I’d like to begin by asking a few questions: Have you thanked anyone today? If so, did you feel genuine gratitude toward that person, or were you merely being reflexively polite? If you haven’t thanked anyone today, is there something that you could’ve thanked someone for that you failed to notice in the moment? Have you prayed today? What have you thanked your Heavenly Father for today.
There’s an old saying that it isn’t happy people who are thankful, but rather it is thankful people who are happy, and I sincerely believe that is true. I believe gratitude is one of the first and most vital steps in a virtuous and happy life. How do we become more grateful? What should we be grateful for?
I think all of us could easily list a dozen or so things that we are thankful for. Our lives are filled with blessings large and small, and though sometimes the smaller ones are easiest to miss, they can be just as important. But today, I’d like to speak about some of the “biggest” things we should be grateful for. To that end, I’ll be using some stories that aren’t the ones that usually come to mind when we think of gratitude, but please bear with me, I promise I have a point, and I will try to make it as clearly as possible.
In the New Testament, we read about a woman who had an issue of blood for 12 years, who pressed her way through a thronging crowd to touch the Savior’s robe, certain that this act would heal her. Under Mosaic Law, a woman with an issue of blood was considered unclean, and had to undergo ritual cleansing in order to participate in routine life again, as would anyone she came in contact with during her confinement—they would also be considered unclean. If she had had a husband, its likely he would have divorced her, as she would’ve been unable to care for him or any children without them also being considered unclean. It was unlikely that she would’ve been allowed to attend any worship services, much less the temple, for all of those years. She probably lived somewhat apart from the rest of society—an outcast in her pain. Financially, she was completely broke from seeking treatments that did not work, and to top it all off she was essentially, and agonizingly slowly, bleeding to death.
So for this woman to reach out to touch the Savior was not just an act of faith, it was a very bold one. When the Savior sensed power going out of him and turned to figure out who was responsible, she was afraid to come forward because she knew that many would see this act as her making this man unclean, for her own selfish purposes and there could be stiff consequences for that, especially for a man they believed to holy. But the Lord did not rebuke her. He turned to her and said, addressing her lovingly, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of they plague.” And she was. From that hour, she was whole. Her entire life would’ve changed.
The Lord did not put her away because of her weakness. He recognized her bold faith in reaching out to him to be healed. When others may spurn or criticize or lose patience with us because of our weaknesses, the Lord instead reaches out to heal and comfort us. In the most recent General Conference, Elder Scott said, “When the Lord speaks of weakness, it is always with mercy.” How often do we feel and express our gratitude to the Lord for that marvelous gift? How often do we thank him for offering freely his power to heal us, especially when all other types of healing fail and we are utterly spent? How often do we thank him for those simple words, “Go in peace. . .be whole” when he speaks them to our broken hearts? Through the Atonement, all personal plagues—whatever form they may take in us as individuals—can be healed. How often do we thank the Lord for his mercy and comfort in our weaknesses? In Ether we read, “I give unto men weaknesses that they may be humble. . .my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me. . .have faith in me, then will I make weak things strong unto them.” When was the last time you grumbled at your weaknesses? When was the last time you thanked the Lord for the opportunity to lean on and better know his strength, in order to build your own?
Next, I’d like to talk about Jonah. Jonah gets a bad rap—as well he should—for running away. But let’s have some compassion for Jonah: Nineveh was not an easy mission call. The people were quite wicked, and he wasn’t optimistic about being successful there. So Jonah directly disobeyed a commandment from the Lord and got on a ship going the opposite direction. How often have we done that? Ignored the Lord’s clear standards and commandments, and, for one reason or another, run the other way? When a terrible tempest arose and it looked like everyone on his ship was going to die, Jonah finally revealed himself. His shipmates were quite frightened when Jonah explained to them what was going on. He told them that God would probably be appeased and leave them be if they threw him overboard. They didn’t seem to hesitate with carrying out that plan. Instead of being lost to the sea, however, Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Its easy, in retrospect and knowing how the story ends, to see that as an act of mercy. But I submit that it may not have initially appeared that way to Jonah. Instead of a quick and relatively painless death in the waves, it probably now seemed likely that he would instead suffer a slow, painful starvation inside a whale, where it must’ve been utterly dark and lonely. Jonah described his ordeal by saying, “The waters compassed me about, even to the soul; the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped around my head.”
Jonah didn’t immediately recognize the mercy of having been stopped in his tracks. It merely seemed he’d been thrust into a dark, lonely punishment. How often do we fail to recognize the Lord’s mercy when we have been rebellious, because we are still too prideful to recognize that when we were on the wrong road, a somewhat imposed “stupor of progress”, if you will, was an act of grace? There are times when we feel that those around us have thrown us overboard because we made some bad decisions, and that we are being punished by dark loneliness. The Lord let Jonah sit inside that whale for a few days not just to save his life, but to save his soul. Alone in the darkness, Jonah started to do something he probably hadn’t been doing nearly enough of: he prayed. And in praying, he found hope: “I am cast out of thy sight,” he said, “yet I will look again toward the holy temple. . .When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord.” Jonah’s life was spared, his spirit was renewed, and he was able to fulfill his assignment. Not only that, the Lord blessed him with a great deal of success in Nineveh—the city and its people made a remarkable change. That is grace. In mercy, we find that we don’t get what we justly deserve. In the Lord’s grace, we find that not only do we not get the punishment we deserved, but in fact he gives us another chance to do it right, and then another, and another, and rewards us for those efforts. How often do we thank him for that grace? How often do we show gratitude for it by extending that same mercy and grace to those who trespass against us? Repentance is an act of humility, and it ought to also be a reverent expression of gratitude, for Lord’s tremendous grace for mistakes big and small. We should be grateful when the Lord puts impediments in our way that make it harder to do the wrong thing, and we should be extraordinarily thankful for his mercy and grace we have persisted in doing the wrong thing anyway. When we are in the darkness, when we are consumed by the pain of sin, when our souls “faint within us”, we ought to follow Jonah’s example and pray, “remember the Lord, look toward the holy temple” and express our gratitude for the Lord’s mercy.
Finally, I’d like to talk about the people of Alma. There is no doubt that their circumstances were difficult: they were slaves, horribly mistreated by those who held them in bondage. They cried to the Lord in their afflictions, and he offered these simple but powerful words of peace: “Lift up your heads and be of good comfort. . .I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, even that ye cannot feel them upon your backs. . .that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions. . .the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.”
It is not coincidental that one of the crowning characteristics of both faith and gratitude is cheerfulness. The three are inseparable. As we develop more faith in our Father in Heaven and in Jesus Christ, we are better able to see all the things that they do for us, and become more grateful. And as we feel more gratitude, our ability to trust in a loving Father and a selfless, redeeming Christ increases.
The Lord kept his promise to the people of Alma and delivered them from bondage, but that deliverance did not come right away. In the mean time, they felt the strength of the Lord literally helping to carrying their burdens and make them lighter, so they were able to cheerfully carry on, trusting that one day the Lord would fulfill his promise and set them free. They were grateful and happy, even in their trial.
That is the same promise that the Lord makes to each of us—if we will live obediently and patiently, someday the burdens will be lifted entirely, but in the mean time, he will help us to bear them so that they aren’t so heavy. For that, we should be continually grateful. As we exercise faith in God, we will more readily see His hand in our lives, and be more grateful for all that he does for us. We will come to know him not as some distant figure, but as a loving, attentive Father who is deeply invested in our progress and happiness, and we will feel more gratitude for the many opportunities he provides for improvement and learning, and for the many blessings—large and small—that he showers down on us. In turn, we will more consistently see those around us as brothers and sisters, and more readily recognize our common Father reflected in their countenances and actions, and we will be more grateful for them and all that they do and are.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said, “There is one commandment that we may unwittingly violate almost more than any other. . .and that is the commandment the Savior gave to be of good cheer. We’re supposed to hope, we’re supposed to be believing, we’re supposed to know it’ll get better. It will get better, it does get better. ‘These things,’ he said, ‘I have told you that ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.’ The victory has already been won. . .He is the light at the end of the tunnel. I have great hope.”
I bear my testimony that as we come to believe in the Savior, in his Atonement, and the grace, mercy, and hope inherent therein, we will feel more grateful for every moment of our lives, for every tender act of love and little blessing along the way. And because we are grateful, we will be happy. The best way to show that gratitude is to model our lives after the Savior’s as best we can: serving others and showing to them the most patience, mercy, cheerfulness and kindness we can possibly muster. Elder Neal A Maxwell once said, “When, for a moment, we find ourselves not being stretched on a particular cross, we ought to be at the foot of someone else’s, full of empathy and proferring spiritual replenishment. On the straight, narrow path which leads to our little Calvarys, one does not hear the serious traveler exclaiming, ‘Look, no hands!’”
Or as Elder Holland said in a recent General Conference, “Be kind, and be grateful God is kind. It is a happy way to live.”