Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gratitude in Adversity

I'm BACK! :)

My wife and I were asked to speak in Sacrament meeting today. We were both asked to speak on the subject of gratitude.

So, as an easy way to get back into the blog, I thought I'd just post the text of my talk. So, here it is (with minor adaptations for the internet).

Gratitude in Adversity – Giving Thanks in ALL Things

Although Thanksgiving is over, and the turkey has moved to “leftover” status, it’s still appropriate to speak of gratitude – which is certainly not a “leftover.” The Thanksgiving holiday is timed nicely, as it leads in perfectly to the Christmas season, in which our focus SHOULD be a feeling of deep personal gratitude and thanksgiving for the birth of Jesus Christ.

Alma 34:38 states that we should “live in thanksgiving daily,” – and that means not just on the fourth Thursday in November.

And living in thanksgiving daily means being grateful even on bad days – which leads me to my angle on the topic of gratitude: gratitude in adversity.

One of the first hymns I ever learned in the LDS church, back in 1993, was “Count Your Blessings.”
Gratitude in adversity. It’s not just a good idea – it will actually help you through that adversity and turn the adversity into a blessing. Hopefully my message today will explain how and why.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “[Gratitude] is a quality I have found in every happy person I know. It is a quality that instantly makes a person more likable and more at peace. Where there is an abundance of this virtue, there is happiness. Where there is an absence of this virtue, there is often sadness, resentment, and futility. … Gratitude is a mark of a noble soul and a refined character. We like to be around those who are grateful. They tend to brighten all around them. They make others feel better about themselves. They tend to be more humble, more joyful, more likable.”

Elder Wirthlin also said: “One thing I can tell you with certainty is this: You cannot predict happiness by the amount of money, fame, or power a person has. External conditions do not necessarily make a person happy. The Brethren who have had assignments in poorer countries report that despite the abject poverty, the people are very happy. The fact is that the external things so valued by the world are often the cause of a great deal of misery in the world. Those who live in thanksgiving daily, however, are usually among the world’s happiest people. And they make others happy as well. … Gratitude turns a meal into a feast and drudgery into delight. It softens our grief and heightens our pleasure. It turns the simple and common into the memorable and transcendent.”

D&C 78:19 says, “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.”

That word “ALL” means “ALL.” Receiving ALL things with thankfulness means even being glad of heart when things go badly. In the simplest of examples, it means smiling and wondering what you can learn from this – when you stub your toe. Imagine having your heart in such a place that you could do that!

President James E. Faust said, “The Lord has said, ‘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.’ It is clear to me from this scripture that to ‘thank the Lord thy God in all things’ is more than a social courtesy; it is a binding commandment.”

Again, ALL THINGS. Not just the stuff we like. When I give thanks for my meals, I don’t just mean the meat and potatoes, I am also thankful for the vegetables. (Though I am especially thankful for the gravy.)

Ezra Taft Benson said, “The Prophet Joseph is reported to have said at one time that one of the greatest sins for which the Latter-day Saints would be guilty would be the sin of ingratitude. I presume most of us have not thought of that as a serious sin. There’s a great tendency for us in our prayers — in our pleadings with the Lord — to ask for additional blessings. Sometimes I feel we need to devote more of our prayers to expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving for blessings already received. Of course we need the daily blessings of the Lord. But if we sin in the matter of prayer, I think it is in our lack of the expressions of thanksgiving for daily blessings. President Brigham Young uttered very much the same warning as the Prophet Joseph — that this would be one of our great sins as Latter-day Saints. I do not think this is because we’re less grateful than other people — but we have so much more to be grateful for.”

Again, that does include our adversity. You need only listen to the words of the pioneer hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints” for a moving example of gratitude in adversity.

Elder David B. Haight said, “It’s so easy in life for us to receive blessings, many of them almost uncounted, and have things happen in our lives that can help change our lives, improve our lives, and bring the Spirit into our lives. But we sometimes take them for granted. How grateful we should be for the blessings that the gospel of Jesus Christ brings into our hearts and souls. I would remind all of you that if we’re ever going to show gratitude properly to our Heavenly Father, we should do it with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength — because it was He who gave us life and breath.”

And that means at all times and in all places – all circumstances, good or bad. Even if we can’t figure out how something can be for our benefit at the time, we can at least be grateful to be alive and to know that one day we WILL understand how the bad situation in question will benefit us. I know that many times I’ve not seen until much later how a hardship was a blessing in disguise. (Just one of the tricky things about being mortal and subject to that pesky phenomenon called “TIME.”)

President Brigham Young said, “The worst fear that I have about this
people is that they will get rich [and] forget God. … This people will
stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and
be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth.”

Sometimes we just need to be taken down a peg for our own good, lest we forget God, glorying in our own strength, getting prideful because of our bounteous blessings. We can be grateful for our challenges because, if we approach them properly – with gratitude instead of resentment - they help keep us humble and prevent us from having a “Nephite pride cycle.”

Elder David A. Bednar said, “Let me recommend that periodically
you and I offer a prayer in which we only give thanks and express gratitude.
Ask for nothing; simply let our souls rejoice and strive to communicate
appreciation with all the energy of our hearts.”

This is something we can try, even in hard times, when we very much want to ask for stuff in our prayers. In fact, that may be the best time to try that kind of prayer.

Mosiah 26:39 says that we are commanded of God to “pray without ceasing” and to “give thanks in all things.” And this was said at time when the church members were “suffering all manner of afflictions.”

I think this is very significant. It reminds me of a thought I had recently: that I'm thankful when I don't get the things I want, because it means there's something even better waiting for me, and gives me an opportunity to learn patience, perspective, and humility.

As Elder Dallin H. Oaks put it, “The revelations… show that we should even give thanks for our afflictions because they turn our hearts to God and give us opportunities to prepare for what God would have us become … 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.”

Making a conscious effort to remember this can really make a difference in our day to day lives.
When things don’t go as we had hoped, we must remember that it’s an opportunity to grow – to become more patient, to become more resourceful, to become more humble, to develop determination, resilience, and even new talents. If life were too easy, we’d become complacent. Unchallenged, we’d become spiritually flabby. (For some reason, the folks on that spaceship in the movie WALL-E come to mind. If you haven’t seen it, you won’t get the reference, but that’s okay.) The point is, as muscles need resistance to be strengthened, souls need opposition to be perfected. (Yep, I made that up myself!)

Hebrews 12:6 states that “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” Makes more sense when you look at it in this context.

D&C 98:3
states that even our afflictions shall work together for our good. Is this not a grand key to happiness in this life? You never need to worry if you just realize that every part of life is for our good, if only we would stand back and realize it, and be grateful for the experience, and recognize the positive in all things, even if it seems impossible to do so in our limited mortal perspective.

President Henry B. Eyring said, “The disciple who accepts a trial
as an invitation to grow and therefore qualify for eternal life can
find peace in the midst of the struggle.”

In other words, if you are grateful for hardship, you’ll have peace. It’s a perfect recipe for making it through the difficulties of life.

It’s no wonder that back in 54 B.C., the Roman orator Cicero claimed gratitude is “not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

We must have gratitude for all aspects of life.

Tough experiences are a great educational opportunity. We rarely look at it that way at the time of the trial, but later we look back and realize we gained something invaluable from the experience – something we likely could not have learned any other way. Keeping an eternal perspective is key.

I went through some very difficult times in the 90s. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say I went through some stuff that very nearly broke me. But now I am grateful for it, because it taught me so much, made me a stronger person, a more humble person, a less judgmental person, and drew me closer to God. I wouldn’t trade the misery I went through for an easier path - if it would mean losing those lessons.

Never beat yourself up when things go badly for you. Don’t think that it’s because you aren’t worthy of the blessings you desire. No one is exempt from adversity, not even the General Authorities. And look at what the Savior went through – and He was perfect.

Heavenly Father has a specific plan for you, and He can see the big picture that you can’t. All you can do is pray, be grateful, try your very best, be patient and diligent, and strive to learn something from the difficulties you face. And always remember that He loves you and wants what is best for you. If you are doing your best to be faithful and keep the commandments, then anything that befalls you is for your benefit and should be seen in that context.

It’s easier said than done, but a grateful heart will keep you happy in any situation.

President Faust said, “Let us not presume that because the way is at times difficult and challenging, our Heavenly Father is not mindful of us … may each of us follow the Lord’s comforting counsel: ‘Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days.’”

In a great talk called “Come What May, and Love It,” from the October 2008 General Conference, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “I know why there must be opposition in all things. Adversity, if handled correctly, can be a blessing in our lives. We can learn to love it.”

Loving adversity may seem an odd goal, but it’s a sure way to never be truly unhappy in this life. Sure, we may feel disappointment from time to time, but if we maintain our perspective, the sadness will never last long – the darkness will inevitably be dispelled by the light that comes from choosing a Christ-like attitude.

Strange how we can take for granted our blessings and focus on the adversity. We must learn to view the obvious blessings and the hardships as things to be thankful for.

I am so thankful for my wife and son, for the rest of my family and extended family, for a home and a job and food and clothing and cars that run.

I am thankful for having the Gospel of Jesus Christ in my life, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the Holy Temple, for being sealed to my family forever, and for holding the priesthood of God. I am thankful for my calling – to be able to help build up His kingdom.

I am thankful for the scriptures, for a living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, for good leaders in the Church, for the gift of the Holy Ghost. I’m thankful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ and its cleansing and saving power.

I am thankful for the Ensign magazine, for good books, and beautiful music. I am thankful for the mountains and all the beauty of the Earth.

I am thankful for my talents, for a healthy body and mind, and for the many opportunities that I have. I am thankful to live in this great land, the United States of America, and to be alive at this great time in history.

I am thankful for good friends, for my safety, for my faith and knowledge of the glorious eternal future, and for a million other things.

And I owe them all, and so much more, to God.

But to that list of obvious blessings I add that I am thankful for adversity.

I’m thankful that I don’t always get what I want, or don’t always get what I want when I want it. Just think how spoiled I would be! How incapable of handling any kind of disappointment I would be if I were not so well-practiced at it!

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the Apostle Paul wrote,
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of
God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

It takes great strength and faith to give thanks in all things. But doing so will make you stronger and more faithful.

Keeping a sense of humor, counting your blessings, and reaching out to help and serve others are great ways to enhance your ability to be grateful in adversity.

And I testify that being thankful in all things will bring you great and lasting joy, as all of life’s lemons are turned into lemonade by this shift in attitude to one of gratitude.

I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

My Family

My Family
THIS is what it's all about. (July 2013)

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