • Does someone you know need to hear that Jesus offers forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life?

Brightening someone’s day will pierce your cloud with sunshine.

3. Rejoice in thanksgiving to God, the Giver of all gifts (James 1:17).

Listing our blessings changes our focus from need to gratitude. A two-year-old I know recently called, “Tank you,” to each nurse, doctor, and tech who administered care to her in the ER. Simple gratitude.

I’m praying for each reader that whether you’re experiencing grief, pain, or frustration, God will fill your hearts with joy and help you recover gratitude as you look to Him.

 Now it’s your turn

 Please share a Thanksgiving memory or a suggestion that helped you when holidays changed.

If you choose to leave a comment about your need, it will be my privilege to pray for you.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High.

                                                                                                        –Psalm 92:1 ESV

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24 thoughts on “When Thanksgiving’s Not the Same: Three Ways to Recover Gratitude

  1. Jeannie, I needed this message more than the cup of coffee in my hand right now. The preparation of the Turkey and dressing meal has exhausted my Martha attitude. More important is the time with the 18 month old who will arrive in an hour. I will intentionally ,by an act of my will ,present myself to the Lord to speak to my heart and change my focus. Loving thanks for your obedience to God’s word.

  2. Aunt Sadie is smiling down from Heaven. Thank you for this message today. Much love to you and your family.

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      Oh, Linda, she loved your mom and all of you so much. Thank you for reading and commenting. Hug your sweet mom for me.

  3. Susan, thank you so much for your affirming words. My “Martha attitude” gets exhausted sometimes, too. I love the way you stated that. I appreciate your reminder to present ourselves to the Lord. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

  4. Thanks, Jeannie, for the great reminders and suggestions for regaining or retaining the attitude of gratitude. We know many whose Thanksgiving will be different this year, due to death or other new difficulties in the family. May we focus on things we can be grateful for, and may God show us tangible ways to share His love with those who are suffering.

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      Glenda, thank you for sharing these wise words which will help us during the Christmas season as well.

  5. Thanks Jeannie. Perfect timing. I have been missing my Mother a lot. We just recently lost her sister and it just seems so strange knowing they aren’t here. Having her was like my Mother still being here. Blessings to you and your family.

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      Pam, I’m glad the post was timely for you. Last year I lost a cousin and my mom’s best friend, so I can identify with your difficulty in losing your aunt. Thank you for commenting. May the Lord continue to soothe your heart.

  6. These are beautiful thoughts, Jeannie. Thanks for sharing, straight from your heart.

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      Thank you, Diane. Truthfully, I didn’t want to share how I started the season for giving thanks with an ungrateful heart. However, I’m thankful the Lord ministered to me and that the post was a blessing to others.

  7. Thanks, Jeannie, for sharing your Thanksgiving sentiments. Unlike your family, mine was quite small & broken from divorce. However, we took the old adage “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” attitude and combined Thanksgiving dinner with our next door neighbors’ family. From that time until now, we have been one big happy family. For a few years, their son was in the Mark Smith band & I was a majorette in the band; we had to hurry Thanksgiving dinner to prepare for the annual Christmas parade in downtown Macon. After another three years, our neighbors moved 4 hours away. But that did not deter our Thanksgiving gatherings: we moved the celebration to their daughter’s home in Lizella (and we moved The Day to Saturday). This tradition continued for at least 20 years before circumstances moved our Thanksgiving to the “4 hour away” place. We have lost both mothers now, but their spirits live on in the fellowship of food.

    These past five years or so, Thanksgiving Day dinner has been celebrated at The Golden Corral with a high school buddy (Margaret) & various friends. I look back at 50+ years of non-traditional Thanksgiving and smile at my good fortune to always good people to fulfill the true meaning of the day: thankful!

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      Miki, reading your comments warmed my heart. Thank you so much for sharing the way you and your family extended the circle to include neighbors and friends and, in your words, “fullfilled the true meaning of the day: thankful!” I’m thankful God restored my gratitude and helped me count my blessings, too. That’s what my mom always did as she opened her table to include others. Traditions can be joyous, but as you pointed out so well, non-traditional celebrations can be just as joyous.

  8. Thank you Jeannie for these real words from your heart. While many celebrate with whole families, someone somewhere looks at an empty chair. In a season of festivity, thank you for bringing this to mind.,

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      I appreciate you for reading and commenting. I think the “season of festivity” accentuates the loss sometimes, but the Lord’s presence and happy memories sustain us.

  9. Thank you. Jeannie for these words! One of my favorite memories is Thanksgiving 2001, 2 years before we would lose my son, mother, and Godmother. Two of my aunts pulled me from my home, away from 30 people who had come to my home for Thanksgiving. We went to Walmart, which they knew I am not a fan of, and we had a blast, acting like excited children ! This memory always makes me smile! Love you!

  10. Jeannie, thank you so much for bringing my sweet cousin, Sadie, back for a short span of time. As you described Thanksgiving, I vividly lived in the scenes your words described. And chuckled over the spilled dressing. I could imagine doing the same. It must be a Mason thing!

  11. Jeannie, this is so timely for me. My mom passed September 11 this year, and yesterday was a tough day. I have many wonderful memories of Thanksgivings past, and they comforted me in the midst of my grief. Thank you for reminding me of the ways God has already provided for my comfort!

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      Rhonda, I’m sorry you had a tough day. I totally understand, and I’m so glad you have happy memories. May you sense the Lord’s close presence. Thank you for commenting.

  12. Your post brought back a lot of memories–good memories! I miss my mother. It’s been 18 years, but I miss her every day. Thanksgiving was a special day in that we shared a lot of the meal preparation. We would have the Macy’s Parade on the television and catch glimpses of it between the preparation of turkey, dressing, and all the side dishes. Your suggestions are so good, Jeannie. I smiled as I recalled past Thanksgiving joys. And you are also right in that reaching out to others brings joy even when there is pain. Thank you.

  13. Im continually surprised when the smallest kindness means so much, like when you reply to my emails with sweet words of encouragement. Thank you.

  14. Katherine, I enjoyed reading some of your Thanksgiving memories. My mom was the one who taught me the joy of reaching out to others.

  15. Paula, I agree that small acts of kindness are meaningful. Smiles, hugs, cards, a dish instead of a meal, or a brief call are blessings.

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