thanksgiving, Uncategorized, Word Wednesday

When Celebrating Thanksgiving is Hard

Empty Chairs . . .

Some years Thanksgiving is harder to celebrate than other years. I love the turkey, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, dressing, and green bean casserole. I embrace the cooler weather, gold and garnet leaves, and the almost naked trees, and I love gathering with family and friends–whoever can come. Yet, there have been many years when I’ve missed the people not sitting around my table. 

As a child, Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays. When I grew up and moved away, it was always a struggle not to be sad if we couldn’t travel home. But the great thing about being a military family was there were always others who needed family that day too. So, I invited other people to celebrate this day of thankfulness with us.

Hole in My Heart

There were years when I really missed my grandmother’s homemade rolls and my mom’s cornbread dressing. These were years when a hole in my heart made the celebrating difficult, but I’ve learned a secret to those difficult holidays when there is a heaviness, an emptiness, and grief overshadows my joy.

Giving Thanks and Letting Go

First, I thank the Lord for those good memories, and then I let go, as best I can, to make room for new memories. A good friend of mine, JoAnne Macco Silvia wrote a wonderful post about The Blessing of Letting Go.

She explains why trees must let go of their leaves as well as the benefits of letting go of things in our lives. She writes:

When we let go of burdens, we make room for blessings.

We let go of resentment to make room for love.
We let go of worry to make room for hope.
We let go of doubt to make room for joy.

[bctt tweet=”Sometimes we have to let go of yesterday to make room for today’s blessings. ” username=”wordsbyandylee”]

This is what I do when celebrating Thanksgiving is hard:

  • Give myself permission to do something nontraditional like cooking hamburgers on the grill or baking lasagna.
  • Invite someone who needs a family to share the holiday with mine.
  • Practice thankfulness. Intentionally speak out loud the things I’m thankful for.
  • Serve at a homeless shelter.
  • Enjoy a low-key day if it’s just our little family and make a memory like playing football outside or taking a walk together.

The bottom line is: No matter what our feelings are telling us, we always have so much to be thankful for.

I love this verse.

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty soul and fills the hungry soul with goodness. (Psalm 107:8,9) KJV

The word thanks was translated from a Hebrew word that literally means to use the hand, to revere in worship with extended hands, and confession of need.

When we say, “Thank you,” we are saying, “I needed that! “

The verse promises that he satisfies our hungry and thirsty souls, with goodness. He fills us with himself.

When we come to God with hearts of gratitude we are confessing our need for His goodness.

These are powerful words from Jesus Calling:

Thankfulness is not some sort of magic formula; it is the language of Love, which enables you to communicate intimately with Me. A thankful mind-set does not entail a denial of reality with its plethora of problems. Instead, it rejoices in Me your Savior, in the midst of trials and tribulations.” (Jesus Calling)

Free Thankfulness Journal with Prompts

Thanksgiving is a lifestyle, not a one day event, and these verses can help us incorporate living thankfully everyday. The printable journal contains the scriptures below and questions and prompts to maximize your quiet time in the Word. Linger a little longer. Think deeper. Question. Pray.

Whether your heart is full or this is a very difficult holiday, reading God’s Word, writing it down, and answering these prompts has potential to bring healing and help you experience this week of celebration with joy rather than sorrow. Here’s a peak of the contents of the free journal printable:

Psalm 107:8,9Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. 

  • There is always something to be thankful for. The words “unfailing love” are the Hebrew word chesed. This word is better translated as “merciful, loving acts of kindness.” List five things that God has done for you.

Philippians 1:3-6 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

  • Who are the people you are thankful for? Journal a prayer of thanksgiving for their presence in your life. Send a text, give a call or write a note letting them know how thankful you are for their friendship.

2 Cor. 2:14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.

  • Do you smell like Jesus? Write down a list of people who you know who spread the aroma of Christ? How do they do that?

2 Cor. 9:11-15  You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

  • God, generosity, and grace. They all go together. How has God’s generosity and grace blessed you? Who will you pass that grace to? Pass it on.

Colossians 1: 3-6: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

  • Take some time to thank God and pray for your family and friends who know Jesus and have shared their faith with you. Let them know you’re thankful for them too.

Psalm 69:30 I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.

  • Turn on one of your favorite worship songs or Christian radio stations and dance in your kitchen today.

Psalm 147:7 Sing to the Lord with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp.

  • Grab a highlighter and highlight all the verses in Psalms that speak of praising and worshiping the Lord. Write a few down in your journal.

What do you do when the holiday is hard to celebrate? Share with us! (Leave a comment.)

Dig deep. Live fully. You are loved.

Thankful for Jesus and for you,


thankful journal
Download the Journal


  1. […] Little kids dress up like pirates and princesses gathering candy in their pumpkin pails, and the time change occurs. (Which I like because I hate driving to work in the dark!) Some of us are beginning to make our plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas, yet there are many whose holidays will cause heartache. A hole sits in your heart. If there is an empty chair around your table, or this Thanksgiving will bring much pain, read my article about celebrating Thanksgiving when it’s hard. […]

  2. […] (Is Thanksgiving getting you down this year? Check out Andy’s latest post on her website: When Celebrating Thanksgiving Is Hard) […]

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