On December 4, 1619, thirty-eight English settlers arrived on the north bank of the James River, approximately twenty miles from the colony of Jamestown, Virginia. The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a “day of thanksgiving” to God. The group’s charter stated, “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” Captain John Woodlief officiated that first service, two years before the Pilgrims at Plymouth got the same idea.
Three years later the local Indians had enough of the English and decided that the only way to get rid of them was to go to war. The result was about a third of the colonial population of Virginia was killed. Tough times settled in—hunger, war, death, cold winters and unbearable summers. The New World that once held the promise of a new life had become a hell.
I’ll be honest and say I didn’t know much of that. I learned in school about the Indian wars and the hardships faced by the settlers, of Pocahontas and John Rolfe and all the rest. But not the thanksgiving part.
And not this part either—even during those dark days of war and hunger and death, the settlers still paused each year to give thanks.
To me, that’s amazing. I know there have been more than a couple Thanksgivings in my own life when the mood of our country was so hurt and so soured that the last thing on our minds was to say thanks to God. I think of the Thanksgiving just after 9/11. I think of ones in just the past few years, when recession and job loss made a feeling of appreciation next to impossible. And maybe for you, this year is particularly tough.
Sometimes we don’t want to thank God. Sometimes we’d rather yell or cuss or plead, but never to get down on our knees and count our blessings.
Thing is, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do. Good times, bad times, in-between times, sunshine or rain, laughter or tears, hope or hopelessness.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
That’s what I’m thinking about this Thanksgiving—how it’s so easy to say thank you when times are good and so difficult to say it when times are not. But today, give thanks. Give thanks even if you don’t feel thankful.
But I know this: God has built an oasis of beauty in even the ugliest of times. He has placed a blessing into every harm and pain. He has planted the seeds of joy in every tear.
And that is why we are called to give thanks in all things even if we cannot give thanks for them.