I started this year’s American Thanksgiving week with a journey from Dublin to St. Louis, where I live. I was in Ireland to visit Serge staff and attend a conference they were putting on for Irish church leaders called Come to the Table.
The day before my flight back to the U.S. I started a quest of trying to get my aisle seat changed to a window seat for the longest flight in the journey. I wanted to sleep because I was tired and I knew sleep would make a multi-hour flight seem shorter. I failed to get my seat switched—not for lack of trying!
As I settled into what turned out to be a very comfy isle seat, I remembered learning just a few days earlier that Irish immigrants to America during the 1840s famine were given a funeral before they got on a ship because they seemed to be trading one serious threat of death for another. In fact they called the ships themselves “coffin ships.”
With a family name like O’Gorman, chances are high that “my people” were on some of those ships. Obviously some of them made it—but I wonder who didn’t. Or what it felt like to be that desperate. Lord, have mercy.
Since this is Thanksgiving week, you probably know where I am going with all of this.
How do we cultivate gratitude in a culture where comfort is king? How do we cultivate empathy for people who are literally getting on coffin ships today?
During the Come to the Table conference, emcee and Serge staff Tom Gilliam kicked off the time by repeating the Scripture verses originally uttered by wandering Israelites: “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?” (Ps. 78:19). The rhetorical answer was yes—God can and He did and He does.
Somehow, some of my ancestors survived. And if you live in America today, likely you also have an ancestral survival story.
Perhaps this Thanksgiving one of the best ways for us to both cultivate thanksgiving for our lives and empathy for others is by remembering time when God has provided a table in the wilderness – for us and for His people throughout history. That is how the Thanksgiving celebration began, after all.
Maybe you are in the wilderness today. While my own discomfort noted above was small and inconsequential in many ways, I know that there are real wildernesses out there and I have been there myself.
Could this be a time for you to cling to the promise that says, “Yes, God can provide a table in the wilderness. He will feed me. He will feed the suffering ones I love.”
Today is a day for us to look to the past with thanksgiving for His provision—and ahead for His promises to be fulfilled.
Look for that table. Stop to remember all He has done for you. And may we all consider with compassion those who are both physically and spiritually hungry.