So how do you feel about turkeys? When I was 12 years old, turkey was not my favorite food. Since it was typically only served on Thanksgiving Day, I could deal with it. I found that I could mask the taste with mashed potatoes and gravy. Lots of gravy!
When I got into high school and was part of a bowling league, I grew to love turkeys. If you’re a bowler, you know that a “turkey” isn’t something to eat. Rather it’s what you get when you roll three consecutive strikes. I couldn’t get enough of them.
When our family moved to the Midwest, we lived at a distance from the city. I found myself dodging the gobblers on my drive to the office. I discovered that wild turkeys can be a real nuisance.
The same is true of those other turkeys in our lives. You know the ones I mean. I call them “joy thieves.” They steal your sense of well-being and rob you of your peace of mind. Just being around them stresses you out. They question your motives. They’re jealous of your successes. They delight in your setbacks. Gobbling gossip, they can unfairly stain your reputation. These turkeys definitely make life difficult.
The turkeys in our lives are the source of much anxiety and perhaps even deep-seated resentment. In response, we find ourselves basting these birds with negative thoughts while our anger simmers. Ironically, the people to whom we don’t want to give the time of day occupy our constant attention. But what can we do?
Many years ago, I heard one of Billy Graham’s daughters make a statement that challenged my tendency to let the difficult people in my life dominate my emotions. Ruth Graham, who had suffered much hurt in her life as an adult, discovered that refusing to forgive those who complicate our lives is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.
It’s an axiom that remains true. In fact, I think it is a fail-proof recipe that provides us a way to deal with the turkeys in our lives before the impact of their hurtful actions results in cooking our goose. It’s a recipe that calls for forgiving the offender instead of being held hostage by feelings of hurt and hatred. Or as one first century rabbi suggested: “Let us forgive one another as God has forgiven us.”
It’s just possible that a forgiving heart may be that secret sauce you need to make your Thanksgiving less bitter. Reading the recipe closely will clarify that forgiveness does not mean forgetting what those turkeys have done to us. Rather, it is choosing not to let them control our emotions.
After all, this is the season for setting turkeys free. Ever since George H.W. Bush’s administration, the President of the United States has pardoned a turkey at Thanksgiving.
Actually, Mr. Bush wasn’t the first to commute a death sentence to such a beast destined for the dinner table. History records that former Abraham Lincoln freed a turkey someone had given to the White House that one of his sons had adopted as a pet.
And President John F. Kennedy pardoned a White House turkey near the end of his life. In fact, that act of mercy was one of the last public acts JFK did just three days before he died. In the midst of the tragedy that defined his fateful trip to Dallas, that little known fact has been lost on most historians.
But it isn’t simply the purview of presidents to pardon turkeys. Each of us has the power to grant the irregular people in our lives room to roam. Each of us has the ability to forgive. And by offering forgiveness (undeserved as it might be), we give ourselves a gift. We free ourselves from the prison of resentment and stress.
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.