With Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror, and the holiday season in full swing, I want to share a story about an amazing woman who knew how we can make the most of this season. That woman is Sarah Hale (1788—1879), and while you may not recognize her name, I guarantee you’ll recognize her impact.Sarah Hale was remarkable. She did great things at a time when women were viewed as less than their male counterparts. Sarah was an author, advocate, publisher, and educator. She is also the individual most responsible for President Lincoln proclaiming Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. When you have time, research Sarah’s efforts to establish an official day of Thanksgiving-they were quite impressive!
But I want to talk briefly about something else Sarah Hale did. Something we are all familiar with, but the full story of which few are aware. Sarah Hale is the author of the beloved children’s poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and the reason she wrote it should be on our minds as we approach Christmas.
Everyone remembers the story of Mary bringing her lamb to school—how the lamb devotedly followed Mary “everywhere that Mary went,” and that the teacher turned out the lamb because of the disruption. What many don’t know, however, is that the poem is based on a true story. While Sarah was teaching school a student, Mary Sawyer, actually brought a lamb to class one day! Understandably, the children were distracted, so Sarah sent the lamb into the courtyard where it patiently waited for Mary.
When the class was released and Mary left the schoolhouse, the lamb came running to her side. Astonished, other students asked Sarah why the lamb was so devoted to Mary. They wondered, “Why does the lamb love Mary so much?” Sarah’s response was both simple and profound. As the last stanza of the poem reflects, she answered that the lamb loved Mary because Mary loved the lamb. That night Sarah wrote her famous poem, to reiterate an important principle for her students and for future generations—if you want to experience love, start by loving those around you.
What a profound lesson for us so many years later. If we all put this simple idea into practice, imagine how it would change our lives. Do you want to have a better marriage? Be a better husband or wife. Do you want to have better boss? Find a way to be the best employee you can. Do you want to have more friends or better relationships? Be a better friend to those around you. As the poem teaches us, love them first!
1 John 4:19 tells us that we love because God first loved us. I can’t help but think Sarah Hale had this verse in mind when she wrote about Mary’s devoted lamb. This Christmas I encourage you to read “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with a new perspective. When you read it, think about the significance of God loving you before you ever knew or cared that He existed. Meditate on the fact that God loved you “first” and think about what that means for your life. And then go out and show that same love to those around you. I promise you won’t regret it! God bless, and Merry Christmas!