Spending Thanksgiving alone with God

My day of gratitude spent with Love, God, felt sweet, simple, and profoundly uplifting.

Until recently, every Thanksgiving Day was almost identical for me. I looked forward to the comfort of a dinner table shared with my immediate family, and sometimes a few other guests, with the same spread of delicious traditional dishes my mom prepared days in advance. I couldn’t imagine the holiday ever feeling complete without her pumpkin rolls and at least four kinds of pie with fresh whipped cream. 

One Thanksgiving morning after I had moved across the country, I actually cried at the thought of being absent from my family’s table. But, that year and the next, unexpected opportunities came up for me to spend Thanksgiving with friends. I had been learning about being open to new and surprising proofs of God’s care. The meals and traditions my friends shared with me were different from what I was used to (one friend prepared peanut curry, and I don’t recall any pie at that table), but I appreciated the variety and thoroughly enjoyed the company. 

Rising above the burden of obligation or the fear of being alone, we grow spiritually.

The book of Isaiah offers a promise and a challenge to us at times when we feel stuck in familiar ways of living: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (43:18, 19, New Revised Standard Version).

Spending Thanksgiving with friends brought unanticipated opportunities for sharing and experiencing gratitude, and these occasions broadened my spiritual horizons and enhanced my sense of oneness with God and with others. 

Then came a year when, shortly before the holiday, I felt I received a clear, spiritually inspired message that I should not accept any invitations to spend it with anyone. This seemed strange, but the message was accompanied by a feeling of peace, so I trusted it. A few people did contact me about joining them for their celebrations, but I chose to spend the day on my own—or rather, with God. 

Prior to this, the thought of spending Thanksgiving by myself would have felt deeply unsettling. But this year was different. I didn’t feel any sadness or pity for myself. Instead, I found an unexpected freedom at the prospect of spending a day of gratitude alone with God. 

“Would existence without personal friends be to you a blank?” asks Mary Baker Eddy in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She continues: “Then the time will come when you will be solitary, left without sympathy; but this seeming vacuum is already filled with divine Love. When this hour of development comes, even if you cling to a sense of personal joys, spiritual Love will force you to accept what best promotes your growth” (p. 266).

Regardless of what difficult human experiences we may face, the presence of God, divine Love, is consistent and reliable. I have found myself even more conscious of this presence at times when loved ones and familiar comforts have been unavailable. In these moments, we can discover fresh and meaningful ways of feeling divinely loved. 

Love, God, cares for us so gently and specifically. My day of gratitude spent with Love felt sweet, simple, and profoundly uplifting. After attending the morning Thanksgiving service in my branch Church of Christ, Scientist, I took some quiet time for prayer and reading, enjoyed a simple pasta dish followed by a special dessert, went for a beautiful walk, and talked with my family by phone. The day itself didn’t seem particularly monumental, but afterward I felt a sense of spiritual momentum and strength that prepared me to make some decisions I had been avoiding, which resulted in a needed breakthrough in one particularly challenging situation. 

Being willing to break away from familiar traditions—on holidays or any other day—can open our hearts to fresh, inspired experiences that lead to progress in our lives. Spending a holiday alone does not need to be a depressing experience but can bring a sense of freedom that enables us to feel closer to God. For me, the closeness to God I felt on that Thanksgiving led to a deeper gratitude than I had experienced on previous Thanksgivings, when much of my focus went to preparing a multitude of tasty dishes.

Last year I felt a solidarity with many others who were spending the Thanksgiving holiday alone because of pandemic-related restrictions. I heard touching stories of the special times individuals enjoyed despite not being with relatives and friends. 

As we prepare for the holidays each year, rather than either anticipating traditional pleasures or dreading the potential for heartbreak or exhaustion, we can go forward with an eagerness to see how Love will be expressed anew through unique experiences. And even if we appear to face the burden of obligation or the fear of being alone, rising above this helps us grow spiritually. Letting go of tradition-for-tradition’s-sake or habits formed through cultural norms can bring genuine inspiration.

Of course, we can also find freedom and freshness within traditions and holiday gatherings. As we let go of any accompanying pressure, we free ourselves and our loved ones to experience God’s care in new ways that bind us together in a deeper spirit of oneness, blessing all with spiritual growth. And this freedom inspires gratitude during every season of the year.

Are we better than our ancestors?
November 22, 2021

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