Rob and I were asked to talk in church the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Here’s my talk (which isn’t necessarily applicable when dealing with deep anguish or mental illness, per President Uchtdorf).
Gratitude – Grateful in Any Circumstance
“There is one thing we can do to make life sweeter, more joyful, even glorious. We can be grateful!” So said President Uchtdorf.
Our Blessing List
For some forgotten reason exactly 14 years ago, Rob and I sat down together in our little downtown apartment and counted our blessings. Our goal was to write down 100 of them. Naming them one-by-one, that number came quickly and we realized we had many, many more blessings to document. So we kept going! We finally topped out the list at our 400th blessing (which was goat cheese, by the way).
While thinking about my talk this week, I remembered this list that we had made. I knew I kept it so I searched bins and boxes and finally found it stashed inside a book.
As I reviewed these 6 ½ pages, I came across blessings that range from the predictable (family, priesthood, music, peace, ice cream) to the more philosophical (such as sentiments, interaction, concentration, intonation) and even to the downright peculiar (bituminous materials, stripes, edges, texture, twist ties, the color green, and nail clippers, which we wrote down twice…so they must’ve been very important to us that day).
As amusing as it was to read over this list from our newlywed selves, our older and a bit more life-experienced selves feel that, perhaps, focusing on what we are grateful for isn’t the best approach, since doing so may cause us to develop a spirit of gratitude only in proportion to the number of blessings we can count. Preparing for this talk has taught me that having a spirit of gratitude should be our disposition or way of life. One that stands independent of the length of our “blessings list”.
Grateful for the Hard Things
President Uchtdorf suggests this grateful “way of life” is the way to greater happiness. He knows we can choose to be grateful no matter what we have or don’t have. Instead of being thankful for things, He believes we should focus on being thankful in our circumstances – even the hard ones.
Now, gratitude in the hard things does not translate to mean we ignore our problems or are joyful in them. Nor is it a quick fix for anguish and true sorrow. However, this type of gratitude does transcend whatever is happening around us. “It allows us, through the eyes of faith, to look beyond our present-day challenges. It surpasses disappointment, discouragement, and despair. This type of gratitude heals the heart and expands the mind.”
How can gratitude do all of this? The answer is in Christ. When we look to Him in Whom we trust, having faith that He can make beautiful things grow from our most difficult experiences, He will give us the enabling power we need to endure our trials in a more Christlike way.
Here are some examples. Through our harder life situations and setbacks, we can be grateful for:
The way our own sorrow can help us comfort others
The personal growth that comes through deepening trials.
The ways we can see God’s hand in the details
Continual refining influences
New or redefined relationships
Reminders to slow down and take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually
President Uchtdorf teaches, “True gratitude is an expression of hope and testimony. It comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life, but trusting that one day we will. When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation. In grief, we can still lift up our hearts in praise. In pain, we can glory in Christ’s Atonement. In the cold of bitter sorrow, we can experience the closeness and warmth of heaven’s embrace.”
3 Suggestions for Being Happier
If we are having difficulty being grateful during a particularly trying time, here are three suggestions.
President Monson tells us that “We often take for granted the very people who most deserve our gratitude.” Take the time to thank those who have blessed your life: your family who love you no matter what, your friends who are always willing to listen and comfort, the teachers and leaders who serve and bless your children, your neighbors who did a good deed, and the strangers who unknowingly cheered up your day.
Intentionally remember God and His goodness. To do this, President Uchtdorf suggests that instead of looking forward to a time when all our problems will be over, we look back. Ponder and try to bring to remembrance all the tender mercies and evidences of love God has shown you through your trials.
Practice the command given in Doctrine and Covenants 123:17 “Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for His arm to be revealed.”
Gratitude Unlocks the Doors of Heaven
When it comes to the blessings we can expect to receive by being grateful, they are significant in both number and value.
President Monson promises us that “Sincerely giving thanks not only helps us recognize our blessings, but it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God’s love.”
President Uchtdorf said, “Gratitude to our Father in Heaven broadens our perception and clears our vision. It inspires humility and fosters empathy toward our fellowmen and all of God’s creation. Gratitude is the catalyst to all Christlike attributes!”
According to these inspired men, gratitude blesses us with:
A wider perception
A clearer vision
Drawing us nearer to those we love
Strength in our trials
Hope in Christ
A greater feeling of God’s love
President Uchtdorf encourages us to “allow our souls to expand in thankfulness toward our merciful Heavenly Father. May we ever and constantly raise our voices and show by word and deed our gratitude to our Father in Heaven and to His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”
I close with my testimony of Christ and gratitude to my Father in Heaven for the things I learn every day that help me be a better woman, wife, and mother. I’m thankful for the blessings that come from exercising faith, hope, and charity and I’m also thankful that my Heavenly Father loves me and forgives me even when I don’t practice those perfect Christlike attributes.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.