Turkeys are $80 each here—I’m not exaggerating. Well, that is in New Zealand dollars and according to my Google search, that’s roughly $55 US. Still not great. Despite this, we still manage to throw some pretty legendary Thanksgiving parties with chicken (green bean casserole and pumpkin pie are still possible!).
Yet I find it’s in the holiday season—when everything is sparkling and shining and wonderful—that I find myself preparing for the worst.
Growing up in America, my Kiwi parents often raised a skeptical eye at the amount of random, no-school holidays. But they always got behind Thanksgiving. It’s a Biblical principle! No Thanksgiving was complete without “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good” scripted on paper leaves. And now that I live in New Zealand, I love the opportunity to gather with friends and share some classic dishes.
Yet in these moments—when everything is going great and I wouldn’t want to anything to change, and I’m finally experiencing real joy—I find myself thinking: This won’t be for long. This is too good to last forever.
And I start preparing for everything bad that’s about to happen.
“Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we feel,” researcher Brené Brown writes in her latest book, Dare to Lead (a birthday present that’s rocking my world). She goes on to describe that when we feel joy, it’s “beauty and fragility and deep gratitude and impermanence all wrapped up in one experience” (p. 81). When we can’t handle that level of vulnerability—joy becomes just plain scary, and so we self-protect by preparing for the worst.
I didn’t argue with her. How many times have I experienced joy… and quickly tried to talk myself out of it, all in the name of being prepared and ready for the pain to come?
Yet this was the gut punch on page 82:
We cannot plan for painful moments—we know this for a fact, because people who have been forced to live through those moments tell us that there is no amount of catastrophizing or planning for disaster that prepares you for them.
The collateral damage of this instinct is that we squander the joy we need to build up an emotional reserve, the joy that allows us to build up resilience for when tragic things do happen.
When I read that a month ago, I felt like I’d been knocked in the stomach. I knew I had a tendency to “prepare for the worst”. But I never imagined it was draining the emotional resources I need when the worst comes. Imagine if I was so devastated about the $80 turkey, so much so that I didn’t touch the chicken or anything else. We aren’t made to starve, physically or emotionally. But that’s exactly what I was doing.
As I sat at my desk stunned, a thought whispered:
What if you actually let yourself enjoy the season you’re in?
It was a foreign language to me. But as I started to let myself notice the good around me, as I started to thank God for all I’ve been given in this season, for the small victories as well as the big—the worst didn’t seem to matter as much anymore. It actually just seemed small in light of God’s vulnerable, inconvenient goodness to me.
So I pray, on this Thanksgiving, that you’d give yourself the grace to experience deep joy— and know that whatever comes, He really is good, and not only that, He is good to you.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”
-Psalm 136:1 (ESV)