After my first phone call from a disgruntled family member about Thanksgiving, I was reminded that holidays can often be trying times for families and friends. And the most important way that I can prepare for the upcoming holidays is to pray. Add to that patience, love, and a good sense of humor, and I'm all set.
In preparation this year, I'm taking some pointers from how shepherds "prepare a table," which according to the original Hebrew word, can imply a "meal," for their sheep. Psalm 23 says, "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."
Before leading their sheep to pasture, shepherds travel up to the high country to inspect the land where their sheep will graze. Often they are watching for poisonous weeds that can be fatal to their sheep. Once the land is rid of any noxious weeds, or "enemies," they lead their sheep to safe grazing ground. Even while the sheep are grazing, the watchful shepherd keeps an eye out for any new sprouts or other enemies.
After grazing, sheep won't lie down unless they're free of fear from outside attack, from aggravation (usually flies), rivalry from within the flock, or hunger. Doesn't this sound familiar? Family gatherings are quickly upset if one feels attacked (perhaps by strong opinions), comments that "bug" us, rivalry for place or attention, or a hunger or longing to feel accepted or loved.
The noxious weeds that would try to germinate and grow and poison our time with family or friends aren't people, but the belief that we are separate beings with various failings – short tempers, a tendency toward gossip, a hunger to be the center of attention, and so on. In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," the author, Mary Baker Eddy, described divine Love as a "universal solvent," which destroys "self-will, self-justification, and self-love" (p. 242).
Divine Love reveals that we are spiritual ideas, perfect and much loved by our Father-Mother God, and responding to our families by recognizing that this is true for each one of them as well as ourselves can make a great difference. Science and Health offers a spiritual sense of the 23rd Psalm that includes this statement: "[Love] prepareth a table before me in the presence of mine enemies" (p. 578). The "enemies" – "self-will, self-justification, and self-love" – lose their influence when Love is the one who prepares our holiday table.
Christ Jesus proved this under many difficult circumstances. He turned constantly to God, divine Love, for guidance, and his words mirrored his works. Jesus never returned evil for evil. When he was accused of being a drunk or hanging out with sinners, he didn't return thoughtless comments in kind. He didn't fret about what others thought or said about him. He was charitable enough to continue to teach students he knew would betray him. Jesus didn't keep score; he wasn't governed by mad ambition.
He prayed that God's will be done. And in doing so, he wasn't devoured by wolflike thoughts of pride, arrogance, gossip, or power. His devotion to moving as God told him kept him safe. His way was not easy. He passed through valleys of hate, suspicion, and jealousy. But because he was listening to God, divine Love, he passed through and was able to prove God's power over predatory impulses.
As sheep follow the voice of their shepherd, trusting him for their food, protection, and care, so Jesus listened to God and followed His direction. That's what enabled his actions to be kind and his deeds generous. Even at the point of his crucifixion, he was forgiving.
As we prepare for the holidays, we can look to Jesus' life as an example of how to behave – not how our relatives should behave, but how we should. As our thoughts are guided and governed by divine Love, our actions will be patient, tender, kind, and forgiving. Truly there is a way to have a meal prepared by God, Love, and Jesus has showed us the way.