Faith, Grace, and Contentment in Suffering
The early pilgrims came to America, not for economic benefit or better schools for their children. They came to practice their faith. They came hoping to live the life God wanted for them. They may have hoped for worldly advantages too, but they knew that without faith, worldly advantages lose appeal. Worldly advantages always leave you seeking more.
Early Pilgrims knew how to be content with what they had. They were willing to seek God’s desires over their own. They gave thanks for big things like food on their tables, friendships with unlikely neighbors, memories of departed loved ones, and a life lived for God’s glory rather than their own comfort. They were humble and confident, hopeful and realistic. They had to choose between thankfulness and bitterness and acknowledge that one cannot remain on neutral ground for long.
Today, we have the same choice between thankfulness and bitterness. Our bitterness is often hidden as sarcasm and entitlement. We feel we are entitled to a certain lifestyle, to a certain lover, a certain income, and more. We say, “life shouldn’t be so difficult,” and do all we can to avoid suffering when we need to embrace our struggles!
The Lord God, Creator of you and me and all the Earth and universe, knew what struggles our souls would need to help us reach Grace and holiness and eternity with Him. He allows us to encounter our struggles in the hopes that we will embrace them with grace and thanksgiving. He hopes we will endure our struggles beautifully by aligning our suffering with that of Jesus in the Last Supper, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the walk to Calvary, and finally on the Cross.
The Lord hopes we will turn to Him in our times of hardship because in times of ease it is to simple to think we deserve good things or that we receive good things thanks to our own power and abilities. God knows it is too easy for us to dismiss the suffering of Jesus and the many saints who have gone before us for the same reasons we too often dismiss the suffering of the first Americans. Time, distance, and circumstance make it easy for us to mistake our suffering as worse than that of others’. It is a battle satan wages on our hearts, minds, and souls. It is only through utter devotion and reliance on God and in giving thanks to Him that we win that battle just as the Pilgrims did!
Being thankful in times of hardship is a grace given by God Himself, but often the hardship itself is also a grace given by God. The native Americans did not have an easy life before Europeans came to their lands. They did not understand Christianity or Catholicism, but they did know they needed to be thankful for every fish caught, every deer slain, and every crop pulled from the ground. Their existence, like that of the early settlers, relied on a spirit of gratitude.
Cultivating a Spirit of Thanksgiving and Gratitude
The existence of our physical bodies is less at risk today, but our souls may be at greater risk! To counter this, we must cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in all circumstances just as early Americans did! Thankfulness today requires things the Pilgrims had that cannot be placed on a shopping list or well-set table. It requires time and effort far greater than that required to grow an entire horn of plenty.
True thankfulness in hardship relies on humility, grit, and faith and a determination to repeatedly choose to experience each. It comes from knowing none of these experiences will be easy but all will be good in the longterm. It comes with the expression of gratitude to the One who creates each day from nothing for nothing more than the fact that the day and you exist. Thankfulness begins with waking every day and speaking words of thanks for all the good and bad that will come into the day. It requires a renewed commitment to submission to God’s Will over passing pleasure throughout each day. It is found in a persistent ability to seek beauty even when the belief in beauty is slim. Thankfulness requires turning away from the ways of the world to courageously risk loving another completely without seeking anything, including love, in return. It is chosen in each moment because tomorrow as we know it is a gift that is not guaranteed. It requires seeking beauty in God’s creation, in stopping to smell the roses or, at this time of year, soaking in a sunset or waking an hour early each morning to catch the sunrise and praise God for the paintings He puts in our skies. It means reaching out to say hello to someone you have overlooked or offering forgiveness to someone who has hurt you.
Being thankful is an internal feeling that is best experienced when looking outward and taking time to reflect inward. Being thankful is about knowing how little you are and how utterly alive you are when you choose to inhale thankfulness. Thankfulness is a choice one makes. It is a mindset that often begins with action, getting up early to see the sunrise, speaking words of thanks to the Creator, seeking beauty where it appeared there is none, and so on.
Perhaps one of the greatest inhibitors to thankfulness today confronts a hardship the early settlers did not have to face – putting away technology and downsizing material things. Technology and “stuff” gets in the way of thankfulness. We buy stuff we feel we must have and then find it does not bring us the pleasure we hoped. We place the responsibility for the yoke of our disappointment on Christ’s shoulders instead of accepting responsibility for placing our hope for happiness in material things on our shoulders. If we want to be truly thankful, the greatest action we can take is to put aside our devices and live!
Technology and purchases rob us of time. We have handed over God’s gift of time in exchange for His gift of work. While doing so, we have made the purpose of work to be to fill our lives with material goods and extravagant life experiences when work was simply meant to provide us with dignity and additional purpose as it did Adam in the Garden. Our time is limited. Each second is something that only comes to us once. It cannot be repeated or bought. It, like life, is a gift dependent on the Giver, not on our power. To be truly thankful, we must put aside technology and materialism each day and immerse ourselves in holy reading, silence, and family. It is when we are empty or have nothing and experience silence that we begin to count our blessings and discover the beginning of thankfulness.
What Good is Thankfulness Carried on in Darkness and Silence?
Once we discover thankfulness, we must not be content to dwell on it in silence, we are called to express gratitude and model thankfulness to others. Where thankfulness is a feeling and an internal dialogue, gratitude is action. Gratitude is an expression of thanksgiving. It is a declaration that we are not reliant solely on our own power. It is an acknowledgement that we are all interconnected and dependent on others. Unravelling the thread of gratitude helps us see that God is the one and only common denominator. That we, like the Pilgrims, are at His Mercy and are part of a bigger plan. That we, like the Wampanoag Indians, ought to express gratitude to Him for gifts we tend to take for granted today. That we, like every generation that has come before, needs to experience suffering in order to find the beauty of submission through giving thanks. That we, unique, special, and loved, need to give thanks to God simply for creating and Loving us every moment of every day.
Thanksgiving is a reminder that what we most need to give thanks for is not reliant on material goods or creature comforts. It is available in all situations. It is free, intangible, and everlasting. Thanksgiving is about what is gifted to us by the Holy Trinity working in unison – life today and life eternal.