On Thanksgiving, When it is Hard to Give Thanks

Holidays often come with great expectations—
We remember holidays of years gone by,
We make plans for what this year’s holiday will bring,
We reach for certain experiences, emotions and encounters.

 
On Thanksgiving there is certainly an expectation that we will offer thanks for the gifts in our lives and we will express gratitude for the bounty of our blessings. There are times when gratitude is easy to find and when we ask ourselves, “What do I feel thankful for?” we are met by a stream of blessing that fills us to overflow.
 
Other times when we reach for gratitude we are met by sadness and pain. Sometimes the sadness is ours, resulting from loss, grief, disappointment in our own lives. Other times the pain rises from what is going on around us, from the tragedies, injustices, horrors we are witnessing in our country and in the world. There are times that the pain is so sharp that the call to give thanks can feel like a burden or an impossibility.
 
In these moments it is important to for us to make wise, compassionate choices for ourselves. Sometimes acknowledging the grief and sorrow can help us move through these feelings and find gratitude. And the experience of offering thanks can further lift us.   Other times the pain is so pervasive that gratitude is not available. In these moments it is important not to berate or judge ourselves harshly, this response only adds to the pain and difficulty we are already feeling.
 
In Hebrew, the word for giving thanks—hoda’ah—also means acknowledgment. And when we say prayers of thanksgiving we are offering our gratitude and we are also saying—I acknowledge this moment. I am present to the truth of this moment, whatever this moment contains.
 
This year, as we gather for Thanksgiving in the midst of all that is going on in our own lives and in the life of our country, let’s set an intention to treat ourselves and each other with gentleness, kindness and care. When faced with the question, “What am I thankful for?” let us notice the sensations and emotions that arise. When gratitude comes, let us share our appreciation and joys and let this nourish our hearts and souls. And when gratitude feels beyond our grasp, let us say to ourselves and each other:

I am present to… …….the deep sorrow in my heart
I am aware of… …….. the grief I am experiencing
I acknowledge… …….. a sense of overwhelming loss.

Let this willingness to be present to the moment also be an offering that nourishes our hearts and souls.
 
May this season bring blessings of sustenance and strength.
May we lift each other with love.

Rabbi Yael Levy

11 Kislev 5779

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