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Hardship can bring an
Attitude of Gratitude

November 25, 2013

Nearly four centuries ago, a group of Separatist, facing religious persecution, found it necessary to leave the Netherlands.   After much discussion and help from some reluctant investors, they crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower during the fall of 1620.  A storm, having blown them off course, left them at the tip of Cape Cod.  A condition imposed on them by their financiers was that they must form a commune and share all the fruits of their labor.  During the first winter, almost half  had died.  By the first fall, only three women survived.  In the spring of 1621, several natives rescued them from desperate circumstances, teaching them how to farm the land and fish the local waters.  After the first harvest in 1621, the colonists and natives peacefully gathered to share a feast.  Edward Winslow wrote of the occasion:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, so that we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor.”  They shot enough fowl to feed the Pilgrims for almost a week.  They were joined by some ninety natives among them their greatest king, Massasoit, “…whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor…  And although it was not always 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 you partakers of our plenty.”

Their thankful attitude continued in spite of continued trials.  In the spring of 1623, Governor William Bradford noted that the community was suffering from unwillingness to work, confusion, discontent, a loss of mutual respect, a sense of slavery, and injustice“ and this among  “godly and sober men.”   As a result Bradford started granting private ownership of property hoping this would provide some relief from their continuing struggles.   Every family was to maintain their own storehouse and trade with their neighbors for what they lacked.  The result was an incentive to work and to provide for individual needs.  There was a direct link created between the level of effort exerted and the reward thereto.  Bradford reinstituted one of the basic principles of freedom!

Meanwhile June of that year brought a severe drought and the crops they had planted started to wither away. They watched for six weeks with no sign of relief fully expecting starvation to follow.  In mid-July, Bradford, using his authority as governor, called for a day of community fasting, thanksgiving, and prayer. The next morning, a gentle rain started to descend upon the colony, continuing for two weeks.  Bradford commented “such softe, sweet and moderate showers…it was hard to say whether our withered corn or drooping affections were most quickened and revived.” 

The lessons these early “Americans” learned became foundational for the constitution we have today and the freedoms we enjoy.  The Pilgrims found reasons for offering thanks regardless of circumstances. In doing so, they left us a powerful heritage.  May we follow their un-wielding example with our own attitude of gratitude.

Mark, John, and Bill