by: Shauna Niequist
One snowy night many years ago, we hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for our housechurch, even though the holiday had passed. I set the table with silver chargers and balloon wine glasses and silver candlesticks with long red tapers.
When the turkey finally decided to be done, we sat in the twinkly, candlelit dining room and ate stuffing and smashed potatoes and the old-school green bean casserole with the crunchy onions on top.
While we ate, we talked about the time we’d spent with our families over the holiday, about the things that change and the things that never do. We stayed at the table for an extra long time, having seconds and listening. We talked about gratitude, and about how there are things that are easy to be thankful for. Henry, for example, is an uncomplicated happiness, as is my family and my marriage and the housechurch.
What I’ve found this year, though, is a different kind of gratitude. When I left my job, in the swirling pain and confusion of that season, a few people told me that at some point, I would be happy for this, thankful, even. That didn’t sit well with me, and it felt even worse than the clichés about closing doors and opening windows. It felt cruel: not only was I supposed to not be sad, I was supposed to be thankful? It felt inauthentic and creepy, and I swore to myself that even if I healed someday, even if the pain abated, even if I was happy again, I would never ever be thankful for this. I would never be like one of those people who is thankful for cancer because of what it taught them, or thankful for the divorce for teaching them to be independent. I would never be thankful for this.
And then, the week of Thanksgiving, I realized I am different. And not only different, but better, and not only better, but thankful.
I am thankful, I realized in those moments, thankful for the breaking of things that needed to be broken, that couldn’t have been broken any other way, thankful for the severing that allowed me to fall all the way down to the center of my fear and look it in the face, thankful for being set free from something I didn’t even know I was enslaved to. There is a quality in my life that I sense now, like a rumbling bass line, or thunder faraway, and the only phrase I can find to capture it is that it is the feeling of having nothing to lose. I have nothing left to lose. Because I was embarrassed and ashamed in such a deep way, and to my surprise, I’m still here. I’m happy in a new way, free in a new way.
I am all the clichés that made me so mad several months ago. I believe in the gift of pain. I believe that loss deepens us. I am grateful for God’s graciousness toward me that he would teach me these things.
As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve found a new gratitude, and it’s gratitude for the way God has redeemed darkness and pain, for the way he brings something beautiful out of something horrible. That’s the kind of gratitude we talked about on our snowy Thanksgiving night.
We talked about the ways that God’s hand has reached through the darkness in each of our lives. And in those moments, we became more than the sum of our parts, and more than we had been, previously, as a community.
While our babies slept upstairs, and the leftovers and turkey bones littered the table, we told the stories that no one tells, the stories of the darkest places, the most painful moments, and the ways God has held those moments up and turned them from ash to luminous things, treasures, shards of hope.
When we stood in a circle to pray and close our night together, we held hands and thanked God for the darkness, and for the way the darkness had become light, and in that moment, we practiced Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for the uncomplicated happiness of babies and friendship and food, and for the very complicated joys that come from loss, from failure, from reaching the bottom and pushing back up to the light.
That’s a Happy Thanksgiving.
Excerpted and adapted from Cold Tangerines