5 In tight circumstances, I cried out to the Lord.
The Lord answered me with wide-open spaces.
6 The Lord is for me—I won’t be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?
28 You are my God—I will give thanks to you!
You are my God—I will lift you up high!
29 Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
because his faithful love lasts forever.
Psalm 118 was the last hallel (hymn of praise) Hebrews sang at Passover as they recalled God freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt. Mark 14:23-26 showed that Jesus, on the dark night just before his arrest and crucifixion, likely sang, “The Lord is for me—I won’t be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” and “Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever.” Even the darkness gathering around him couldn’t stop him from praising God’s eternal goodness.
Loving Lord, my goal is to remember that you are for me, so I won’t be afraid. My goal is to never forget that your faithful love lasts forever. I don’t always reach that goal, yet. I ask your continued presence with me to help me grow toward the goal. Amen.
* Robert Emmons, “How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times,” syndicated from Greater Good, Sep 12, 2013 at dailygood.org, emphasis supplied.
As I was considering Thanksgiving weekend, I recalled our family visit in 2013 to Valley Forge National Historic Park – site of the winter camp for George Washington’s American Continental Army in 1777-1778.
Aside: As a kid I always wanted to be a historian, but I just didn’t see any future in it. While at the Valley Forge museum, I asked the tour guide if it was okay to take pictures. He said, “No. Please just leave them on the wall.”
The day prior to arriving at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, George Washington & his troops stopped to celebrate the 1st national Thanksgiving Day of the United States (Dec 18, 1777) as proclaimed by the Continental Congress. The purpose was to offer thanks & praise to God, to inspire the commanders, & to remind the soldiers “that they were under the providence of almighty God to secure the greatest of human blessings - independence & peace.”
For context, the Continental Army had just failed to re-take Philadelphia & was forced to flee to the countryside to escape being captured by the British. The troops were in bad shape, with many suffering significant injuries. Coats & blankets were scarce. Some were barefoot & their frostbitten feet were leaving a trail of blood through the snow. Food rations were non-existent, so the 12,000 soldiers were left to forage for nuts, berries, bark, & whatever else they could find in the surrounding forests.
It’s during these grim circumstances that General Washington chooses to pause to set aside a day of thanks to God. Seriously? Why? Washington believed that it would help improve the troop’s morale.
Could a day of giving thanks to God in the midst of bleak conditions really change one’s perspective? I’ve been trying an experiment to see if Washington was on to something. The past few weeks, as I did my daily neighborhood walk with our beagles, Maggie & Sally, I deliberately sought out praiseworthy scenes:
My mood didn’t magically change, my prayerful concerns weren’t miraculously resolved, & my worries about the Chiefs’ defense still remained. Yet. My perspective was remarkably improved - -there WERE a lot of reasons to give thanks.
Sadly, over 2,000 soldiers (1 out of 6) would die at Valley Forge due to malnutrition &/or disease. Historians view the winter of 1777-1778 as the low point of the Revolutionary War for the Americans, when the conventional wisdom said the fight for freedom was hopeless.
I imagine some might be asking why visit such a seemingly dismal National Park? (Actually, I don’t need to imagine it – our two teen-aged sons both asked the question.) Washington would use this time at Valley Forge to train/re-train his troops, to incorporate discipline, & to develop camaraderie. The army that emerged from this bleak winter would become the catalyst to one of the greatest upsets in military history.
Perhaps we could mimic General Washington & the heroes of Valley Forge. We could start this weekend with a day truly devoted to thanksgiving & we could then utilize this pending winter as a time to re-tool & renew as we, too, prepare for an epic spring.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to check the History Channel TV schedule to see if they might have an episode devoted to the winter at Valley Forge. Nope. Just another “Swamp People” marathon. Sigh.
PS: George Washington’s devotion to giving thanks to God wasn’t a one-time deal. His first proclamation as President of the United States was to set aside a day of Thanksgiving “devoted by the people to the service of that great & glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”
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