Thanksgiving is an enormously wonderful time to stop and intentionally offer up the praise of a heart full of gratitude to the One Who has not only created us, but surrounded us with an abundance of blessings. How tremendous also is the privilege of honoring our being blessed by God by using our abundance to bless others, as we pour the overflow of God’s grace from our lives into the lives of others around us!
On the other hand, if your holiday season is characterized by difficulty and loss, Thanksgiving may seem an especially difficult occasion to express thanks. After all, it isn’t easy in your human nature to be grateful when you are frustrated or burdened by your circumstances. Nor is it easy when the uncertainty of the future wheels over your head like a giant bat of worry casting its dark shadow of fearfulness over your path in life. Neither are we quick to be grateful when pain or loss come to roost in our homes.
But take heart! It is no trite thing to say and believe that “God is in control!” You have One in your corner Who is bigger than the universe, cheering for you even if no one else is. In a day when a lot of people felt forgotten by God, Jesus came along and announced that “My Father is working until now, and I (also) am working” (John 5:17 ESV). Human nature hasn’t changed all that much: we still wrestle with that same doubt, the same temptation to think that God has forgotten us, the same inclination towards despair when we’ve used up all the “liquor of self-sufficiency.”
In the early 1600s a young man named Squanto (also called “Tisquantum”), a member of the Patuxet tribe of Native Americans along what is now the coast of Massachusetts, was tricked and kidnapped by an English captain named Thomas Hunt. Along with 23 other Patuxet and Nauset Indians, he was cruelly treated and stowed down in the dark and dank hold of a ship and taken to Maluga, Spain, where Hunt attempted to sell them all into slavery. Some local Friars in Maluga, learning of Hunt’s plot, took Squanto into their care by which they “disappointed this unworthy fellow (Captain Hunt) of the hopes of gain he conceived to make by this new and devilish project.”
Although far from home and his loved ones, Squanto learned about hope in Christ as he was taught from the Bible and as he witnessed the loving and selfless work of those in whose care he resided. Eventually these Christians found a way to get him started towards home and secured him a place to stay in England. While staying in the home of John Slaney in London, he attended church and learned the English language. In 1619, he returned to North America accompanying an English trading expedition. But when he arrived, he found only the ruins of his village and no signs of his people anywhere. He learned from neighboring tribes that a plague had killed everyone in his tribe: he was the last of the Patuxet.
Meanwhile, an English ship carrying 102 colonists (mostly Pilgrims seeking religious freedom) sailed for two months from England, anchoring after a tumultuous journey in what’s now called Plymouth Harbor in November of 1620. It was a long, cold few months for the Pilgrims who were not prepared for the harsh New England winter. Forty-five colonists died and 8 of the 30 Sailors would never return home.
What was their surprise when an Indian named Samoset strode out of the forest to greet them with halting English phrases! How much greater was their astonishment when he returned a few days later with Squanto who spoke nearly perfect English! Squanto chose to remain with the Pilgrims, adopting these newcomers who now lived on the ruins of his old life (figuratively but also literally for they had built their settlement on the remains of the old Patuxet village). He taught them how to find food on this land that in the gray of winter had seemed so inhospitable and helped them make peace with the Wampanoag Confederation of Indian tribes surrounding them.
Who would have guessed that Squanto’s hardships and trials would prepare him to be the instrument of grace that would help establish and preserve a new nation? And who could have guessed that God would meet Squanto’s own loss and brokenness by bringing into his life a new people with whom he could start again? And who would have thought that this little band of people would produce the first genuinely American document in the “Mayflower Compact” which would set the stage for American democracy, that is, “government BY the people FOR the people?”
Is God still working today? Yes indeed! The same God Who created the Cosmos from nothingness with just His Word, is the same God Who provided a helper and preserved the lives of members of the Plymouth Colony. The same God Who sent His own Son into the world to bear its sin so that those who place their faith in Him might be saved is the same God Who lives and works today in the universe with no person too small that He doesn’t see them and know them.
Yes, it is hard to thank God in all circumstances (see 1 Thessalonians 5:18) but He’s the only One Who can take great tragedy and turn it into great good. Are you shut up in a lonely and dark place in life? Are you far from the home that His love is for those who will receive it? Are you deep in a pit of sorrow and pain? Has loss and grief beaten you down until you feel nearly overcome?
If so, place your hope in God because “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” and that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us” (Romans 8:28, 37 ESV).
(Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 21 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at [email protected].)