There will be two empty chairs at our Thanksgiving table this year. One I’ll talk about tomorrow. The other will represent our daughter Ellie who graduated from high school last December and two weeks later hopped on a plane for Africa. She’ll spend Thanksgiving in Zimbabwe with her team of young medical workers. Three are Americans so they’ll do something special on Thursday.
We will too. Ellie has been in Africa for nearly a year and she’ll be home just before Christmas. But our Thanksgiving feast will be bitter-sweet. We are thankful for her passion and commitment to help make people live better lives and to share God’s love; we’re also missing her and wishing she could be with us. That tension will be very real around our table on Thursday. One thing is for sure: we’ll pray for her by name when we say grace before we eat.
Many of us will have someone we love missing from the table this year. Maybe a loved one is serving in the armed forces. Maybe a family member lives across the country and couldn’t make the trip. Circumstances often separate us, and special times only make us miss them more.
What to do? When we’re apart it’s a good time to pray for the one’s we love. Here’s a model prayer for Thursday dinner if your family will have an empty chair around the table.
“Dear God, we’re gathered as a family to say ‘Thank you,’ for all the blessings you have given us. We thank you for life and provision and protection. We thank you too for the relationships you have created represented around this table. Family ties and friendships, for all their complexity, are your great gift to us. We pray that today would be an opportunity for us to renew and build on our relationships. We ask for your blessing in this. We also ask your blessing for (name of missing loved one). He/She is a rich part of this celebration, though she/he can’t be here with us. Express your love and ours to her/him today. Strengthen our ties, though we are apart. And when we are together again, help us to remember that your gifts are made more precious when we have a chance to long for them. Thank you again for all your promises and your faithfulness to bring them about. In Jesus we pray…”