This Thanksgiving, Be More Than Thankful

by Peter Illyn, Executive Director of Restoring Eden

Every year, North Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day as a time of gratefulness to God for the bounty provided us through the fruitfulness of the land. For most Christians, we take this abundance for granted, having never lived through times of drought, hunger and famine. I used to meet Soviet Christian refugees at the airport as they immigrated to the USA.

On the ride from the airport to their new home, I would stop at a small neighborhood market so they could see the piles of beets, potatoes and cabbage for sale. The most touching moments were when the grandmothers—the babushkas—with their heads covered in scarves, would stand in the produce aisle with tears running down their wrinkled faces. In my broken Russian, I would try to say, “Babushka, it is all good. No more famine. This is your new home. America is the land of plenty.”

Lest we become overconfident about the fruitfulness of nature, we have to understand how fragile the balance of nature can be. For example, last summer, North Americans saw the hottest summer on record and the worst drought since 1954. This widespread drought devastated farmers, crops and livestock throughout much of the Midwest. Some estimate that it will cost $12 billion dollars and raise the cost of food. Added to the crisis are the disappearing topsoil and the continued loss of pollinating insects.

So maybe, just maybe, this Thanksgiving, we should be more than thankful. Maybe we also need to be concerned. A little history might help understand how our gratefulness can reflect our dependence on God’s good earth. Historians trace the first thanksgiving celebration to the Puritan’s first fall in North America-the autumn of 1621. The Pilgrims expected a temperate climate similar to their former land in England since they were at the same latitude. Massachusetts, however, experiences the bitter cold from the Arctic and the dry winds that have raced across an entire continent. It is a much more volatile climate. During that first winter, 45 out of the original 102 settlers died from cold, starvation and scurvy. Those who made it through the winter, however, were able to plant their first fields that spring and hope for the best.

Sadly, the summer of 1621, much like the summer of 2012, was a time of severe drought. Crops were failing and the harvest so poor that famine deaths that winter seemed almost certain. Alarmed and concerned, there was little the believers could do but pray and plead with God to send rain. Their prayers were answered late that summer. Just before the crops would wither and fail, an unseasonable rain came and saved all the crops. In fact, there was a bumper yield that year. In October, after the last of harvest was put away for the upcoming winter, the pilgrims gathered together to celebrate the goodness of God and the bounty of the earth.

Because they knew the horror of famine, the Puritans offered up to God real prayers of thanksgiving – much like the grateful tears of a Russian grandmother. Let’s do the same. This Thanksgiving, let us celebrate a wondrously interconnected, yet fragile creation and offer to God the true prayers of gratefulness and faithful service to the rest of creation.

Used with permission from Peter Illyn, Restoring Eden Executive Director