Note: If you attend my ward, you might want to read this later, because part of it is my talk that I will be giving later today.
I looked down the row of folding chairs in the chapel overflow and saw my Chrissie and all five kids, dressed in Sunday clothes, with their eyes shut. (If it were nowadays, I would have snuck a quick picture and slapped it on Instagram.)
I could hardly blame them. We had just disembarked from a cruise ship early on a Sunday morning and found our way to the nearest sacrament meeting somewhere in Florida. We were all exhausted from a week of intense vacationing, and we were about ready to head to the airport to fly home.
Fortunately, I stayed awake and was able to enjoy a unique testimony meeting. Rest assured, the meeting was a standard Fast and Testimony meeting, as it should be, but one testimony stood out: An elderly gentleman was one of the first to slowly make his way to the pulpit. He settled in and began to speak. To the best of my recollection, this is what he had to say:
Since this is the first testimony meeting since Thanksgiving, I have been thinking about the scripture where the Lord says “Thou shalt thank the Lord in all things.” I asked myself, “Self: Are you really thankful for all things?”
And my answer was, “I don’t know!” So I went over to the bookshelf and grabbed our dictionary and sat down in my chair. I opened it up and started to read. One of the first words that caught my eye was “aardvark.”
I asked myself “Am I really thankful for aardvarks?” I’ve never actually seen one. They seem like curious creatures, and they are interesting to look at, so I suppose that I am grateful for aardvarks.”
I perked up because this was getting interesting. He continued:
The next word that I noticed was “anemone.” It isn’t very easy to pronounce, but I’m pretty sure I got it right. Now it turns out there are two kinds of anemones. One is a plant and lives on land, the other is an animal called a sea anemone that lives, well, in the sea.“
And so it went.
In a span of twenty minutes, this good brother made it to the letter “C.” It was then that his saintly bishop stood up and put his arm around him and whispered in his ear. He looked surprised, but quickly closed with a sweet testimony of gratitude and sat down.
This odd testimony burned into my heart. Nobody else in my family remembers it, but I’m glad I do.
The Lord did indeed say. “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” (D&C 59:7). All things.
It sounds great in theory, but it is tough in practice. There are lots of “no-brainer” things to be thankful for: My wife, my kids, friends, the Gospel, Jesus, ice cream, fast wifi, etc. But to be thankful for everything is a tall order.
Life can be difficult. Things happen that are tragic, painful, unfair and there is much suffering. Everyone has struggles. Everyone.
However, as members of the Lord’s Church, we have a distinct advantage in finding gratitude. Honestly, we should be the most grateful people on the face of the earth.
- We understand the Plan of Salvation: Where we came from, why we are here, and were we are going.
- We understand the reasons for the pain, suffering, unfairness and difficulties of life.
- We know that we have a Savior who loves us and will make things right – sooner or later.
- We understand that this life is just a small part of our eternal existence.
- We understand that we can spend eternity with those we love most.
The Gospel gives us a perspective that can help us find purpose and meaning – and even gratitude – even in the worst of times. President Dallin H. Oaks taught this idea:
“When we give thanks in all things, we see hardships and adversities in the context of the purpose of life. We are sent here to be tested. There must be opposition in all things. We are meant to learn and grow through that opposition, through meeting our challenges, and through teaching others to do the same.” (link)
If we find ourselves in a dark place where we can’t find anything to be thankful for (and it does happen), then we have lost that perspective. Striving to look at our lives with a gospel perspective can help us find something to be thankful for.
Now, to better understand gratitude, it can be helpful to consider the flip side: ingratitude.
“And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.” D&C 59:21
“One of the greatest sins of which the inhabitants of the earth are guilty today, is the sin of ingratitude.” Joseph F. Smith
Ingratitude is a sin? Yep, and one the Lord takes personally. But what does ingratitude sound like? It sounds like murmuring, and complaining.
Complaining is the voice of ingratitude – it is the bad breath of the ungrateful heart – willing to be shared with anyone who happens to be within range. And boy, are we willing to share it.
Elder Holland once said, “Yes, life has its problems, and yes, there are negative things to face, but please accept one of Elder Holland’s maxims for living—no misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse.” (link)
Or, if Elder Holland is not enough, remember what Coach Boomer at Sky High said: “There will be no whiner babies.”
Sometimes we are quick to share our ingratitude with friends, family, God, and complete strangers online and in person. Much of our interpersonal interaction is based on a foundation of complaining about something, or someone.
We also complain to ourselves about whatever thing might be setting us off at any given moment. Sadly, often one of the main targets of our vitriol is…us. Yeah, we can be pretty hard on ourselves.
Much as faith cannot coexist with fear, I can’t envision a scenario where complaining and being grateful can co-exist. One of the best scriptural attempts I have found is in D&C 121-122. Joesph Smith, captive in Liberty Jail, gives the Lord what could be considered a list of grievances, and was put quickly in his place by the Lord.
In a classic parental moment, the Lord responded to Joesph’s complaints by telling him:
- It could be worse – a lot worse, and here’s how…
- You’ll learn from it, and it will be good for you.
- I had it way worse than you.
God would rather we not complain.
Simply put, if I am complaining about an issue – real or imagined – I am not focused on being grateful. As the Lord has said, we should receive “all things with thankfulness.” (D&C 78:19) Even the bad stuff.
As I have attempted in previous years, I am going to try and focus on my gratitude this week by being aware of how much I am complaining, and try to stop. I know I do it. I would like to prove my gratitude by not giving voice to my ingratitude – whether inside my head, or aloud. I know from previous attempts that it is eye-opening endeavor, and perhaps a bit humbling.
Yes, it does sounds tough. And it is. Really tough. I probably start each day with some sort of “I’m tired” complaint, followed quickly by “I don’t want to go to work,” and it escalates from there. Complaining is commonplace, and common. For some, it has evolved into a lifestyle. Yet when we adopt a complainer’s voice, we minimize our gratitude to God, and to everyone else we come in contact with – including ourselves.
I invite you to join me. As we come up to Thanksgiving, let’s pay attention to our thoughts and words more carefully. When we find ourselves complaining about something – anything – let’s try and pull it back and focus on what we are grateful for.
Even in the throes of Thanksgiving, when gratitude is the attitude de jour, we can find plenty of things to be ungrateful for if we are looking for them. It can be a rather ironic holiday.
Remember, it doesn’t matter if the turkey is dry, or that weird nephew keeps sticking his finger in the gravy. We don’t need to grouse about politics, the weather, or a football game. Just give it a rest for one week. (You will be surprised how hard, yet fulfilling it can be.)
In conclusion, Elder Uchtdorf taught that, “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.” (link)
In D&C 78:19 the Lord has mades us an amazing promise: “And he who recieveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious;”
May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with gratitude, peace and hope.
May it be glorious.