Five Strategies for Getting Over Your Hallmark Movie Expectations This Thanksgiving (AKA How to Avoid Having a Total Meltdown)
Maybe you belong to one of those precious families whose family Thanksgiving dinners have the quiet picturesque feel of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Or maybe, like me, your November holidays tend to have more in common with a Dr. Phil special.
Stay for laughs if you are #soblessed and #perfectlycontent this time of year.
But if you’ve experienced dysfunctional family dynamics, and could use some practical tips on survival methods, read on, my dear friend.
We’ve all been uniquely created. I’ve embraced the fact that I’m wired for romanticism. God made me with idealistic tendencies and natural leanings towards nostalgia.
I love Hallmark movies.
I would love to live the Hallmark movie version of my life.
Therefore, every holiday, in my mind, comes with a dream.
My Thanksgiving Dream:
Cozy embers in the fireplace.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on the television.
The smell of turkey in the oven.
Traditional punch of grape juice mixed with 7-up.
Hugs and familiar laughter while we all take turns expressing our gratitude.
Pumpkin pie encased by Cool Whip.
Hilarious stories that make us snort eggnog out of our nostrils.
Memories with loved ones I’ll cherish forever.
That’s the dream. That’s the hope.
That becomes the expectation.
But you see, most of the time, my Thanksgivings don’t exactly match up to my dreams or expectations. In other words, my life ain’t a Hallmark movie.
A (more-likely version of) Thanksgiving Reality:
Someone becomes the thermostat police and says it’s too hot for a fire. Quiet seething ensues.
I can’t hear the televised parade over the sound of the vacuuming that’s happening around my feet. Shoot. Should I be cleaning right now?
Someone complains the turkey is not organic and brings their morally superior free-range bird caught fresh from the butcher counter at Whole Foods. You’ve got to be kidding me.
Someone bought reduced sugar juice and diet 7-up for the punch so now there’s a heated debate about which is worse: Diabetes or cancer-causing Aspartame.
Arguments and familiar awkwardness by the time dinner is done because we’re complaining about politics, drama, and even how we’ll spend the rest of our time together.
Someone reminds me of how bad Cool Whip is for my health while I shovel another spoonful into my mouth in defiance.
Everyone is getting emotional or defensive because there are people we love who aren’t at Thanksgiving dinner and we’re all feeling the deep ache of longing and hurt over their absence.
Then I’m hiding in an upstairs back room feeling like I’m sixteen again. Until one of the children God blessed me with starts screaming about a sibling hitting them and my husband comes upstairs to remind me I must adult.
Eventually, I’m feeding my feelings with pumpkin pie serving number two and hating on my intestines. All this while probably deciding to watch a Hallmark movie about someone else’s fabulous holiday where all the dreams come true.
I don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving for me can easily become a day of disappointment.
I love my family.
I love to spend time with them.
But I don’t love all the sadness I inevitably feel on Thanksgiving when my dreams and my reality come crashing into each other. I’m tired of spending hours and wasted energy in processing and angst trying to figure out what the heck went wrong.
I want to love my actual family and not the “It’s a Wonderful Life” movie extras I’ve envisioned them to be in my mind.
So this year, I’m resolving to acknowledge reality and have a battle plan. A battle plan for sanity and loving well.
This year I will not play defense like I suddenly forgot what kind of crazy situation might unfold. This year, I am going to play offense and prepare my mind for reality by acknowledging the unrealistic expectations I have in my head and coming up with strategies for getting past my Hallmark movie expectations.
This is my plan of attack. Feel free to use it, too. I am going to affectionately call this battle plan: “How to avoid having a complete meltdown this Thanksgiving.”
Start with prayer.
Philippians 4:6 & 7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
I am not going to give into anxiety about how this show will go down this year. Instead, every time I want to complain or worry, I’m going to take it to God. I will pray for wisdom, grace, and love. I’m going to pray for hurt to melt. I am going to pray for compassion and blessings for the people who break my heart. I am going to pray for opportunities to love well. I am going to pray for a thankful heart. I am going to pray for perspective. I am going to pray a lot.
Say yes to being a servant.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12
Jesus modeled the life of a servant. He led with humility and gentleness. I don’t have to assert my rights. My rights don’t have to be the most important ones in the room. I don’t have to take it as a personal affront when someone forgot I don’t eat gluten or when someone wants to use sugar-free juice to accommodate someone else’s dietary needs. I can set aside my desires and wants and look for ways to help. I can vacuum and pause the parade. I can look for ways to serve others.
Be a voice of encouragement.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen… Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
I can choose my words carefully. My words carry power and I can wield that power deliberately. I can speak love when arguments ensue or hurt is expressed. I can choose not to engage in conversation that is neither uplifting or beneficial. I can compliment the chef who presents the Whole Foods turkey while still praising the culinary skills of the one who lovingly cooked the chemically-treated bird.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
If I want to appreciate my family and circumstances for what they actually are and not just the caricatures I’ve made up in my mind, I can give thanks for them. I can always find something to positively focus on. For me, I am thankful I don’t have to cook. I am thankful for a warm house. I am thankful for the ability to spend concentrated time with the loved ones that are present. I am thankful for strong people in my lineage. When in doubt, I can write it out and start a gratitude list.
Be merciful and grace-filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7
I can choose to follow my Savior’s lead, and show grace and mercy to those around me.
Honest confession? Sometimes I just don’t wanna. I don’t wanna forgive someone who’s hurt me deeply. The truth is, I miss certain people most during the holidays and some of those certain people will be having their own private Thanksgiving parties on Thursday. This has been an emotionally tumultuous year on my family of origin. There is a lot of hurt and brokenness. But I am not responsible for how other people treat me. We are each responsible for ourselves and how we respond to whatever situations come our way. And one day, each of us will give an account for our lives to the one who made us. And on that day, I desperately want to be able to say, “Lord, I surrendered my hurt, my sense of injustice, my right to anger. I traded those rights in for your great exchange. You allowed me to show love and forgiveness to those people who hurt me. Even when they refused to accept me, my heart was soft towards them.” Friends, let me tell you the truth. That’s my heart’s desire but it’s not where I am many days- I want to call foul and vent my frustrations- especially on Thanksgiving when all the unmet expectations seem to boil down to one major hurt and I’m prone to look for a likely scapegoat. But each of us is imperfect. Each of us has our mess. God forgave us. And because of that, we can forgive others.
If one of those family members came through the door this Thursday with an organic free-range turkey and some sugar free juice, my prayer is there would be open arms, tears of joy and some snorted eggnog over deep laughter and shared memories.
So yes, maybe I will always dream/pray for that Hallmark movie ending. God is a God of restoration and healing. My heart will always long for that happily ever after.
But more than the dreams that fill our minds, my prayer is every opportunity like Thanksgiving brings us one step further from a meltdown over unmet expectations and one step closer to being people who love Jesus more than our dreams. People characterized by prayer, servant-hood, encouragement, thanksgiving, and grace.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends.
P.S. If you have any strategies on Thanksgiving survival that I missed here, some eggnog-snorting funny stories, or something for which you’re really thankful for this year, please comment below. I’d love to hear from you!