One of my first Thanksgivings as a young adult, I lived in a foreign country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. So a family invited my ministry team into their home for the turkey and pumpkin pie, fall-themed decor, and to gather together with other expatriates to clink glasses and pray with. A TV in the other room showed a recording of a football game. It was utterly delightful.
There haven’t been many meals that nourished my soul to that extent, and I think it’s because I was so very hungry for connection. Connection to my earthly homeland, connection to familiar foods and smells, connection to people who understood those parts of me. It was like chicken soup for my homesick heart.
Genesis 1:18 reminds us, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” And yet, in the last two years, we’ve had to become creative about how we gather together. We all did our best to fill in the gaps with “pandemic pods,” virtual happy hours or playdates, even eating meals concurrently on Zoom. But it quickly became clear: There’s no substitute for the real thing.
Why we gather together
Knitted into the very fabric of our being is the idea that we’re not meant to be isolated. Man was made in God’s image, an image that includes being in loving community—the wonderful mystery of the Trinity, three Persons in one God. Unlike God, however, we need people outside of ourselves to form our community as a part of His good design.
Here are three reasons we gather together this time of year.
1. It feeds our souls.
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Psalm 133:1).
Good and pleasant. Hopefully you’ve experienced time with others that filled your cup, made you feel more fully alive, more fully yourself. Or you’ve experienced the joy of knowing someone else benefited from your presence, your tears, your words, your laughter, your touch. Maybe this verse brings up a profound sense of sorrow and loss because you can’t remember the last time being with other people felt that way. Even that points to the fact that God created you for community.
Sometimes the company of “a brother” is hard to come by. Gathering together in unity can be even more elusive. The gatherings that feed your soul are the products of some faithful tilling of relational soil. Soul nourishing relationships don’t just happen. Just like a fabulous meal isn’t prepared without planning, gathering of needed ingredients, perhaps even studying a recipe ahead of time, a gathering that feeds your soul takes some investment on the front end.
Who are the people in your life who nourish your soul? Who, in your life, is your presence a balm to? Can you make space to gather together with those people this Thanksgiving?
Maybe there are extra seats at your table, or maybe you can put together a Friendsgiving. Or maybe there are some things you could change about your gathering to make it more nourishing for the souls there. If you’re hosting, do you need to let go of some of the elements that stress you in favor of being able to bring your full self? If you get caught up with comparison or fear of conflict, can you take some time to prepare to stop toxic thoughts in their tracks?
2. It nourishes our bodies.
Part of the beauty of gathering for celebrations that include food is that it connects us to our own and others’ bodies. The sensory experience of a feast can be almost overwhelming. The scent of brown sugar and sweet potatoes welcomes you, as does the laughter or conversations of family and friends. You may offer embraces or wash your hands to chop pecans or set the table. We’re letting our bodies serve—making food, dishing kids’ plates, refilling ice teas, retrieving more chairs. And letting our bodies enjoy thehugs, the squeezing together at a table, the raising of glasses, the eating of way too much food, or perhaps the getting outside for a walk or tossing a ball.
Gathering together over food is a part of what it is to be fully human. To enjoy the presence and touch of others, to nourish our bodies with food we made and God provided, to pause everything else and lift our voices to thank God for His many blessings. This Thanksgiving, don’t forget to notice your body, thanking God for all the things you’re able to do with it.
3. It allows us to feast on the glorious future.
Ultimately, when we gather together at a table it points us to the coming reality: the table in the coming kingdom that includes people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. In You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith writes, “There are no box seats at this table, no reservations for VIPs, no filet mignon for those who can afford it while the rest eat crumbs from their table . . . this strange feast is the civic rite of another city—the Heavenly City.”
Whether you feast at a 15-seat table with fine china place-settings, in a folding chair with a paper plate in your lap, or at a community center with the homeless, let your feast remind you of Christ’s table. Let it stir your imagination for the beautiful magnitude and diversity of the family meal that’s coming where Jesus sets the table and we’ll feast in humble unity.
Look at the eternal souls eating alongside you, and seek to love them accordingly this Thanksgiving. Every time we gather together, there’s opportunity for it to be chicken soup for the soul homesick for its true home, the heavenly city where Jesus is King.
Copyright © 2021 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Laura Way serves with FamilyLife as a writer and lives in Orlando, Florida with her high-school-teaching husband, Aubrey, and their two vibrant young daughters. She and Aubrey lived in East Asia for seven years until relocating unexpectedly a couple years ago. She enjoys writing about becoming more fully human while sojourning through different places, seasons of life, and terrains of mental and spiritual health at hopeforthesojourn.com.