It’s hard to be thankful when more seems to be going wrong than right. Yes, the US Presidential election is over, but the nation seems more divided than ever. Not to mention the every-day things that aren’t what quite right—it’s hot in SoCal (still or again) and rainy in the Pacific Northwest (still or again). I had my car broken into a week ago and a few days later learned my landlord is raising the rent. A friend of mine died last month, and my work has slowed to a crawl.
The specifics for each of us may be different, but it seems a lot of people would identify with the sentiment that there’s more going wrong than right.
Add to the pressure and bad news, the constant message from our computer and TV screens that we deserve better than what we’ve got. We deserve better treatment, a better gadget, a better policy, a better President. Advertisements bombard us with the idea that we can, and should, do better, if only we’d get with the program and buy . . . whatever they’re advertising.
So, how are we doing with thankfulness?
Oddly enough, the people that originated a celebratory feast as part of a day of thanks, had a whole lot more problems than we have. According to the Scholastic article “The First Thanksgiving” the Pilgrims arrived in the New World during the winter. Their perilous two-month voyage across the stormy Atlantic had lasted far longer than expected, and had already taken a toll. Their supplies were nearly depleted, and they became ill because of the conditions on board ship.
As it was, because of exposure, malnutrition, and disease, nearly half the original 102 settlers died before the coming of spring. At the lowest point, only seven people were healthy enough to take care of the sick.
Without the help of the Native Americans living in the region near the place where they settled, it’s likely they would not have survived another winter. Other colonies had failed, and future colonies would be wiped out by attacks from a different group of Native Americans.
The survivors, of course, were committed to this dangerous adventure, and needed to figure out how to provide properly for themselves in order to avoid another disastrous winter. The Indians gave them invaluable help.
In April, the Mayflower headed back to England and the small band of settlers were on their own.
Well, not quite. God was watching over them. By His providential care, they made friends with the Monhegan Tribe, and became acquainted with Squanto who knew English and translated so that the Indians could teach them when to plant corn, how to catch fish, how to use the carcass as fertilizer, and who knows what else.
So it was, they dug in, built homes, and cultivated the soil.
The Pilgrims’ entire male working force consisted of twenty-one men and six of the older, stronger boys. With this small force, they tilled and planted with heavy hoes, (having no horses nor domestic animals), twenty acres of Indian corn, six acres of wheat, rye and barley, as well as small gardens near the homes consisting of peas and other small vegetables. (“The Pilgrims Story and the First Thanksgiving”)
At the end of the summer, they reaped a bountiful harvest. And from a deep sense of gratitude, they held a feast of thanksgiving. Ninety Indians came and celebrated with the fifty-eight Pilgrims for three days.
Why? They had all lost loved ones, were in a strange land with no way of returning, and winter was coming.
They didn’t have health care. Or grocery stores. Or cars and freeways, let alone the Internet and Skype. They were cut off and alone. But they created a thanksgiving celebration.
They were grateful that God had provided what they needed for that next season. And they trusted that He would do it again and again.
Perhaps our disaffected society isn’t particularly thankful (and I’m talking year round, not whether or not we remember to say thank you to God or to our family on Thanksgiving Day) because we don’t remember what it feels like to be without.
Maybe we need to take a short term mission trip to an underdeveloped nation or volunteer at a homeless shelter or walk the streets of a big city urban center to see what “being without” looks like.
Maybe we should pray that God would open our eyes to the countless blessings we enjoy—and keep our eyes open so that we live in joyful contentment rather than in disaffected greed or covetousness.
This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in November 2013.