That Thanksgiving, my cousin confronted my grandmother in the kitchen and told her she was going to hell.
Happy Thanksgiving, I thought—while he stood there, smug and holy. I definitely thought some other things about my cousin and his super-religious family, too. You might say that these thoughts were not exactly thoughts of gratitude that they were going to be joining us for the day’s festivities.
Only one person seemed unperturbed by the confrontation—the person who was, apparently, going to hell. My grandmother, who’d raised seven children and grandmothered 22, looked at my cousin with pure love. And though I don’t remember how she responded—or if she responded at all—I do remember one thought that penetrated my fog of anger: The realization that this was a woman who knew all about grace.
I didn’t know about grace on that Thanksgiving—not really, anyway. And I wasn’t interested in being merciful. I wanted my cousin to know that he was wrong about my grandmother and her beliefs. Better yet, why he was wrong. Honestly? I thought I was smarter than he was, and that I could out-Bible him during our Christianity smackdown post-turkey dinner.
But it was an unsatisfying victory. I returned to college feeling like I’d let someone down. My grandmother, yes; but also myself. I kept thinking about her demeanor that morning—the effortless mercy that wrapped my cousin in love and wouldn’t let go.
Could I do that? Could I redeem my Thanksgiving—better yet, could I extend the blessing my grandmother had offered that holiday into the rest of my year?
Yes, I thought, I could. I had to. I’ve always thought of Thanksgiving as a holiday about giving—not just giving thanks, but also sharing the bounty of God’s goodness with strangers and family alike. That Thanksgiving, I knew I’d come up short. I’d
been charitable with everyone but the person who’d needed my kindness the most.
What saved me as I set out to redeem my Thanksgiving was a simple message that came as I wrestled with my feelings about my cousin: that grace, like every other blessed and good quality, has its source in God, not in me. The Bible puts that idea
this way: “We love him [God], because he first loved us.” 1 In other words, I didn’t have to create mercy. I didn’t have to muster up the necessary love and charity all by myself. I loved because God loved. I expressed grace because of the amazing grace bestowed on me.
As I embraced more grace in thought and action over the next few months, I stopped caring about making my cousin see how wrong he’d been to attack my grandmother. I was too busy celebrating Thanksgiving: the bounty of God’s grace that leaves no
heart out. The supreme charity that makes us feel blessed—and worthy. I found I was being kinder with myself, and kinder to others. There was power in grace. I’d thought that being right—and self-righteous—was powerful. But nothing compared to the power I felt when I was able to forgive and love, when I was able to offer up a little tenderness.
The year my cousin told my grandmother she was going to hell on Thanksgiving morning, I ended up with a Thanksgiving feeling that lasted all year. I felt some sharp edges to my character being softened. I became less inclined to react, and more inclined to love. And I better understood this statement by Mary Baker Eddy: “What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds.” 2
That’s a prayer that has marked my holidays, and even my ordinary days, since then. And I have my grandmother—and my cousin—to thank.RSS feed
Topics: Family, Thanksgiving | Tags: genuine forgiveness, grace