There are no Bootstrap People

Crab Apples MN Landscape Arboretum October 2018

One of the paradoxes of life is that we tend to forget God at the very moment when we ought to be most grateful. We are awash with God’s blessing and abundance, yet we tell ourselves that all we have is from our own hard work, our own efforts.

Moses knew that as soon as the Israelites arrived in the Promised Land they were likely to forget the God who had freed them from slavery and led them through the wilderness. He knew they would be tempted to self-righteousness by their own prosperity. In that new place families would accumulate wealth . . .  For it was a rich land, a “Good land, a land flowing with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills . . . A land.” Moses says, “where you will lack nothing.”   (Deuteronomy 8: 7 & 9)   Amidst plenty, it will be easy for the Israelites to tell themselves and each other how they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. They will congratulate themselves upon being self-made men and women, truly believing they have earned the prosperity they are now blessed with.

When we cease to be grateful, we can become arrogant and mean spirited. We harden our hearts, tighten our fists and stop caring about our neighbors next door or around the world. We tell ourselves that our success is ours alone. Our ungrateful selves look down on people who are struggling. We forget all whose work and lives our own are built on. We forget the teachers who taught us basic skills, the co-worker who took time for us and the kind souls who stood by us. We neglect to remember the person who took a special interest in us and the one whose patience gave us opportunity, the job that fell in our lap or the wealth we were born in to.

On the edge of the promised land, Moses calls the people to remember the way that God has guided, led and fed them through the long wilderness years telling them to never say, “By my own strength I have done things because it is God who has given you strength and power.” (Deuteronomy 8: 18)   This is God’s world. We can misuse, abuse or rearrange it. But, we can never create anything without the material God has provided us already. Even our ambition, that driving force inside us to excel, is a gift from God.

There are no self-made men and women on this earth. We are interdependent people. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and prepared a way for us. We are surrounded not only be these, but by God who has provided, gifted and sustained us through our journeys.  May this season be one of Thanksgiving.   Giving thanks for God’s good gifts and giving thanks for the blessings of those who have blessed us on our way.   May it be a time to remember those among us in need and sharing out of the abundance God has given us, with those who need to be reminded that God cares.

“Come, ye thankful people, come,
raise the song of harvest home;
all is safely gathered in,
ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
for our wants to be supplied;
come to God’s own temple, come,
raise the song of harvest home.”
Rev Henry Alford