The Pilgrims faced tragedy in their first year at Plymouth.
They landed at Plymouth Rock on December 16 – much too late to plant or prepare for winter. Without enough food or protection from the cold, families watched their loved ones suffer. In December, 6 of the 102 pilgrims died. In January, 8 more passed. In February, 17 more people died. In March, 13 passed away. At one point, only 7 people were well enough to care for everyone else who was sick. By spring, just over half of the original pilgrims remained.
Why then, did they give thanks? Would I have thanked the Lord in similar circumstances?
I believe that even as the Pilgrims mourned, they must have looked for blessings. When they met Squanto, who taught them to plant and gather new food, they recognized his help as a gift. When their crop produced well, they thanked God and rejoiced.
In the midst of their painful losses, they chose to give thanks for God's provision. And thus, the first Thanksgiving.
I'm currently reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Like many other Sonlighters, I've taken the author's suggestion to start my own gratitude journal. Now every morning in my quiet time, I spend a few minutes recording things I'm thankful for.
And I agree with Voskamp – I think giving thanks builds joy. The Pilgrims could have been crushed under the weight of their loss, but they choose to mourn and give thanks at the same time.
Jesus Christ, who left the splendor of heaven to live as a man, chose to give thanks throughout his whole earthly life. Before he fed the five thousand, he gave thanks. Before he raised Lazarus from the dead, he gave thanks. As he prepared to face the cross and carry the world's sin, Jesus broke bread and gave thanks.
Jesus saw the gifts in his life as grace and in turn he thanked his Father. I wonder if this posture of gratitude helped build the joy in Jesus' life. Voskamp would say it did. She writes, "eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning joy."
One thing is certain – giving thanks opens our eyes to see the gifts God continually gives. If you don't keep a gratitude journal, consider whether you'd like to start one. From the very simple (e.g., warm cookies from the oven) to the more profound (e.g., the gift of children in the house) recording these gifts helps put me in the proper posture of gratitude before God. And, yes, I believe that posture builds great joy in my life.
Many blessings to you in this season of thanksgiving!