Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Dr. RB McFee
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”
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.
Yes bad things happen to good people. Yes there are times when we legitimately can look to God and in our frustrations at the challenges that befell us, plead our case to Him. We can and must mourn, go through the stages of grief. But do those ever mindful of thank you to the Almighty as we ask for better times, better health, better situations. Jesus died so when can go directly to God. We still can think, our minds are working as we pray. There are those stricken by the ravages of Alzheimer’s or brain dysfunction who cannot.
Now let’s talk turkey (you knew I couldn’t resist J) – there are days when it is difficult to think from a grateful mindset. But I can assure you when I do, there is a palpable transformation that comes over me. It is as if I went from two soup cans and a string in my communications with God, to a 5 G cell phone between me and the Almighty. We are on the same wavelength when we acknowledge the Presence, the generosity, and the goodness of God in our lives.
As children of God, if we look at it from this perspective, life takes on a better feeling.
When sickness rages, or there’s too much month at the end of the money is it easy to do this? Are you joking? And yet, as the Apostle Paul reminded us over and over again, in prison or free by the river, he tried to have a thankful approach in his connection with God. Paul saw the bigger picture. Maybe we can, too.
Thankfulness shows trust. It says to God I acknowledge what I have is from Him, and what I need He will provide as well.
Thankfulness is more than just gratitude. It is a mindset, a heart-set, an approach to life.
When we look at life through the prism of appreciation we get a stronger connection with God. We start looking for ways to say thank you Father.
Maybe it is a sunrise (send me a photo) or sunset (so grateful God thought of us night owls and gave us a sunrise rerun), or funky cloud formation, or kindness from a stranger, or unexpected blessing, or the unexpected whiff of fragrance reminiscent of a happy moment, or an idea to whip up a pear tart, and like the widow who fed Elijah, you are happily surprised to find flour in the cupboard. Or maybe the radio station that started playing Christmas carols since Halloween, or maybe a new friend or, well you get the idea.
Regardless of what makes you utter a spontaneous “thank you God,” when we look for things that make us grateful, we become more proactive, more intentional about our day. We change our attitude and open ourselves up to becoming blessings to others. Life becomes less about happening to you, and more about being engaged in a journey of faith with God, and those in life He blessed us with. We think less about what didn’t go our way, and more about what good we enjoyed, or even better what good we can do to make someone else’s day better.
Trust and gratitude are a choice, not an emotion. You have to be intentional to be thankful. It is a decision, a discipline. That’s why God and Jesus, through their prophets and disciples, keep reminding us to do it.
God never asks us to do something without a purpose, and usually it is to bless us, and to help us bless others.
A grateful mindset, a thankful countenance, an appreciative attitude, however you wish to describe it, start to define your inner self as a partner with God recognizing all He has done in our lives, and not merely a plaintiff for more of His provisions.
Can we still aspire and be appreciative? Of course! And God expects us to improve, to engage in our talents and with His help, take our gifts to their highest use. But if we are only grateful for what we want next, instead of what we have now, we will never be what He wants for us. Our dissatisfaction will prevent us from seeing the needs of others, and intrude on our relationships.
Our energy comes from our attitude, and our attitude determines where we place it – will it be in partnership with, service of, thankfulness for God?
Saying “thank you God” says I know you are actively in my life, you got me this far, and I know you will always be with me. It is a spiritual discipline I have yet to master, but am daily trying.
Conversely, when we are not thankful we have in essence told God He isn’t enough, and He hasn’t done enough for us. Who would willingly approach the Throne of God and be cheeky enough to say “you aren’t enough” to God?
So maybe at one point or another, we need to take a journey – cyber or actual – to someplace that reminds us all God has done for us, even if we are in the midst of a health issue that is taking longer to heal than we had hoped, or a career stall that seems to linger, or other stressors that our prayers have yet to help us get past.
For me, sometimes it involves a journey to Plymouth Plantation, hanging out with the Pilgrims, hearing them speak on their faith, the blessings of a good harvest in their backyard or community garden. Closer to home, it is the daily drive where a homeless person asks for money, and more than that, very likely is looking for the human touch of compassion, even just acknowledgement he or she matters.
You and I as members of the CCUMC family have that comfort of acceptance, compassion. We know we matter to each other. Of course we can drive that home by reminding ourselves and each other that we are thankful to God for their presence in our lives.
As Children of God He has told us through Jesus, through rainbows, through undeserved Grace that we matter. And for each of these we can be grateful.
It seems this is the time of year for lists. Santa is around the corner, so we whip up a “wish” list. All well and good, yet I decided to write a gratitude list before Thanksgiving. And, in several cases, I’ve told the people who are on the list that I am grateful for them. To be sure God is top of the list, for so many reasons. So are you dear reader, as is CCUMC, from pastor to congregant.
How about you? What are you grateful for?
How often do we enumerate, on paper, or in our morning thoughts, the many blessings we have, the gifts God has given us, in essence the things gratitude was made for? Morning is the time that frames our day.
In the book The Power of Favor, minister and author Joel Osteen writes this suggestion for a morning prayer…. “Father, thank You that You are my Provider. You’re the Source of everything good in my life. I recognize that every good thing comes from You, my Father in Heaven.”
As adults we often fall into the trap of looking around, and seeing what ‘we earned, paid for, created’ through the fruits of our labor. But did we really accomplish whatever level of success we see each day surveying our home, or office? How much of it was from God, and do we think in those terms?
With Thanksgiving fast approaching it seems only fit to think in terms of God’s bounty.
Capital One ads ask “what’s in your wallet?” ™ The Almighty One might ask, “what’s written on your gratitude list?”
”Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God.”