This post is most of my notes from a talk that I gave in Sacrament meeting last Thanksgiving. I thought that I would share it here. Happy Thanksgiving, my friends :)
I am very honored to have the opportunity to speak on this Sabbath day. I have been given the topic of gratitude and what it means to me. I found this topic a little difficult because of my current and recent challenges but also because I believe that gratitude is seen by many as a noun... something you have... whereas I guess I see gratitude as a verb and something that must constant be active to be useful. The ability to see shortcomings or to find things to complain about is easy. In some ways, self pity and other self absorbing emotions or behaviors as easy as well. But the cultivation of true gratitude in our lives is more difficult. True gratitude often includes a sense of gratitude that is combined with a sincere desire to repay others for what we have been given. This is not to say an external or imposed obligation is what is suggested. This sense of obligation that comes with our thankfulness arises naturally within us as a recognition of our blessings and how we have been supported and cared for by others. To be blunt, gratitude is not the same as indebtedness.
Gratitude is such a simple word and yet, this word describes an act, attitude and lifestyle that is complex, intricate, requires sincere introspection, and is one of the most important aspects of the gospel. We cannot truly live the gospel or understand the Atonement itself without some strong understanding of the idea and necessity of this emotion. A few scriptures help illustrate this:
DC 46:7 - But ye are commanded in all things to ask God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.
DC 78:19 - And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.
An ancient Roman Philosopher (Cicero) once stated “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” A strong foundation of gratitude in our lives is necessary for all of us and more especially when we are faced with challenges. Sometimes our trials will make us feel weak – whether it is a weakness in our physical body, our spirit, or other difficulties.... gratitude gives us a foundation with which to begin to become stronger. Sometimes, in our weaknesses, this is the only step that we are able to take to help ourselves. In our moments of devastation and despair how many of us have been able to pray to our father and thank him for the things and blessings that we have? If you have been able to do this at times in your life, do you remember the comfort and peace you felt from what would seem a simple act?
A well known LDS speaker (Meg Johnson) once said “gratitude from your mouth is “thank you” and gratitude from your heart is “I love you” This week, most of us here had the opportunity to celebrate the holiday of thanksgiving. Some of us met with family members, traveled distances to join with relatives... and many of us celebrated by eating too much food. :) Thanksgiving as a national holiday is only one day a year, but we as members of this church know that we need to give thanks and show gratitude on a daily basis- in our prayers, in our thoughts, in our attitudes. My brothers and sisters, do we remember to give thanks....?
In my life that I have when I sit down quietly and begin to thank Heavenly Father for them. During times of great struggle (and there have been a few) I have found that one of the ways I am able to find a way to smile and continue my responsibilities and trying to move forward in my goals is to sit down with pen and paper and just quietly think and write all the blessings that would come to mind. After a few minutes of this intentional introspection I would find it almost impossible to continue feeling sad or picked on or the pain of the struggle I cannot say hat those feelings truly went away but I have found that gratitude helped make those feelings seem less enormous and less dragon-like and overwhelming. No matter what the circumstances in your life all of us have so much that we can be grateful for... we just need to pause and look for them. Gordon B Hinckley said “ When you walk with gratitude, you do not walk with arrogance and conceit and egotism, you walk with the spirit of thanksgiving that is becoming to you and will bless your lives.”
What can we do to help promote the feelings and attitude of gratitude in our lives? One thing that we can do is to actively work on being positive and to actively fight our human tendencies to complain, to look out for ourselves and not others and to see the negative more easily than the generous amounts of 'positive' things in our lives. Taking the time and mental focus to 'catch' ourselves when we are freeing negatively, when we are expressing and focusing on the negatives in our lives... and to work to change these thoughts and behaviors can make big differences in our lives. Even small steps and attempts can make huge changes.
Brothers and Sisters, Jesus himself has given us so many examples of gratitude. Two that come immediately to mind is the miracle of the loaves and fishes (Matthew 15:4) and the miraculous healing of the ten lepers. All were so thankful for food and healing and felt peace and joy for the gift, but how many showed gratitude to the Savior for the gift itself? Of the lepers, we know that only one took the time to express his gratitude to the Savior. The lepers were clearly pleased and thankful for the wonderful opportunities that were now available to them... so happy that they were unable to do anything but immediately jump into the activities and opportunities that they now could enjoy and not giving a thought to the giver.
How many of us become so excited and pleased at the gifts that we are given that we too forget to show gratitude for the blessings and gifts that we are thankful for? And how often are we unable to see past the negative thoughts and emotions we struggle with over the blessings that we feel we lack and deserve? C.S. Lewis once said “not only heaven but all this earthly past will have been heaven to those who are saved.” Can you imagine? As we work towards a greater sense of gratitude in our lives, our trials can become easier to bear. When we focus on what we have and not what we lack, we can find true joy in our lives now... and not have to wait for the perfect time or place! What a wonderful blessing all on its own!
I hope and pray that we as individuals can put forth more of our energy towards a true sense of gratitude in our lives and the lives of those around us. I say these thoughts in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.