Eleven Words

“The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other.” – 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 (The Message)

At a couple of church gatherings the week before Thanksgiving, I asked this question:  “Who will be around your table at Thanksgiving and does that represent any challenges?”  The responses were quite remarkable:  

“Well, it all depends if my aunt shows up.”

“This year Thanksgiving is with my wife’s family, so we’ll be fine.  But next year we’ll be with my family, and that’s a whole other story.”

“My brother hasn’t been with us for Thanksgiving for a long time, so we’ll have to see how that goes.”

Can you picture that famous Norman Rockwell painting that depicts a large family gathered at a dining table for a Thanksgiving meal?  The father is at the head of the table, hands folded.  All heads are bowed.  I always assumed they were all offering prayers of thanksgiving for their manifold blessings.  But now I wonder if the prayers were more like these:  

“Dear God, help me to hold my tongue.”

“God, everyone is doing real well so far.  Don’t desert us now.”

“Please help us steer clear of political arguments.”

When I imagine prayers like that, the depiction of the Norman Rockwell family goes from merely sentimental to something very real and very poignant.

Ira Byock, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School, writes from his experience with dying patients and grieving families about the eleven words that people need to hear in such moments.  Then he rightly observes that these eleven words are important to say—and powerful—not just at such critical moments, but at other times and in other circumstances.  

Those eleven words are:  “Please forgive me.  I forgive you.  I love you.  Thank you.”

So in the wake of Thanksgiving, let me ask:  Does anyone need to hear these words from you today?


God, bring a spirit of reconciliation to my heart and to my words.

About the Author
Martin B. Copenhaver is the President of Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, Massachusetts. His most recent book is Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered.