A few Novembers ago, a temporary work assignment allowed our family to host Thanksgiving weekend on a (very) old family farm in southern Maryland. Extended family and friends of friends swung through the slamming screen door, arms full of warm flannel and pies.
All of this was excellent, except our interim living arrangements included only six chairs, seven towels, and eight coffee mugs, and now there were twenty-four people gathered expectantly on the front porch.
It’s worth mentioning here that the quaint family farmhouse still sports a ‘cozy’ kitchen and the original 1930’s plumbing. This means that there is just enough counter space for exactly one apple pie, and the perfect amount of bathroom for not twenty-four people.
Would we have enough hot water? Would the ancient pipes in the toilets be able to handle the load? Was the stove large enough to roast a full-sized turkey? I had no earthly idea. (But I don’t typically lose sleep over physical logistics, much to the chagrin of all the good people who do.)
Instead, what keeps me awake at night are the emotional complexities that inevitably come with all family gatherings. I’m far less concerned with where we will all sit, sleep, shower, than with how we will all actually be.
Will we walk on eggshells or be at ease?
Will we offer each other the benefit or the doubt, or find fresh ways to stay wary and offended?
Will we be generous and patient in spirit, or throw in the towel at the first annoyance?
Will we sow seeds of charity and peace?
Heavenly Father, teach us to number our days, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
This month in Texas, we’ll host another full house for the Thanksgiving weekend. There will be ample space for a dozen warm pies to cool on the counter, and enough hot water to please a hundred teenage boys. Even so, I still wonder: How will we all be?
Jesus, teach us to number our days, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
What would it look like, I wonder, if this were the last time I ever saw these faces?
Would knowing this was our last time together change me?
If this was our last meal together, would it change the way I hear your story, or the way I tell mine?
Could the strangle-grip of my favorite pet grudges release? Would my tone become more charitable if I knew this was the last time I’d ever hear your voice?
We don’t know how many times we’ll get to be together, friends.
But here is some very good news: It doesn’t have to be as it always has been. WE don’t have to be as we’ve always been! God has promised that there are new mercies – divine help – for those who call on him. He is an ever-present help to those who earnestly seek him.
And so, with our Father’s promised help, our hearts can soften and turn. With the Holy Spirit’s help, our own spirits are able to unclench and unfold to the light. And with Jesus’s help, our stunted capacity for gentleness, forgiveness, and suffering can actually grow.
That said, if you are experiencing logistical panic or emotional anxiety about what will come your way in the next few days – do not fear! Whether as hosts or guests, with God’s help, you can set a place for his kind of hospitality – the welcome of Jesus – at your table.
“Our Father, whose property is always to have mercy, walk with me as I open the door to people you love. Help me see them with you eyes. Help me to listen carefully and generously. Guard my tongue and help me to speak words that build up and bring life. Father, help me to be open and not closed. Help me set a place for your kind of kindness at the table. Help me make room for peace in all my spaces and places. Amen.”
God, teach us to number our days, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
Peace to you and yours this season,