I know that my favorite part of Thanksgiving is supposed to be the food, or time with my family, but I have a confession to make: my favorite part of Thanksgiving comes the night before.
About 50 members of my church gather (everyone is invited, but only a few show up) to give thanks. We pray and sing some songs, and then it’s time for gratitudes.
People walk up to the front of the church if they have something to say. They talk about new babies and new jobs and family and friends and being grateful for living where it doesn’t snow. But the surprising part is that they also give thanks for the hard times. The illnesses and deaths and job losses. Sad stories that held a small glow at the center. Families that got closer. Lessons learned about what to let go of, and when. More time spent in prayer and meditation and quietly holding hands.
Last night just a few people spoke, but at much more length than they usually do. Then a young man of about 15 got up and spoke.
“I have had a really rough year and I know it has been hard on my mom,” he said, choking up. “I just want to say I’m so thankful for her, for her love and support and I want this year to be better and for her not to have such a hard time because of me.”
With that, everyone started to cry. We know teenagers. We know how parents often don’t get appreciation, much less public thanks in church. We knew how hard it was for him to say, and for her to hear, and yet how proud and happy she must be.
We were all just sitting there snorfling. The choir director hopped up and said “Well, that feels like a good time to close this, so for the rest of us, let’s all speak our gratitudes aloud simultaneously for the next 30 seconds or so.”
So we all did that, a murmur of thank yous for every possible thing, but it felt unfinished, cut off too short.
Reverend Judy got up and said “I know Todd said that was the last one, but I want to leave the floor open for anyone who really, really feels like they have something they need to speak gratitude for.”
And people did. For another 20 minutes or so, people rose and spoke, then it felt more done, so we took an offering, sang another song, and hugged each other.
I love that service. I love that so many people participate. I love that we look forward to giving thanks together every year. I love that it got to be too much and we tried to end it too early and then Judy remembered to feel what was going on and left the door open for more – that she was present enough to make that change.
Church is like us. Messy and unfinished and silly and confusing and too much and not enough and yet somehow perfect. For all of that, I give thanks.