One of the key dangers during the tribulation will be hopelessness and despair. In fact, hopelessness and despair will kill many people who would otherwise have survived the various cataclysms, diseases, famines, and other problems during the tribulation. For this reason “Defeating Despair” will be a regular category of posts on our church site here. This is the first of many.
The First Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a holiday created to celebrate “The First Thanksgiving,” which took place in fall of 1621 in a place called Plymouth, in what is now Massachusetts. My ancestors were there, specifically Elder William Brewster and his family. We often see pleasant, Victorian-style illustrations of this event, but what was the reality of their situation, and why were they so thankful?
These people fled England because reading the Bible in English was illegal (they read a Bible translated into English in Geneva, Switzerland), and everyone was required to be a member of the state-run Church of England. My ancestors were called “Separatists” and endured many persecutions, including repeated harassment and imprisonment in England.
After some unsuccessful attempts to escape England, including one in which the sea captain they had hired panicked and set out to sea with the men, while the women and children were taken to prison from the beach in the wee hours of the morning, their group finally escaped to Holland.
The more educated members were able to teach or work at Leiden University, but many others worked in industry: textiles, printing and brewing. It was a hard life, and while they were now free from state persecution, they were living in a very liberal culture, and they feared they would lose their children to a different way of life and a different spiritual belief system. Eventually they determined to start their own colony in the New World.
Nothing Ever Goes According to Plan
As Marshall often says, “nothing ever goes according to plan.” They had ship troubles, leading to crossing the Atlantic later than they had planned, with only one ship. This required that a smaller group make the crossing. My ancestor went as the preacher/elder of this smaller group in place of John Robinson, who was the main leader and stayed in Europe with the main congregation.
They had delays. They had planned to arrive near the Virginia Colony in late summer, but instead arrived at Cape Cod in early November, with winter coming on.
The journey itself was miserable and cold, lasting 65 days from early September to early November. I have toured the life-sized replica of the Mayflower at Plimoth Plantation,2 a living history site in Massachusetts. It is a shockingly small all-wood ship in which to brave the storms of the North Atlantic, and it was very crowded and uncomfortable during the two month crossing.
I have seen the size of the small trunk each family was limited to. In these small trunks a whole family brought their personal possessions and household necessities. The trunks held very little. They left behind their homes, most of their belongings and clothing, and the ways they had earned their livings.
The ship captain determined to stay the winter, and this helped to ensure their survival. They began building their settlement on the site of a failed and deserted Native American village, where a terrible sickness had killed everyone. They found a few un-buried skeletons in some abandoned dwellings.
Apparently this sickness still lingered in the area, because half of the colonists died that first winter. At the peak of the plague there were only six or seven who remained well enough to care for and feed the others. By the end of the epidemic half of the colonists and half of the ship’s crew were dead.
In March, following their difficult winter, they made a peace treaty with the Wampanoag people. The colonists were given some help that summer in learning how to grow the new crops that were native to the area.
They planted the seeds they had found stored in the abandoned village. Without these seeds they would have had no crop the next summer and would not have been able to survive in the New World. They had not brought seeds with them, but had planned to trade with the Virginia Colony for seeds and other goods after they arrived. But they arrived in the wrong place.
Harvest Feast of Gratitude
“The First Thanksgiving” was a harvest feast, in gratitude for the help of the Wampanoag, and for God’s Providence that had allowed them to have seeds to plant, food to eat, some survivors of the epidemic, and a viable colony, even in the aftermath of all of their difficulties.
I have walked the muddy streets and examined the dirt-floored houses at Plimoth Plantation. Their houses were very small and drafty. Furniture was very rustic. Indoor space was at a premium. Families housed adult singles in addition to their own children. There was almost no privacy.
A cold wind blows onto the settlement from the ocean in winter. The summer is hot, and the colonists continued to wear their wool garments, just as they had in England and Holland. It was not a very comfortable place to live in the primitive housing they were first able to build.
Would any of us, spoiled by the luxuries of modern American culture, be grateful for such a life? For subsistence farming requiring long hours of toil? For winter food stuffs dried on strings over the fireplace, where they would surely loose much of their flavor and nutrition? For spartan and cramped living quarters? For hard work, day in and day out, for very little reward other than basic survival itself?
And yet, they were grateful. They were a people who avidly read the entire Bible in English, and they did learn many great and helpful things from studying that ancient wisdom text. They tried to live by it.
A Spiritual Beginning
Like many spiritual movements, it went wrong in many ways over time (for example, the Salem witch trials 71 years after the pilgrims arrived). But in the beginning, they did try to follow Creator closely, and to walk out God’s teachings, as they understood them, in their daily lives.
They supported each other. They had a strong community. They worshiped God together. They prayed together. They tried to discern God’s will in things great and small, and to follow it. They practiced loving-kindness. They watched for signs of God’s Providence in their lives, and they thanked Him, both in the moment and formally at their services, for blessings both large and small. They always looked for the good, and they were always grateful even for small blessings. This is a key to defeating despair that we must all learn from to get through what’s coming.
Their goal was freedom to pursue the way of life they chose, and to worship God in the way they chose. They were suffering and their lives were hard, but they had achieved freedom and they were grateful for that. And they had hope for the future, that they would create a wonderful, positive culture and a flourishing colony.
Our Spiritual Future
These same hopes will be ours during the tribulation. Like the Pilgrims, we can expect to endure great suffering and hardships, and at times to be surrounded by death and deeply touched by it. But in the midst of all of that, we can always look for the good. We can always look for the small blessings, and we can thank God for them.
The habit of focusing on the positive and expressing gratitude, rather than entertaining constant discontent and always “wanting more,” must be developed and nurtured to be effective. In other words, overcoming some of our current cultural conditioning will help us to get through the tribulation.
My next post will explain how to develop some of these habits with some input from Norman Vincent Peale through his classic text, “The Power of Positive Thinking.”
1 For more information about the pilgrims and three other cultural groups that settled Early America, we recommend this book for your tribulation survival library:
Albion’s seed: Four British Folkways in America
By: Fischer, David Hackett
Oxford University Press
Other useful titles from David Hackett Fischer that I have read and heartily recommend are: Paul Revere’s Ride and Washington’s Crossing.
This author is a historian who focuses on people and the situations they were in, the choices they made in those situations, and why. He neither glorifies these legendary people nor tears them down, but presents a balanced view.
2 Plimoth Plantation and other living history museum sites are invaluable in helping us to understand how our ancestors lived in Early American colony settlements, in log cabins, on farms, etc.
For instance, standing inside a tiny house with a thatched roof, talking with ladies dressed and talking in period style as they ate the eel soup they had just cooked (and enjoyed it!) gives a sense of what it was like to live in Plimoth in the 1620s that is not available in any other way.
Walking through these sites and contemplating the lives of those who came before us is helpful in preparing ourselves to face the tribulation. I encourage everyone to seek out opportunities to visit some living history sites if they are available in your area.
Category: Defeating Despair