Thanksgiving When it's Hard
Holidays often come with great expectations:
We look toward the moment.
We plan our gatherings.
We long for certain experiences, emotions and encounters.
On Thanksgiving, there is certainly an expectation that we will offer thanks for the gifts in our lives, that we will share our appreciation for the bounty of blessings we have received. There are moments when gratitude is easy to find. When we ask ourselves, “What do I feel thankful for?,” we are met by a stream of blessing that fills us to overflowing.
Other times when we reach for gratitude, we are met by sadness and pain. Sometimes the call to give thanks can feel like a burden or an impossibility in the face of deep loss, grief or sorrow.
While gratitude is a central practice in so many spiritual traditions, recognized as having the potential to transform the way we live our lives, sometimes giving thanks is just not available to us. In these moments, it is important not to berate ourselves or judge ourselves harshly. That response only adds to the pain and difficulty we are already feeling.
In Hebrew, the word for thanksgiving—Hoda’ah—also means acknowledgment. And when we say prayers of thanksgiving, we are also saying, “I acknowledge this moment, I am aware of this encounter.” We can understand from this that the practice of gratitude is not only about offering our thanks. It is also a practice that calls us present to the moment, whatever the moment contains.
This year as we gather for Thanksgiving, let’s set an intention to treat ourselves and each other with care and, when faced with the question, “What am I thankful for?,” let’s notice the sensations and emotions that arise. And when gratitude feels beyond our grasp, let’s say to ourselves and each other:
I am present to . . . the sadness in my heart.
I notice . . . that this has been a difficult time.
I am aware of . . . the grief I am feeling.
I acknowledge . . . my struggles and the struggles of those around me.
May this Thanksgiving offer us the opportunity to be present with whatever our lives have brought. And may we receive each others’ offerings of thanks and acknowledgment with compassion and love.
It is good to acknowledge the mysterious unfolding of all life.
— Psalm 92:2
Rabbi Yael Levy