So You’re Not Coming for Thanksgiving?

What is it that makes Norman Rockwell’s famous illustration Freedom from Want (also known as The Thanksgiving Picture) so engaging? It’s not that we can almost smell the roasted turkey in the picture, although that is true. Even more inviting than the food is the warmth we feel when we look at the happy faces of three generations of family members gathered for the Thanksgiving meal. It’s the winsome expressions of the grandparents serving that happy extended family that warms our hearts. This is the experience we all long for when it comes to the holiday season.

When the Holidays Aren’t as You Remember

Perhaps you have many fond memories of holiday gatherings like this, but it looks like this year is going to be different. When you reached out to family members about plans to gather for Thanksgiving, you didn’t get good news. There was pained disappointment in your response: “So you’re not coming?”

The reasons for the smaller Thanksgiving or Christmas table this year may be legitimate, even if the absences will be deeply felt: sickness, long work hours, or perhaps your adult children spending the holiday with in-laws. But for other grandparents, fewer places will be needed at the Thanksgiving table for reasons that bring deeper pain to the heart. An adult child or an older grandchild has made it clear that they just don’t want to come. There’s been a relational strain in the family that has led one or more family members to make the disheartening decision to stay away this holiday season. The anticipation of family togetherness evaporates. The smile on the grandparent’s face gives way to tears on the cheeks. Deep disappointment shoves out the joy that had previously filled the heart.

What is a Christian grandparent to do with this deep disappointment? What truth from God’s Word can help us when we experience a relational rift this holiday season?

Psalm 147:3 reminds us, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Scripture reassures us we are not facing this pain on our own. Let’s take encouragement from God’s Word about the truth of his care for us in difficult, tension-filled times.

God knows what you’re going through.

Your heavenly Father knows your situation and the painful disappointment you are experiencing. He sees your pain. Psalm 139:1–4 reminds us, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” God knows the sense of loss you are feeling.

God cares about the ache in your heart.

God not only knows you, but as your heavenly Father, he loves you as his child. Being assured of this, we are told to cast all of our anxieties on him, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).  We can be honest about the pain and disappointment we are experiencing when we talk to him. He will listen to us. Our heavenly Father cares.

God is with us in our pain.

Psalm 34:18 comforts us with this tender reminder: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Though others may leave us, our heavenly Father never will. He promised: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Moreover, he will work his healing into our broken hearts (Psalm 147:3).   

God IS able to give you grace and wisdom for your personal pain and your fractured family.

Jeremiah 32:17 reminds us, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” Do you believe that? Do you believe that your heavenly Father is able to step into your painful situation and bring his grace to you and your broken family?

His purposes are at work.

Though our heart still longs for immediate restoration in our family, we can rest that his good purposes are at work as we seek to honor him and to love our family members. As we lean into him as our refuge during this painful time, we can also be on the lookout for ways to bring hope and relief to others who are hurting this holiday season. Rather than secluding ourselves in our pain, we can arise to help serve a Thanksgiving meal at the local homeless shelter or maybe invite those forgotten people from our church or neighborhood to a “spiritual family” meal around our own table this holiday.

And, as we pour out to our loving Father the ache in our hearts, we find his care for us to be sure. Our trust in him grows stronger and sweeter. Then we can sing with the Psalmist,

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. 

Psalm 62:5–8

Grandparenting with Grace Frontcover


In this practical and biblical resource for grandparents, Larry McCall helps readers confidently carry out their mission of gospel-focused grandparenting. Grandparenting with Grace explores how to build a legacy of a life worth following and how to faithfully pray for grandchildren.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash.

About the author

Larry McCall

Larry E. McCall has served as a pastor at Christ’s Covenant Church of Winona Lake, Indiana, since 1981. He has written a number of articles for a number of publications and is the author of three books, the latest being Grandparenting with Grace: Living the Gospel with the Next Generation. He is a graduate of Grace College, Grace Theological Seminary and has a doctor of ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Larry has been married to Gladine since 1975. They have three married children and seven grandchildren.

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