The flavor is good, but different. You realize your Aunt twice removed on your Dad’s side—who just happened to be in town from Milwaukee—made the dressing this year instead of Grandma. What was she thinking? You’re a little offended by her odd seasoning. There’s too much thyme and sage; it’s like you’re eating a spice rack. Has she served up a turkey-day travesty?
I had the strangest dream about Thanksgiving. What if we could celebrate the different spices in our relationships instead of treating them with disgust? That would be a different kind of thanks. What if you told your spouse, friend, parents, or alien-like family member, “You know, I’ve never said this before, but I’m so thankful for what makes you, you.”
We rarely give such bold validation or genuine appreciation. Unfamiliar flavors frighten us. It’s difficult to find grateful words for the contrasting qualities we experience in others. We’re so scared of differences, it’s funny. We try to protect ourselves through criticism, judgement, prejudice, avoidance, or pegging people with nitpicky labels.
We tend to like people like us; carbon copy relationships give us a sense of security. They will likely agree, enjoy selfsame conversation with us, and be thankful for us. What do we do with those other personalities, differing ideas, and unique strengths or weaknesses? Our choice is to value one another or not. We could show compassion, concern, and warmheartedness, or even discover we like their special flavor in our life.
There are more flavorful combinations in the world than you might think. The relationship cornucopia is available through humble questions like: “Wow—that’s interesting, will you tell me more?” or “That’s a unique perspective, can you share further?” I admit those questions are harder to genuinely ask than they are to type, but we can learn to celebrate the differences and give real thanks for them.
A little dash of openness, curiosity, and kindness goes a long way. Valuing someone doesn’t mean I have to swallow every idea they have, but it does mean treating them as human—as a brother or sister in Christ. I might disagree with your decision, theology, politics or behavior, but I can still value you enough to listen and discover the real you. Pass the salt and pepper please.
What if a husband said to his wife, “I love that you like pretty things, cry more easily, and are concerned with the safety of our children constantly. I value that about you.” Or if a wife said to her husband, “I love your fix-it mentality, high-desire sexuality, and love for sports!” And parents could compliment the unique attributes and interests in their children. We can learn to say, “Show me how your submarine works,” or, “Let me see your new Disney princess,” or, “What would you like to do today?” We travel into an amazing other world when we honor the subtle strengths and weaknesses that make them, them.
Will you savor the new zest in the dressing or get hacked off about it? Is my aunt more valuable than what I expected to taste in her holiday dressing? Let’s get unstuck from giving compliments only to the people who remind us of ourselves. It’s obviously fine to enjoy similarity—every normal soul likes commonality—but it’s good to expand our relational palate with a platter of compassion. It’s time to give thanks for the both of us.
In The Deeper Journey, M. Robert Mulholland Jr shares: “Genuine compassion requires a loving immersion in the life of others, a feeling of their pain, a sharing of their hurt, being touched deep in our own being by their brokenness. Such immersion is costly, in time, energy, attentiveness and perhaps even material resources.” It also requires kindness—“seeing others as persons of value and worth in and of themselves. It calls us to respect their integrity and not act in a way that might cause them to be shamed, disadvantaged or marginalized.”
To genuinely value one another is literally moving toward Christ. I was made in his image, and so were you, my peculiar neighbor. Whether you’re a pilgrim or a Native American, what you bring to the Thanksgiving table matters. There’s something different in the dressing.