Yeppers, it’s that time of year again—the holiday season! Leading the way is Thanksgiving. For some, that means having loved ones around again. It's a time of joy, and a time for making sweet, precious memories while celebrating time-honored traditions. And, of course, getting those stretchy pants on for all the food! (Thank you, Carrie Underwood!)
For others, though, Thanksgiving can be a time of deep stress. It’s the time of year when wacky relatives and family dysfunction take a spotlight. When recent loss or trauma take center stage. Instead of hearing the ring of laughter, you’re listening to the next onslaught of shouting, the oppressive silence, or the approaching wails of police sirens. Been there and done that, unfortunately.
The good news is there’s a way to navigate Thanksgiving safely while still finding enjoyment. It begins with a single idea: Boundaries.
When I think of a boundary, I think of a low fence that surrounds me. I can see everyone on the other side, I can interact freely with whomever passes by. But only I get to decide who I will open the front gate for—and who I will invite to vacate my yard.
So, how does this translate? Here are a few simple steps that you may find helpful.
Have a Game Plan
This can be as simple as deciding in advance how long you’ll stay. (Or how long others will stay). It also means planning how much you’ll eat and drink. Plus a well thought-out exit strategy, should certain events or situations begin to unfold.
It might include periodically allowing yourself space to be alone and grieve. Or to watch that cheesy romance movie or mindless action movie you’ve been wanting to indulge in. The important part is to think through your specific situation, and to plan what you can do to keep yourself emotionally safe.
For some, your game plan might include some accountability. If you’ve recently quit drinking, smoking, using drugs, or binging and purging, Thanksgiving festivities can be a trigger. Make sure that as you plan how to navigate the day to also invite a trusted friend in on your plans. Commit to touch base with each other once the party is over. Just knowing someone else is going to check in on me has gotten me through more often than not!
Stick to the Plan--Mostly
The goal is to eat, to enjoy what you can, to be grateful for what is good, and to walk away if the ability to interact well is no longer possible. If your situation begins to disintegrate, don’t take the bait to stay. Stick to your plan to keep both you and your loved ones safe. Remember the boundaries you have put in place.
Still, there are times to give yourself some flexibility. Let’s say your goal is to join the family festivities despite your swirling emotions. Then the day comes and you’re just not feeling it. A flexible plan might include still stopping by but giving yourself permission to leave early if need be. Or staying later than intended because the experience is better than anticipated. That kind of flexibility allows you to gently push yourself while still protecting yourself emotionally.
You are not going to change your Auntie’s opinions, especially over pumpkin pie. Nor is Thanksgiving the time to finally get that broken individual to admit his or her faults, or to acknowledge the hurt they have caused you. Remember your goal—break bread together, enjoy what you can, and look for what you can be grateful for. That is more than enough.
Being realistic could also mean not allowing yourself to succumb to the need for perfection. We can waste so much time and effort obsessing over every little detail. Desiring that everything needs to be perfect, almost to the point where we are no longer enjoying our time with others. And frankly, they probably aren’t enjoying us that much either, because we’re too busy. So don’t worry if the baby’s fussy, the turkey was bland, or your favorite cousin cancelled at the last minute. Enjoy who is there, and celebrate what you do have. After all, that’s the whole point.
Remember, we give respect and kindness because of who we are, and who we belong to. Jesus reminds us to forgive not just once or twice, but to forgive 77x7 times (Matthew 18:21-22). I always think of Proverbs 19:11 which says, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude. A day to remember all our Creator has done for us. Make space to count your blessing before the Lord, and do it before you begin celebrating with others. He will give you the strength to be kind and gracious regardless of the behavior around you. Remember—it counts as your glory when you have the kindness and courage to walk away without reacting, with your dignity intact.
Being gracious also means extending extra kindness to those experiencing pain, whether it's someone close to you or yourself. Allow individuals the room to step back temporarily if that's what they require. Should you find yourself in need of some space, treat yourself with the same grace. While emphasizing joy, it's crucial to recognize and validate feelings of poignancy and sorrow as well. Both emotions deserve a seat at the table, so approach them with a generous spirit, letting them coexist harmoniously.
To Sum it Up
As we gear up for Thanksgiving, let's approach it with the wisdom of setting boundaries. Just like a low fence that surrounds us, boundaries provide a space for interaction while allowing us control over who enters and exits our emotional landscape. Having a solid game plan, sticking to it (mostly), being realistic about our expectations, and embodying graciousness can transform this holiday into a more fulfilling and manageable experience.
Thanksgiving is a day for counting blessings, savoring shared moments, and finding joy in imperfections. So, let's embrace the festivities with open hearts, cherish the good, and gracefully navigate the complexities, ensuring that both laughter and introspection find a place at our Thanksgiving table. Cheers to a holiday seasoned with love, understanding, and the strength to honor our well-being.
Lord, thank you for your graciousness and mercy toward me. When I go off the rails, you love me anyway. May I have the same heart toward others. Help me to honor Your presence within me by honoring my boundaries. Give me wisdom to navigate the holidays by seeking your Presence and embracing gratitude for the innumerable ways you have blessed me. I know that every good thing comes from above. Thank you, Papa, from the bottom of my heart. In Jesus' name, Amen.
To learn more about author & motivational speaker Barb Lownsbury or to invite her to speak at your next event, CLICK HERE.
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