• Robin McFee

Gratitude List

Dr. RB McFee

Email: drmcfee2020@gmail.com

Upon landfall, the Pilgrims “fell upon their knees, and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean” Diary of William Bradford.


Blessing God after months of storms at sea, with death all around them – from a dangerous Atlantic Ocean, frequent sickness, and now an unknown continent amidst cold, inhospitable weather, with half of the original travelers from Leiden, via England having perished, no home or inn to welcome the weary travelers, as those would have to be built in the midst of a New England winter, no warming fire in a banquet hall, no banquet awaiting their arrival, as in fact their provisions were dwindling, and the list of challenges goes on and on and on. Yet they blessed God. To suggest this level of gratitude would strain the levels of the most faithful among us, seems an understatement of epic proportions. Yet they did.

Consider what Mayflower life was like before they made landfall….

When Mayflower left England she carried 102 people, creatures, and provisions jammed onto a small ship. From ‘sprit to stern the boat was about 106 feet long. But in terms of actual living space, it is estimated Mayflower afforded the passengers 58 x 24 feet. Speak about up close and personal. And we think life is crowded in a studio apartment.

Add to this a treacherous crossing. Ask anyone who has ever sailed the Atlantic, whether crossing it, or just sailing upon this mighty ocean, ‘she’ can produce some awe inspiring waves. Boat swallowing waves in fact. Think Perfect Storm sized!

Now imagine you have never spent any time on an open ocean. Speak about a maiden voyage!.... months pitching and swaying, with some folks puking, some dying, all having some task or chore to do as the Mayflower – a mere stick in the ocean – pitches and sways

Moreover, by the end of a year together, only about half of the 102 would survive.

And yet these people of faith took time to be grateful by blessing their God.

How often do we bless our God for where we are, and what we have?

It would have been easy for the Pilgrims to lament over who and what they lost, focusing on what they had in a prior life – warm home, ample food, dry clothes, a privy, more moderate weather, and the list could go on and on.

Are we so different? Do we not think on better times, focusing on what we lost? Perhaps a spouse or loved one, facing yet another Holiday season without the joys of family? A prior life where income, prestige, big home, the constant sound of friends and family, now is replaced with, well you get the idea.

Do we step back and think, thank you God my house is smaller, but you are a bigger Presence in my life? Or God I know my spouse is gone but Your Love will sustain me, and you have provided a faith family. Thank you that You provided before, and if it is Your will, You can again help my life be filled with love.

To suggest that type of thankfulness is easy is to suggest pulling ones lip over ones head is yoga. It isn’t easy to be grateful when the pain of loss is great, when the everyday seems less than the yesterday. But then that is what thankfulness is all about – the cornerstone to faith, and trust. Faith that God is, and trust that God will.

Life can be a challenge. Perhaps not Mayflower voyage sized challenging, but we all face difficulties if we live long enough. In those times, what is our true north approach to life? Our default heading?

Consider Jesus at the Last Supper gave thanks just hours before He was crucified. And He knew what was coming!

Sometimes we have to step back to move forward, gain some perspective.

Although speaking metaphorically, I decided to step back literally in time and visit Plymouth Plantation, and the Wampanoag Village. I try to do this every Thanksgiving Season; it helps me put into perspective the concept of gratitude. It reminds me of what I have more than what and who I have lost. And that is a good thing. Some may call it a reality check. Regardless of how you do it, looking at life through a different experience can be therapeutic for ones faith, and spirit.

Just standing at the water’s edge on a November day, winds howling, waves rolling in, and looking out to sea, next stop Morocco, you get a sense of the vastness of the Atlantic, and the formidable undertaking the Pilgrims committed to.

Putting myself on the shores of Plymouth 1620 thoughts inevitably turn to their type of faith, the first Thanksgiving (1621 – a harvest celebration of gratitude), and a sense of connectedness to God’s Will.

Speaking of which….

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18

“Everything” is a long list. But then that is probably the point of the exercise, to develop our gratitude muscles. Like any other important skill, it takes practice, practice, practice. And like any worthwhile endeavor, we may not be successful all the time; so we try, fail, and try again.

The concept of “giving thanks” (to God) is mentioned in one form or another over 100 times in the Bible. So it must be important. One could argue it is one of the pillars of our relationship with God.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusted in Him and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth and with my song will I praise Him”

Psalm 28:7

Singing praise is Bible speak for gratitude; whether praise or directly saying “thank you” to God, through the many exhortations to ‘give thanks unto the Lord’ and the many permutations of that sentiment, the Bible, the Psalmist, and Jesus are all teaching us a fundamental, essential truth – for believers, and for all people - the very practice of gratitude is life affirming and attitude changing.

Consider when we look at life from the perspective of appreciation instead of disappointment, difficulty, frustration or loss, we reframe our relationship with God from that of disbelief, dissatisfaction, isolation, anger, to one of trust, faith, and love.

Anger and regret are toxic. Not just spiritually. They are palpably, medically, life stealing.

On the other hand, according to some studies, gratitude and a positive attitude are therapeutic.

Doubt me? Think about the people you know. Those who go through life praising God, appreciative for what they have, and always looking for the beauty in life, instead of living in an attitude of constantly being unfulfilled, are generally happier, and healthier. There are positive changes from an attitude of thankfulness, and predictably negative changes from folks who live negatively, or angrily, or in a state of constant disappointment.

This doesn’t mean we live in ‘la la land’ in some constant state of ‘ohm!’ We can aim for a better job, we can work for a bigger house, or a nicer car. But doing it with gratitude for the work, home, and car we already have, instead of denigrating what is, as if happiness and gratitude are only warranted when we achieve our goal, is toxic, and insulting to God, because the blessings we have, and perhaps take for granted, might be someone else’s dream or goal.

Life isn’t easy. Even cleaning the garage or other adulting tasks can foul a mood. But as a physician, I have seen and treated people who would love to be able to stand long enough to do housework. We all know someone in a wheelchair, or hospital bed. I’d wager they would prefer to clean the gutters than count the drops falling in their intravenous tubing.

We can think as mere mortals, or through God’s perspective.