Once upon a time, there was a young woman who was hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. She wanted—no, needed—everything to be perfect. She planned and prepped for days, chopping vegetables, rolling dough, scrubbing baseboards, and counting silverware. On the day of the feast, she was up with the sun, full of determination and manic good cheer.
As the day wore on, the good cheer waned and the manic levels rose. Pots boiled over and were turned down; ovens smoked and windows were opened. The clock ticked, and little by little, the meal started to come together. The guests would be there in a matter of hours. Could she pull off the perfect day? She really thought she could.
Then, suddenly: calamity. She ran out of butter! Real butter, creamy and fat, the fuel that makes the Thanksgiving engine run. She had to have some. She shrieked for her husband and sent him out to the store, with instructions to come back as quickly as he could with at least two pounds of butter.
Off he went. And he didn’t come back, and he didn’t come back. She grew more and more frantic and considered her options. She could cook without butter. No, impossible. She could just explain things to the guests. Unthinkable. She could burn the house down and move to Guadalajara. Now we’re getting somewhere.
Just as she began to search for her passport, her husband’s car screeched into the driveway. He was home, home with the butter! Hallelujah, the day was saved!
With trembling fingers, she snatched open the bag . . . and then fell back, the words of thanks dying in her throat. She croaked. She gabbled. She gaped.
There on the table was a three-pound tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!
“Boy, the stores were crowded!” her husband said. ”I guess everyone was shopping for Thanksgiving. But I knew you would like this, because you just wanted two pounds of butter, and this is three!”
What the young woman replied, I cannot record here. But she did point out to her husband, possibly dozens of times, that, “It says right on the package that IT’S NOT BUTTER.”
Well, Thanksgiving happened anyway. The food was hot and bountiful, the guests were jovial, and if anyone noticed that the butter was not butter, no one mentioned it. It was a good Thanksgiving.
You may think I’m going to wrap this story up with a moral about how we ought to be thankful for the best efforts of our loved ones, and that what really matters in the end is family, peace, joy, harmony, and good intentions.
But, no. What I’m thinking is, “Seriously, it said, ‘IT’S NOT BUTTER’ right on the package. Right on there! And he brought it home anyway!”
Know who that reminds me of? Me. Not on Thanksgiving, but every week, every day. Every time I go to Mass, the last thing I hear is, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” God is telling us, “Look, you have one job. One job. Go and serve me.”
And I say, “Amen, Boss!” and off I go.
And then what do I do? I come back with a giant tub of “I Can’t Believe I’m Not Serving God!” And I jog back into his temple, all hopeful and proud with my ridiculous little package clutched under my arm, and I say, “See? Look what I found for you! Good, huh? Just what you asked for, right?”
It’s not what he asked for. It’s a substitute. It says right on the package that it’s not what he wants. And God opens the package, and he says…
“Close enough. Come on in, thou good enough, faithful enough servant. Come on in to the feast I have prepared for you. Sit down with your family in the home of your Father, and let us have a meal together.”
And that, my friends, is why we celebrate Thanksgiving. Not because we have it all together, not because things turned out perfectly, not because we never disappoint each other, or because we always please God. We celebrate Thanksgiving because God loves us even when we fail—especially when we fail.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love is everlasting.
[This article originally ran in Catholic Digest in 2013.]