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This Thanksgiving, invite the Teacher

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Two young girls stand in front of a stained glass mural depicting a scene from the life of Christ in Salt Lake City prior to the Saturday afternoon session of the 177th semiannual conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Oct. 6, 2007.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News

What are you planning to do for Thanksgiving? When first considering the question, you might begin to list the restrictions and all the things you won’t be able to do. It’s fair to lament, and maybe even mope, about the broken traditions and how annual family gatherings on this day will be relegated to FaceTime, Zoom or Teams experiences. Let’s not forget the absence of parades and door-busting shopping. 

Reflecting on deficits can leave you hollow, resentful and despondent. It can send you on an aimless quest on how to replenish or replace that which you have lost. If you find a quiet space and still yourself, you might realize that the experience is not about the loss, but the lesson.    

The lesson is taught by a teacher who has found us stuck, off track or all over the place. At some point we may have strayed from the spiritual or moral values that anchored us. The teacher does not chastise or scold us for repeating mistakes, not listening or blaming her.  Instead, she comes to remind us that we have veered off course.

As the teacher walks among the rows of desks, her cadence slows as she rests her eyes upon students who chose confrontation over consolation, obstinate over obedience and denial over discernment. As the student makes eye contact with the teacher, they sheepishly and apologetically look away, knowing they could have done more and been better. A self-inventory compels the student to face all that was ignored — the suffering, pain, pleas, unanswered messages, fragmented relationships, lack of forgiveness and prayers. 

The upside to veering off course is that we can course correct. Before the student drops their head in exasperation and shame, the teacher kneels beside the desk and says to the student what she said to each student: “We’re all here to learn.”  

Isn’t that what this season is all about — to learn? It can’t be coincidental that a pandemic, impeachment, economic collapse, racial injustice, empty churches, lockdowns, fires, indiscriminate death tolls and election challenges would converge on the households and consciousness of America within eight months. It’s interesting that these 2020 events are synonymous with expressions such as “unprecedented,” “worse in U.S. history,” “never in my lifetime,” “overwhelming” and “unthinkable.” T-shirts, emojis, hashtags, memes and GIFs have been created to curse, ridicule and erase 2020.  

It’s been a tough year. Since we’re home and have time to reflect, let’s ask ourselves a few questions. What was the Lord saying to us? What was He trying to teach us? What did we learn about ourselves? What are we supposed to learn? What can we learn?

This Thanksgiving season invites us to “be still and know” that there is a power higher and greater than our own, who created us in His likeness.

As we cleaned closets and garages, we learned we didn’t need as much stuff. In isolation and quarantine, we learned that we need each other. In witnessing racial injustice, we learned that we must speak against it. When the environment seemed to turn on us, we learned we must save it. When there was disagreement, we learned that we must talk through it. When humanity is hurt, we learned that we must heal it. 

This Thanksgiving season invites us to “be still and know” that there is a power higher and greater than our own, who created us in His likeness. He encourages, coaxes and calls upon us to not be resentful, bitter or ungrateful where we list losses and what we don’t have, but rather count our blessings and what we do have.  

In that quiet place, we will find that we have a lot. We have a place to dwell, devices to receive information, access to streaming apps, platforms to communicate with others, masks, heat and water.

Above these utilities is the enormous capacity of the human spirit. We have the ability to forgive, serve, respond to the needs of others, rise above the negative, offer peace, provide hope, inspire kindness and heal.    

While I don’t want more calamity or disruption in my life, I realize that there is one month left in 2020. I don’t want to bemoan or dread December, but if it has a lesson, I want to learn it. This Thanksgiving, I will thank the Lord for the lessons, as well as His grace and mercy upon this student.

Theresa A. Dear is a national board member of the NAACP.