I have to admit, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. But as I think about its origin I have to admit, I am amazed at the backdrop of the first Thanksgiving celebration. For one thing, it really emerges out of a time extreme emotional pain and suffering. History tells us that more than half of the 100 plus pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower in November of 1620 were dead by the first Thanksgiving a year later. “The great sickness,” as it was called, was probably a combination of scurvy from the ocean crossing, typhus, and pneumonia. Among the adult males, only 16 of the original 38 survived. For adult women, there were 11 survivors out of 27. Here’s how Governor Bradford told it: “So they died sometimes 2 or 3 a day, and of the 100 odd persons, scarce 50 remained. And of these, in the time of most distress, there was but 6 or 7 sound persons who, to their great commendations be it spoke, spared no pains, night or day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed their meat, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them — in a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure here to be named.” Bradford also makes it clear that without the help of the local Indians, the pilgrims would never have made it to the first Thanksgiving. They generously shared food with the English settlers during the first winter and then showed them how to plant and cultivate corn the next spring and summer. Luckily the first harvest was a generous one. A three day feast was planned in late November, and the pilgrims invited the Indian chief and his people. 90 native Americans arrived with 5 deer to eat, in addition to the wild turkeys, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, squash, and beetroot that the Englishmen had prepared. Can you imagine the mix of emotions that must have been present at that first Thanksgiving. Everyone of those early settlers had reason to be grieving, having been ravaged by disease and despair, and having lived in freezing, filthy huts the first winter, watching half the people they knew and loved die in their arms. Imagine the spiritual strength it must have taken, after all the hardships and horrors they had to endure. There they celebrated and were positive and even were hospitable despite their recent losses.
Bradford wrote in his history of that first Thanksgiving: “Although it may not always be so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish others partake of our plenty.”
Now how’s that for a Thanksgiving vision: these devastated pilgrims saying that “by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish others partake of our plenty.”
It seems to me that mankind has this inherit need or desire at some point to give thanks, feel gratitude, and even celebrate even if we go through a season of great suffering. We see examples of this throughout history, and we see example of this in the Bible. But why? Why do we have this need? I personally think it comes down to this: Because even though our lives may not be perfect and we experience trouble, sorrow, disasters, sickness, and hardship on every side, God has designed us where we can only go so long without feeling a sense of hope, or faith that something better just might be around the corner. And despite our troubles and hardships, a spirit of thanksgiving emerges for what blessings that we do have and is also in part a celebration of faith and what is yet to come.
The Apostle Paul wrote some amazing verses in Philippians 4:4-9, he instructed the early Christian who had begun to suffer for their faith in Christ,
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
As Paul instructs the early Christians here (and just to remind you, he writing this from prison) he writes:
‘May your gentleness be evident to all, ‘ and ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ (always) Why?
For one reason the Lord is near. He’s closer than you realized. We may not be able to see Him with these eyes of flesh, but you are never out of His sight. Paul wanted his readers to find comfort in that fact. No matter how bad things may get, whether you are sick, afraid, lonely, or even trapped in a prison cell, God is close by and can hear every whisper and prayer you make. And so he writes do not worry, & don’t be anxious. Don’t let anxiety get the best of you, rather, reach out to your Father. Go to Him in prayer, even petition Him with a spirit of thanksgiving (because He does love you and He is close by). Ask Him what you need to ask. And he goes on to say that if you believe and trust in your Father God that much, His peace, a peace which He offers, which transcends all human understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Jesus. That faith, that trust, that spirit of thanksgiving will comfort you on the coldest of nights.’
I came across an interesting article on the internet written by Sharon Carroll, it was part of a speech she made to a group in Singapore. It goes like this.
“There have been many times this past year when I was anything but thankful. In fact, on a number of occasions I was often stunned, confused, and downright angry with God, wondering where He was in the midst of the most difficult trials in my life.
A year ago I got the shocking phone call that my younger brother had committed suicide, leaving behind his wife and two precious children. Six months later another one of those phone calls came, this time in the middle of the night, with the news that my older brother had suddenly died of a heart attack at the age of 48-leaving his four children (aged between 8 and 21) without their father. Both deaths came out of nowhere and left me devastated. I was now the only sibling left in my family. I found myself often crying out, “Lord, where are you?”All that only made the next bit of news even harder to take. Two weeks after I returned to Singapore from my older brother’s funeral I found a lump in my breast. After the biopsy, the doctor informed me that the lump was malignant. I had cancer. I can still remember the knot I felt in my stomach when the doctor told me this. It was the day before my 45th birthday. My first thoughts were for my husband and my children. Would I live to see Kimberly graduate from high school next year-and Chris 3 years later?Would I get to grow old with Charles, my wonderful husband of these past 21 years? And what about my Mother? How could she take another blow? These and many other thoughts and questions played havoc with my emotions during those difficult days six months ago.But, I soon found encouragement and strength in the God I gave my life to so many years ago. He had always been faithful through previous trials, and I discovered afresh that He would not let me down in my hour of greatest need. My heavenly Father, through the promises of His Word, gave me a deep sense of peace.
For example, in Isaiah 49:16 He says,
“See! I will not forget you . . . I have carved you on the palm of my hand.” And in Jeremiah 29:11 He says, “For I know the plans I have for you . . . they are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
With these promises I found the strength to face the days ahead-surgery (a partial mastectomy), the further diagnosis that my cancer was a very aggressive kind, that it was 3rd stage (that is, that the malignant cells had already spread into the blood stream), the powerful doses of chemotherapy-10 sessions in all-along with all sorts of weird effects on my body, weakness, nausea, the loss of my hair-that was probably the hardest part of all. And now, 31 sessions of radiation-to be completed by Christmas.
Through it all, I can honestly come to this Thanksgiving Day and say, “Thank you, Lord,” for He has taught me many valuable lessons through the storms of this past year:
1)That life is short-don’t waste any of it.
2) That people, especially our families and friends, are special. Don’t take them for granted.
3) That we have a choice in life, as to how we will respond to adversity-either we choose to feel sorry for ourselves and call ourselves “victims,” or we choose to overcome and be a “victor.”
4) That the trials will serve to either make us bitter-or better.
5) That faith in God-and trusting in Him-is the key to it all.
6) And that an “attitude of gratitude” is always better than having a “pity-party.”
As American author and humorist Barbara Johnson reminds us in the title of her book, Pain is Inevitable, but Misery is Optional.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all who stood with me and encouraged me with their words, prayers, and many expressions of love: my own family, my fellow church members, my colleagues at SAS, and my friends in the community.
Most of all, I want to thank my Lord Jesus Christ, who has touched me and healed me. After a series of extensive tests two weeks ago, my oncologist told me that at this point she could find no trace of cancer in my body. While she cannot give me complete medical clearance for three years due to the nature of my illness, I believe God has indeed healed me and set me free from the curse of death.
On that first Thanksgiving Day, more than 370 years ago, the early pilgrims stood in the snow of a bitter winter and paused to give thanks to God. They chose to look beyond the difficulties of their surroundings and circumstances and put their eyes on the Lord God Almighty, the Alpha and the Omega, the Author and Finisher of the Faith-believing firmly that He who began a good work in them was able to complete it. In all reality, that first Thanksgiving was a declaration of faith-that God’s faithfulness in the past would see them through to a glorious future. And that’s exactly what happened. A great nation was established in the years ahead.
Today, on the eve of yet another Thanksgiving Day, years later and a world away from the early pilgrims, I want to join in the spirit of our forefathers and give thanks to God. The circumstances, if I chose to focus on them, are not so great. I don’t always feel so good. I get tired easily. My hair is shorter than my son’s. My brothers are gone and their families are still trying to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. But, this Thanksgiving Day, I choose to praise God. His grace has been sufficient. He has touched me and healed me. He has given me life-abundant and eternal-and with it the promise of heaven. One day, I will be reunited with my brothers. One day, I will be given a new body. One day, I will see my Savior face to face, and He will wipe away every tear and take away every pain. That’s why I rejoice tonight. That’s why I can truly wish you a “Happy Thanksgiving.”
Psalm 75:1, says, “We thank you, O God! We give thanks because you are near.”
Psalm 107:1, says “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His loving kindness is everlasting.”
My challenge this week is let that thankful spirit surface in you. Make a effort to be thankful for something every day. And if you want that peace of God that the apostle Paul talked about, I also challenge you to do what he said,
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Remember that the Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”