Does an empty table mean an empty life during the holidays?
Do you ever feel trapped by someone’s assertion that you “can’t give what you don’t have”? Sometimes it feels like a phrase designed to keep you from activities you enjoy. By this rule, you can’t give peace when you’re going through difficult personal times, so you shouldn’t expect to pray for others. You can’t give guidance when you’re personally confused, so you shouldn’t ask to teach.
I find the teeth of this trap bite especially hard as we enter the holiday season. I am, again, alone this Thanksgiving. A month before the holiday, I had received no invitations. Two weeks before the holiday, I discovered that my friends all have holiday plans — none is free to join me at my own Thanksgiving table. For 17 years, Thanksgiving was shared with my husband’s family, or with the disabled adults we cared for. Now he has divorced me, I live 900 miles away, and I can’t name anyone who wants to spend Thanksgiving day with me.
You can’t give comfort you don’t have, right?
And if I “can’t give what I don’t have,” then the fact that I am alone means that I must remain alone. You can’t give the comfort of being in company when you don’t have it, right?
Wait a minute. Is that really true?
We tell children who feel lonely that the way to have a friend is to be a friend. To be in company is simply to be with others. Is there any way I can be with others this Thanksgiving?
Last year, my church served a Thanksgiving meal for those who were away from home, so I helped serve that meal. This year, no such activity. So I emailed the pastor of another local church that is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner. They’ve got all the hands they need to serve. What they need is someone to drive Thanksgiving meals out to shut-ins.
Visit those imprisoned by ill health
In a state with good public transportation, older adults might be more able to get to the dinner at church. In a more densely populated state, someone might live nearby to give them rides. In a different time, they would be living with relatives and simply share the meal the family prepares.
Here in 21st century Maine, if you are even temporarily unable to drive, the four walls of the too-big house you live in all alone can start to feel like a prison. Last winter, when I had a broken foot, I spent almost all of the hours of every day and night in my own house by my own self. I was offered (and took) rides to a weeknight small group, but didn’t get calls offering to bring me to Sunday services. The only people who called asking if I needed practical help were one colleague and one nearby sibling. (My brother and his wife loaned me the little red scooter I relied on during that 6 weeks … my colleague drove me to the supermarket and then taught me it was okay to use the motorized “MartCart” to get around the store!)
All that to say: I know what it feels like to be left to fend for myself at a time when I need and want the company of others.
So this Thanksgiving, I’ll be carrying dinner to some rural elderly who live about a half hour from their church. They live in prisons built by age, infirmity, and the structures of our culture. Like the apostle Paul, who was imprisoned for failing to fall in line with dominant Jewish and Roman religious traditions, their imprisonment is not due to any failing. They are “imprisoned” simply because they don’t fit into the culture they — and we all — live in.
God tells us to visit those in prison. And that’s what I’m doing this Thanksgiving.
How can I give what I don’t have?
How can I bring company when I don’t have company? How can I break their isolation when I live in my own solitude?
That’s where the rule clearly breaks down. Maybe I can’t give you confidence that you will never be left alone when my own life proves that people are often left alone. But I can give you whatever company I am able to offer. And in giving, I will receive your company.
God says: Give and you will receive
This is how God says it: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” (Luke 6:38).
According to God, we give from God’s abundance, not our own. He tells followers who, to the best of our knowledge have never been raised from the dead or freed from leprosy, that they are to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matt. 10:8)
And God points it out again when two disciples tell a beggar that they can’t provide him money but can give what they have: the power of God as they invoke it to free him to walk (Acts 3).
I don’t need to have anything in myself or of my own before I can give to you. I don’t need to have the social life I want, to have the peace I desire, to be clear about what is coming next. All I need is to know that God is with you and me together.
Such as I have, I will bring to these shut-ins on Thanksgiving.
And that is more than enough for a plentiful feast.
NOTE: After I committed to carrying Thanksgiving dinner to shut-ins this year, a relative who lives more than 2 hours away invited me to join their family celebration. I am grateful for the invitation, but unable to participate. And for the sake of these shut-in elders, that may have been God’s plan.
NOTE 2: I just received a second invitation, this time via Facebook to “anyone who will be eating alone.” The invitation comes from a colleague who experiences many health difficulties that often limit her activities. “We have plenty of room at our table,” she wrote. And in their hearts, I might add.