the mayflower compact: a lesson in fragility (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on july 18, 2020

"In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620." - William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

When you read The Mayflower Compact, does anything strike you? When this document was written and signed, the Mayflower had arrived at Cape Cod in what is now Massachusetts. It was full of colonists who were weary of travel and low on provisions. Some were seeking adventure, some wealth, and many were fleeing from religious persecution in England. The ship, forced out of its route to the Colony of Virginia, could travel no further without provisions, so the colonists decided to build their Colony where they were in Massachusetts. However, before they left the ship, they wrote and signed this singular document proclaiming their purpose and reaffirming their loyalty to England.

So, does anything strike you when you read over this passage? What strikes me is the usage of phrases such as "for the Glory of God" and "in the Presence of God." Contemporary language rarely includes phrases such as these.

Now, I don't think that everything people used to do was the right way to do things, but I've often found that phrases, habits, or customs that have disappeared from our modern-day lives often have valuable lessons behind them. My suspicion is that time wears the meaning out of the phrases until we no longer see the point of using them. They become hollow shells with no meaning left inside of them.

So, what lessons can we learn from the Pilgrims' use of these phrases? The biggest thing I see in it is a sense of fragility. These men, women, and children have just traveled thousands of miles from the homeland they once knew. Everything in their lives is continually changing.

When everything around you is in such a state of turmoil, it's easy to forget your purpose. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the Pilgrims found themselves wondering why they were going to all this trouble. The Mayflower Compact served as a reminder, a moral compass to keep them pointed toward their goal.

Phrases like "for the Glory of God" may have been commonplace in those days, but I still like to think of them as an affirmation of the Pilgrims' goals. Any child of the original settlers who read the Compact would see those phrases and be reminded that the end goal was God's glorification. These phrases take the uncertainty and fragility of their new life and put a purpose into it, a reason for the trials they face.

A similar phrase that we rarely hear anymore is "God willing." Now there's a phrase that speaks of the fragility of life. It reminds us that life is an uncertain thing; there are no guarantees. I believe this to be an essential reminder, but one that we often go without. Especially at times like this, when borders are closed because of a global virus and no one knows what tomorrow will bring, we need to be reminded that life is fragile. And really, it's no more fragile now than it usually is. A chance interaction or remark overheard can completely upset all of your plans on any day, virus-free or not. The difference with the virus is that it's so widespread and so different from everything we've known before.

Really, though, were the Pilgrims in a situation any less uncertain? They, too, had no idea what tomorrow would bring. Every day came with its surprises and sorrows. And yet, they were able to push through and focus on the goal.

That's really the secret to dealing with turmoil: focus on your goal. Why are you going through this? What's keeping you going when so many obstacles are in your way? You don't have to use phrases like "for the Glory of God," but find some way to remind yourself of your purpose. It could be a sticky note on your desk or a daily alarm on your phone, but make sure you keep your end goal in sight.

But what if you don't know your purpose? It's easy to say, "keep your goal in mind," but what if you don't know the goal? That's the tricky thing about the unexpected: you don't know what you're supposed to do with it. It's an unknown, like someone dropping a locked box on your lap and saying, "deal with it." How do you choose a goal when everything's spinning out of control?

To be honest, I don't really know. I'm still learning myself. But that's okay; I don't have to know all the answers. I just need to decide what the next step is, and then do it. As I move forward, I'll understand more, but if I stand still, waiting for the fog to clear, I'll never see past the hill that's blocking my view.

This dilemma is something I've thought about lately. I know that I have a purpose; that's something I can feel easily. I'm here to do something, not just sit around idly as my life slips by. The problem is, I don't know what that purpose is.

What I've realized is this: I have a purpose in every season of my life. There's always a goal that I need to be achieving. There should never be a time when I don't know my purpose in that season.

So, what is my purpose right now? Maybe my reason for going through this uncertain, fragile time of my life is to learn my purpose for the times ahead of me.

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