Gratitude Doesn't Come Easily
Gratitude Doesn't Come Easily
By presidential proclamation, the fourth Thursday in November "¦shall be declared a day of national Thanksgiving. It's a fine national custom; an even better spiritual discipline, because for many of us gratitude doesn't come easily!
When Thanksgiving Day rolls around annually, our thoughts often go back to that first Thanksgiving day. Perhaps we don't know many of the fact or the realities of that first Thanksgiving, but I suspect that most of us conjure up warm thoughts and imaginations about that first band of settlers, the pilgrims. We can easily be led to imagine that as they got off the ship Mayflower and landed on Plymouth Rock theirs was cozy, fireside Thanksgiving, and the spread on their table from their first harvest was abundant and lavish.
Perhaps it would be helpful for our own observance of Thanksgiving to realize that those warm, cozy images we tend to conjure up are just that ¦ and only that! They are products folklore and imaginations, because the principal harvest of those first settlers who observed that first Thanksgiving wasn't picturesque or glamorous at all. In fact, death was the principal harvest that first winter in the land of the free. And the beautiful cards we send out with snow-kissed New England landscapes simply aren't honest. Behind those pictures and graphics was bitter suffering.
After two months of confinement on the Mayflower, the pilgrims anticipated the balmy weather of Virginia which they had been told to expect.
However, already weakened from the voyage, they landed in a bitter winter storm. Only three married couples survived that first winter!
A time for thanksgiving? Of the eighteen wives on the Mayflower, only five remained alive for that first Thanksgiving Day.
The children fared a little better, but only because, in many cases, their mothers made the supreme sacrifice.
Only one-half of the ship's original roster survived to eat that first Thanksgiving meal.
So, although we may picture a well-fed people, surrounding a festive, food-laden Thanksgiving table, it is only the better part of honesty for us to recall ¦ or be made aware ¦ that the first Thanksgiving Day was an act of praise and gratitude to God:
For a little bread instead of none! For a slim hold on life in place of death! For a glimmer of hope in an otherwise uncertain future!
It was in those circumstances that the pilgrims gathered, by an act and discipline of the will, to "¦addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:19-20)
With that rather grim picture of the facts of the first Thanksgiving behind us, perhaps it wouldn't be at all out of order for me to encourage you something like this:
"When you consider how many hardships the pilgrims endured and how few were their tangible blessings compared to our affluence and comparative wealth; to our life of ease, etc¦how much more thankful and grateful we ought to be as Americans!
However, comparing blessings rarely inspires gratitude and Thanksgiving. It is because things, creature-comforts, abundance, wealth, prosperity, whatever ¦ are what our Lord is referring to when He so clearly said, "Take care, and by on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. (Luke 12:15)
What brings an attitude of gratitude? True thanksgiving ¦ from the heart? It comes from the presence and working of the Holy Spirit in our heart, as every moment of our lives He leads us to experience the love and mercy and forgiveness of Christ; as He feeds and supplies our inner natures with the riches of God's grace in the love of the Savior.
A seventeenth-century German pastor named Martin Rinkhart is said to have buried 5,000 of his parishioners in one year ¦ an average of fourteen a day. By all rights, an unrelieved pall of gloom should have enveloped the life and household of Pastor Rinkhart during 1636 in the heart of the Thirty Years' War. After all, his parish was being ravaged by war, disease, and the invaders' economic oppression. But instead, out of a heart "trained in thanksgiving for God's goodness and love, he penned this simple table grace for his children:
"Now thanks we all our God with heart and hands voices; Who wondrous things hath done, in whom his world rejoices. Who, from our mother's arms, hath blest us on our way With countless gifts of love and still is ours today!
This prayer has become one of the most loved hymns of the Christian church. May it remind us this Thanksgiving Day of the one to whom we give thanks, "¦for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ¦