Thanksgiving in Trials and Tribulations

This time of year is one of my favorites. I love the cooler weather and the autumn colors. I especially love the celebration of Thanksgiving, the only truly “Protestant” holiday. I also enjoy remembering afresh the testimony of William Bradford, for whom we named our school. Each year as I reflect upon the life of this saint, I am encouraged by his fortitude and faithfulness. Let me share one passage that has always amazed me. He writes in third person but was present during these events. The Mayflower had arrived in Cape Cod Harbor, blown off course by a terrible storm and 400 miles north of their intended location as winter approached. They had already suffered persecution from government officials at home, betrayal from business associates, and near ruin, perils, and depravations on the open seas.  Now they faced the bleak and barren shore of a strange and desolate land.  He and several men took a small sailing sloop to find a suitable site for the colony and were immediately attacked by natives firing arrows. The explorers retreated to the boat. Bradford writes…

“After some hours sailing, it began to snow & rain, & about the middle of the afternoon, the wind increased, & the sea became very rough, and they broke their rudder, & it was as much as two men could do to steer her with a couple of oars. But their pilot bade them be of good cheer, for he saw the harbor; but the storm increasing, & night drawing on, they bore what sail they could to get in, But suddenly they broke their mast in 3 pieces, & their sail fell overboard, in a very grown sea… yet by God’s mercy they recovered themselves, & having the tide with them, struck into the harbor…” (Mourt’s Relation: Part 1, 1622)

They spent the night in cold and misery fearing another native attack. When they eventually made their way back to the Mayflower, he learned that his wife had slipped overboard and drowned. Despite these trials, there is no record of his grumbling or complaining against the God he served. When they landed at the site for the colony, called Plymouth, he wrote, “They fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven.” 

The first Thanksgiving feast, which they celebrated ten months later, was not their first expression of gratitude to God. It was the culmination of the continual praise and thanksgiving that characterized those hearty saints. May we be so thankful in trial!