The common, accepted portrayal of a happy, joking, and supportive family joyously celebrating around a food-laden Thanksgiving table is definitely not a universal reality.
Some families despise the ritual (and aren’t too keen on one another either); yet they meet year-after-after out a sense of guilt or tradition, jabbing each other with passive-aggressive verbal stabs. Even within families that are indeed content overall, certain members of the clan might resent, or even dislike, one another. They hold grudges over past transgressions or historic bitterness stalks silently beneath a transparent veneer of tranquility.
I point out these realities not with intent of injecting an unpleasant aftertaste to Thanksgiving dinner, nor as some sort of post-apocalyptic view of the holidays. And to be honest, I also do not know percentages of “unhappy” versus “happy” families; maybe it’s minuscule; possibly it’s everyone but you and I. Yet it is true. Moreover, to focus on “how many” bypasses the greater issue: we cannot release these strains until we acknowledge they exist. Once there, we discharge them with a type of thanks.
“Thanks,” you might ask with understandable confusion; “Why would one give thanks for an irritating collection of boorish relations with whom I’m forced to endure boring football games and overcooked turkey?”
In the traditional sense of “giving thanks,” you wouldn’t. However, when one expands the concept of thankfulness, we realize that gratitude and forgiveness are actually the same act. All that differs is the direction in which they are pointed.
Similarities abound. Each brings with it a sense of inner peace and happiness. The action in each is directed toward another person; yet its true purpose is to help us, not the recipient. Each releases an responsibility: whereby thanks releases me from obligation to you. Forgiveness un-tethers you from a perceived debt I feel you have to me. The results are identical; what differs is the grounds. We give thanks when we believe something is “positive,” while forgiving what we consider “negative.
Of course, it’s normal to feel someone is unworthy of forgiveness. In effect, I cannot forgive you because the pain you inflicted was so extreme, or because I was so violated, that I lost control over part of my life; in essence you took away a part of ME. How do I forgive such heinous acts while remaining true to my core beliefs?
The dilemma lies in equating forgiveness with approval of the behavior.
Forgiveness is actually about my feelings, not your actions. If I change the perspective from “what you did” to “how I feel about what you did,” I reclaim control over my emotions and can begin to regain that which was taken. The only alternative is to continue to be a victim, experiencing the anguish on a regular basis – the torment not only extreme, but also constant and repeated.
Unfortunately many view forgiveness as a mark of weakness. The reality is it requires enormous strength to direct one’s emotions. Said Ghandi, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Forgiving what your sister did long ago, or how your parents mistreated you is not easy. However holding long-standing grudges does zero to help heal the pain, and – can we be honest? – it’s really not hurting them in the slightest.
It might be time to let go, even a little. And this holiday seems as good of a time as any to start the process.