Sunday, November 23, 2014

Gratitude


Good afternoon, brothers and sisters. I am so grateful to speak to you today. With Thanksgiving coming up this week, it is only fitting for me to speak on gratitude. I can still remember a lesson I had in Young Womens when I was probably about 14 years old. The teacher asked us each to write down a list of every single thing we were grateful for. I was quite proud of myself for coming up with such a long list in just a few minutes. Then she had us go back and put a check mark next to all of the blessings we had thanked our Heavenly Father for in prayer recently. I was pretty disappointed in myself when I realized that I had very few check marks on my paper. While I was grateful for many things, I had neglected to actually give thanks for the blessings I had been given. That day I learned about the important difference between gratitude and thanksgiving. If we want to follow the example of our Savior Jesus Chris, we must not only have gratitude in our hearts, but we must give thanks for all that we have been given.
But why is this so important to God? Why does He want us to be thankful? I’m sure that there are lots of reasons, but I came up with 3.
First, we know that He wants us to be happy. I know for myself, I am definitely happier when I am grateful for what I have been given and when I express that gratitude.
Second, our Heavenly Father wants to bless us. We read in Doctrine and Covenants 59:7 “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” This is a commandment. Just like any other commandment, when we obey, it gives our Heavenly Father an opportunity to bless us even more abundantly. If we choose not to be grateful for that which we already have, Heavenly Father is not very likely to give us even more.
The third reason I believe that we are commanded to express thanks to our Heavenly Father is that it helps us avoid pride. Gratitude gives us the perspective that we need to remember that all that we have is not really ours. If we are constantly giving thanks for all that we have, we will be much less inclined to become prideful about what we have been given. King Benjamin is a perfect example. In Mosiah chapter 2, we read how he teaches his people to give thanks and serve God with their whole souls.
“And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!

I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—

 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.”


Now it seems a little bit troubling that even if we do our very best, we will be unprofitable servants. But it is helpful to remember that a profit is not what Christ is looking for. He doesn’t need a profit. If we continue reading in verse 22, we learn what He really wants from us.

“And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.”

What He requires is really quite simple: to keep His commandments.
So understanding the need for gratitude is one thing, but how do we actually do it? I’d like to share a few ideas that have helped me recently.
The first is quite simple but actually really hard: don’t complain. Ever. You can decide today that you are going to be a person that doesn’t complain. It’s completely possible. I started my mission with the goal to never complain and I am so grateful that I did. At first it was really hard, I would complain in my mind sometimes, but I didn’t allow myself to say it out loud. Eventually the negative thoughts just stopped coming altogether and I have become happier than I have ever been. It takes a lot of self-discipline, and definitely some trial and error, but I promise you it is a habit worth developing. During a hard part of my mission, my brother sent me a note. It had a quote from Elder Holland that I just love. It says “No problem is so big that complaining about it won’t make it worse.” Underneath the quote it simply said “Summer in Ukraine! Suck it up.” As soon as I read that, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and just be happy. And you know what, it actually worked. So that is my second piece of advice, just choose to be happy. Count your blessings. Look on the bright side of things. Find opportunities to serve. Read your scriptures. Listen to uplifting music. Talk to family members or friends. There are a million things that we can do to raise our spirits. We know what they are but sometimes I feel like we get so caught up in life that we don’t take the time to take care of ourselves. Gratitude and happiness are interesting because they feed into each other. The happier you are, the easier it is to be grateful and give thanks. The more grateful you are, the easier it is to be happy.
My third piece of advice is to not get caught up in fairness. I remember as a kid countless times complaining to my mom “but it’s not fair!!!!” She would always respond the same way, “Life isn’t fair, Katie.” That always upset me. It’s not fair that there are bad people who live happy lives and very good people who live sad lives. It’s not fair when cancer strikes or when jobs are lost or when war breaks out. The fact of the matter is that while this life may not be perfectly fair, the next one will be. We have to trust in the promises we have been given and believe in our Savior. When life’s challenges seem too much to bear, I cling on to one sentence from Preach My Gospel that says “All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” Try not to worry about what’s not fair right now. I know it’s hard. But the more you strengthen your faith in your Savior, the more you will be able to rely on this promise. I can bear testimony that He is the only way that all the wrongs of the world can be made right. If we believe in Him, we will have the strength to be grateful in times of unfairness.
Going along with that, my last piece of advice is to rely on the Savior. Developing gratitude is really about changing hearts. The natural man is not a grateful person. The only way that we can overcome that is with the Savior’s help. In Ezekiel there is a beautiful promise in chapter 11, verses 19 and 20. This is a promise for all of us.

“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:

That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

With the Savior’s help, we can have new hearts. We can become exactly who He wants us to be.
I remember last year around thanksgiving I found a scripture that really struck me. It is in Doctrine and Covenants section 78, verses 18 and 19.
 “And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.

 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.”

I love the line that “he who receives all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious.” It’s so true. When I think about the most wonderful people I know, you know those people who you just like to be around, they live their lives with a grateful attitude. There is something special about people who choose to be grateful. As I have studied and thought about gratitude this week, I have come to realize that it’s all about 2 things: attitude and perspective.
Like everything else in this life, gratitude is a choice. And it’s one we have to make pretty much every day. Once my friend told me once that life is just a pile of good things and a pile of bad things. Some days it might seem like the good pile is really really small and the bad pile is really really big, but that good pile is always there. And when we choose to focus on the good, we will be not only happier, but more prepared to overcome the bad.
Now each of us has a different looking good pile, but I know that we all have a Savior. He is our foundation. We can always be grateful for Him and His sacrifice. I remember a time when I did not feel very grateful for anything. I was going through the hardest trial I had ever faced and I knew that this trial came at no fault of my own: it was just something that had happened. It all just seemed so unfair and honestly, I was sick of people telling me to “stay positive” and “look on the bright side.” I was convinced that in this case, there was no bright side. Right in the middle of this trial was general conference, and there was a particular talk that I am positive was given for me. Most of you probably remember it, it was from President Uchtdorf and it is titled “Grateful in any Circumstances.” What I loved about this talk is that President Uchtdorf didn’t demand that I be grateful for my trial, He explained that we can be grateful during our trials.
Once a trial is over and we have some time to heal and little bit of perspective, we can be grateful for our trials. We can look back and see how they have strengthened us and prepared us for the future. But right in the middle of a trial it’s pretty difficult to be grateful for the trial itself, but we can be grateful for other things. I remember as I was watching this talk, my companion slipped a note to me that said “We don’t have to be grateful that this is happening to us. We just have to be grateful that we have a Savior.” Suddenly it became clear and I thought to myself, “okay, I can do that. I am grateful for my Savior. I will always be grateful for Him. If that is enough for a first step, I can do that.” And slowly things started to get easier. President Uchtdorf stated, “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.” I know that this is true, because it was my own personal experience. In times of trial, the best thing that we can do is rely on prayer. Talk to your Heavenly Father, be completely open and honest with Him, and never stop giving thanks for the blessings that you do have.
            I want to close with a story from the scriptures. There is a great example of the blessings that come from gratitude in the New Testament. It is a story I’m sure we are all familiar with: the story of the 10 lepers. I have always been intrigued by this story. As we know, 10 men exercised faith and received a miracle, but only 1 chose to stop and give thanks for the blessing he received. All 10 of these men must have been righteous if they had sufficient faith to be healed. And all 10 of them received the same blessing, so what was the grateful man’s reward? How was his experience different from that of the nine?

“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,

 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.

 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?

 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.

 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”

The answer is pretty simple: he had a personal experience with the Savior. Choosing to not only feel gratitude, but to express it is one of the most powerful ways to draw closer to our Savior. President Monson said: “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...My brothers and sisters, to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven.”
            I have a testimony that expressing gratitude is one of the greatest ways we can show our love to our Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Even if we can only find it within ourselves to be a tiny bit grateful, they will rejoice. I know that life can be hard and discouraging at times, but when we choose to rely on our Savior, we can have the strength to keep a grateful attitude in our hearts always. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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