Pilgrim-style Gratitude (Not What You May Think)

21 Nov

Thanksgiving Day was approaching, and the family received a Thanksgiving card with a painting of a Pilgrim Pilgrims_Going2Churchfamily on their way to church.

Grandma showed the card to her small grandchildren, observing, “The Pilgrim children liked to go to church with their mothers and fathers.”

“Oh, yeah?” her young grandson replied. “So, why is their dad carrying that rifle?” (1)

The story of the American Pilgrims is a lesson in survival and gratitude. After the hardships and horrors they endured, including terrible grief and suffering, the Pilgrims who survived turned to God and gave thanks with a three-day celebration! It was the sacrifice of joy that David talked about in Psalm 27:5-6 ~ kept safe and then sacrificing with “shouts of joy.”

Rev. Scott W. Alexander wrote a bit about that first Thanksgiving celebration, but he also took time to detail some of the tough things our Pilgrim forebears had to deal with in 1621 in their search for religious freedom. (2) There was a horrible winter ~ every family touched by disease and death. Imagine the grief. As they sat at their celebration table with their Indian neighbors, most of them were probably weak and thin from the ravages of that winter.

Alexander points out, “It is spiritually important that we not romanticize that first American thanksgiving as some carefree festival of reckless joy … It’s a miracle of the heart that those pilgrims could even think of giving thanks to God, or celebrating life’s bounty …

“It seems to me that what makes the real Thanksgiving story so remarkable,” Alexander wrote, “is not the joy which the Pilgrims and Indians shared, but rather that their painful backdrop of grief was not allowed to block out their celebration … Somehow they were able to choose gratitude over bitterness, generosity over greed, thanksgiving over self-pity.”

Have you known modern-day pilgrims like that ~ brave souls who refuse to let life’s tough circumstances thwart their sense of purpose or rob them of joy?

I have. I’ve observed:

  • A pastor with lymphoma who chose to trust God and express gratitude for life
  • A woman waiting for new lungs, choosing to express praise to God during the wait
  • A couple experiencing job loss, and choosing to seek God in the midst of that pain
  • A mother with a rebellious daughter, choosing to see her through God’s eyes

Alexander pointed to the familiar story of Victor Frankl, a Jew who survived Auschwitz, as an example of the kind of choices that lift us beyond tough circumstances.

Frankl wrote,

“Everything can be taken from [us] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were [in Auschwitz] always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom ….  It is this spiritual freedom which cannot be taken away, that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”

As Christians, gratitude at Thanksgiving is to be in this context, but even more. Life may pummel us with many blows, but we who know eternal life in Jesus have a different perspective. In Christ, there is joy, beauty, hope, and satisfaction that the world cannot understand, because in Him, God redeems all things ~ we are truly “made alive” in Him (Ephesians 2:1-10) and have so much to celebrate with joy (Psalm 126:3).

Leadership specialist Michael Hyatt carries a rock with him, in his pocket, to remind him to be grateful for whatever is happening in his life. Whenever his hand touches the “gratitude rock,” he thanks God for his immediate circumstances ~ whether good or bad. It’s a wonderful idea.  Or perhaps we can put a special object that represents gratitude where we will see it every day, for the same purpose. We need to be more deliberate in our words and responses.

So no matter what you are facing today, Friend, you can still choose gratitude. You are a blessed survivor in Christ!

(1) “Pilgrim Church,” from Cybersalt Digest, Issue #3493, 11/24/10

(2) Sermon by Rev. Scott W. Alexander, “The Pilgrims in Our Lives,” http://www.bigskyuu.org/sermons/pilgrimsinourlives.pdf

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2 Responses to “Pilgrim-style Gratitude (Not What You May Think)”

  1. Paulette November 22, 2011 at 7:16 am #

    Hi Dawn,

    Thanks for the great Thanksgiving message. God has given you a talent for writing. : ) Have a blessed Thanksgiving. Could you please pray for Jenny, she’s the woman I take care of. She got a bad case of the stomach flu yesterday. Hope to get some more sleep tonight. We have so much to be thankful for. Blessings & love, Paulette

  2. Dawn Wilson November 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    Thank you for your kind words, Paulette. Yes, of course I’ll pray for Jenny.

    “Father God, I ask you to work in Jenny’s body and relieve some of the stress from this flu. It’s such a busy time of year to be sick. Help Paulette as she cares for Jenny, and give them both much-needed rest. Help them both to eat health and drink water, too, and to do anything else that you bring to their minds to alleviate this illness in Jenny. I agree with Paulette that we have so much to be thankful for, Lord. You are good, and you are good to us. Teach us contentment and how to choose joy. Thank you. In Jesus Name I pray.” Amen!

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