Driven by Self-Sacrificing Purpose

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Living Stones Series: First Published in All Around Old Bridge Publication – November 2016

By Pastor Lloyd Pulley

“The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.” H.U. Westermayer

As we gather with family later this month to celebrate Thanksgiving, we may not at first remember that four entire Pilgrim families did not survive that first grueling winter of 1620. As we heap our plates with food, and enjoy Tryptophan-induced slumber, we may not immediately realize that 13 out of 18 Pilgrim mothers died of starvation, choosing to give their meager rations to their starving children.

Yet, in November 1621, less than a year after that first brutal winter, the surviving Pilgrims gathered with local Native Americans to give thanks for their blessings. How? How did they give thanks for blessings amidst starvation, illness, uncertainty, grief, and death?

The Pilgrims gave thanks, despite their plight, because they were a people driven by purpose. Their vision of freedom in the New World outweighed their profound misery. They came to pave the way for future generations, and they knew it. William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony, wrote, “Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing… as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many.”

The Bible teaches that some of the most unthinkable circumstances gave way to the greatest events in history, and behind it all stood people who were willing to look beyond present hardships toward the future.

Take Jochebed, Moses’ mother. When she spared Moses as a child, she could have faced the wrath of mighty Pharaoh, who sought to slaughter Hebrew newborn sons. The Bible says she and her husband were not afraid of Pharaoh, because they honored God more than men. They understood, somehow, that God had called this baby to greater things, so they were willing to risk their safety for the future of Moses and the entire Hebrew nation.

Consider Joseph. His suffering was unthinkable. He was betrayed by his brothers, sold as a slave, falsely accused of rape, imprisoned, and forgotten. And yet, despite all that he experienced, Joseph saw himself as a stepping-stone to rescue his brothers and future Hebrew generations. In fact he says to his once treacherous brothers, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good… to save many people” (Genesis 50:20).

Joseph, Moses, and later the Pilgrims were driven by an others-centered, future-facing purpose. Are we? Would our generation face the same suffering today in order to lay a better future for others?

In their book, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, psychologists and authors Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell write, “The United States is currently suffering from an epidemic of narcissism,” or an inflated view of self. Millennials, defined as those born between 1980 and early 2000’s, “are more narcissistic than boomers and gen-Xers were at the same age.”

In her study of first year college students, Twenge discovered that millennials considered themselves more superior and self-sufficient than freshmen college students of previous generations. She writes, “We have become a culture that focuses more on material things and less on relationship.” As a result, this generation is more depressed, anxious, and paranoid than any other.

But this was not always the case! The generation that lived through the Great Depression and the atrocities of WWII, dubbed by Tom Brokaw as the “Greatest Generation,” was less self-centered than ours. Characterized by strong commitments to family and community, hard work, and self-sacrifice, the Greatest Generation led America through a period of national, economic, and political turmoil, a period of suffering not unlike that faced by the Pilgrims.

Brokaw writes of this generation, “They have given the succeeding generations the opportunity to accumulate great economic wealth, political muscle, and the freedom from foreign oppression to make whatever choices they like… It is a generation that, by and large, made no demands of homage from those who followed and prospered economically, politically, and culturally because of its sacrifices.” The Greatest Generation, like Joseph, Moses, and the Pilgrims, was driven by self-sacrificing purpose.

The reality is, the best way to overcome narcissism and the depression it causes is to get busy serving other people. To that end, Calvary Chapel Old Bridge offers young people opportunities to get out into the community and to meet the needs of others. The church’s involvement in Old Bridge Day this past September serves as a case in point. Young people, even as young as five, served Old Bridge residents, and took a wonderfully refreshing step out of the maddening world of self!

Having an others-centered, self-sacrificing purpose offers countless benefits. As we meet the needs of the elderly, the hungry, and the lonely, we begin to forget about our own, more selfish pursuits. Serving others reminds us to be grateful for our countless blessings, despite our immediate circumstances. Could it be that in serving others, we too would experience inexplicable joy and cause for thanksgiving, as those earliest Americans did? As we look out for others, we may be inclined to also look up in thanksgiving as Bradford himself did, saying, “Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good, and His mercies endure forever.”

Aaron Salvato