Sunday, November 20, 2005

Gratitude -- More Than a Platitude

This week we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. It is a time for family gatherings and for feasting. Traditionally, a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, filled with the bounty of the harvest has been used as a symbol for our Thanksgiving celebration -- symbolic of the many bounteous blessings we have received from our Father in Heaven.

For many, Thanksgiving, our other sacred holidays (Christmas and Easter) has lost its spiritual meaning. Now it is referred to as "Turkey Day". Football games often receive more devotion than does God. The poor newspaper carrier has to deliver the largest, heaviest newspaper of the year on Thanksgiving day, in order to prepare consumers for the special sales taking place on the following day. Others like Martha of old, are so busy cooking, and making preparations, and getting everything set just so, that they can hardly wait for Thanksgiving to be over with. Lost in the shuffle is the better part of Thanksgiving -- remembering our Lord, and the many blessings He has bestowed upon us.

Is there anything wrong with turkey, or football, or shopping malls? No, not by themselves. However, if they distract us from truly taking stock of our blessings, and expressing our gratitude to God, then we lose out on the true purpose and meaning of the holiday. In fact, we miss out on some choice blessings, if we do not have grateful hearts.

Giving thanks is not merely a courtesy, it's a commandment. In the scriptures we read:
(D&C 59:7)
Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things

(D&C 59:21)
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.

(Alma 34:38)
38 . . . that ye [should] live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.
Why Are We Commanded to be Grateful?

Why does God want us to be grateful unto him? Does he want our praises and thanks for His benefit -- or is there another reason?

Is it because he expects our thanks after all that He's done for us? After all, we owe him, don't we? I would suppose that might be part of the reason as well.

Would not common courtesy and graciousness require us to express our thanks for that which we have received? Surly it would!

However, there is yet another reason for us to be grateful. We know that whenever Heavenly Father gives us a commandment, that he, in turn, attaches certain blessings to that commandment. (See D&C 130:20-21)

Heavenly Father does not just want to hear us say "Thank-You". In his wisdom, He knows that if we will carry a spirit of gratitude in our hearts, that he can bless us in ways that otherwise would not be available to us.

Now, let's see if we have this straight: Heavenly Father wants to give us yet more blessings for thanking him for the blessings we already have!

What blessings do we receive by having a grateful heart?

First, in order to carry a spirit of gratitude in our hearts, we are required to be humble. If we are not humble, we don't acknowledge that the blessings we already possess are from the Lord.

Ingratitude is a form of Pride.

Over time, if we fail to thank the Lord for his blessings, we start to believe that those things which we have are by our own doing alone, rather than received through the grace of God.

President James E. Faust commented on this tendency:
"It seems as though there is a tug-of-war between opposing character traits that leaves no voids in our souls. As gratitude is absent or disappears, rebellion often enters and fills the vacuum. . . . Rebellion against moral cleanliness, beauty, decency, honesty, reverence, and respect for parental authority. A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being." (James E. Faust, Liahona, Dec. 1996, 3)
If we have grateful hearts, we are blessed with a shield against pride, which can blind our minds and harden our hearts against God.

An Ungrateful Nation

The following statement comments on the State of American Society as a whole. See if you can guess who the author was, and when it was written.
"We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in number, wealth, and power as no other Nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us.

"It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended power, to confess our . . . sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness." (John Wesley Hill, Abraham Lincoln, Man of God, 4th ed., New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, p. 391.)
This quote comes from Abraham Lincoln, in 1863! If you didn't know better, you might think that it was something written by a church leader, or heard in a recent General Conference!

As a society, have we become too proud to pray?

The same pitfalls of ingratitude and pride that can befall individual, can also befall a society. Likewise, the same blessings that an individual can enjoy by being humble and grateful, can also benefit a whole society as well.

Taken to its extreme, ingratitude can result in a denial of God altogether.
In the Book of Mormon, we have the example of Korihor, who stated:
(Alma 30:17-18.)
17 . . . [That] every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his [own] strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.

18. . . [and] that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.
Korihor not only denies that we are blessed of God, he denies God altogether. He argued that everything we have comes from our own cunning and labor. He also denies that there is a life after death, wherein we will be held accountable for our actions here on earth. Logically, if this were to be true, it would follow that you may as well do anything you can get away with, because there is no accountability for our actions. A very selfish, and self-centered philosphy.

Keeping Score

A lack of gratitude can lead to a condition I refer to as: "Keeping Score". This is where we keep track of how good someone else has it, and how lousy things are for us.

Keeping score always has at least two elements:

  • A comparison between us and someone else, and
  • A feeling that we are not being treated fairly.
Let me illustrate with an example that often happens in our home:

In our house each evening before dinner, one child sets the table, empties the dishwasher, and puts the clean dishes away. After dinner, the other child clears off the table, loads (and hopefully actually starts ) the dishwasher, and wipes down the table, sink, and countertops.

Each week they exchange kitchen jobs.

This system might seem straightforward, but it doesn't always work out that way. Life always seems to interrupt our schedules. Should a disruption to the normal schedule take place, one child might be asked to fill-in for the sibling who is unavailable to do their regular task when scheduled.

On Tuesday nights Bryan attends the Young Men's program here at the church. If he happens to be on clean-up duty in the kitchen, there is usually not enough time for him after dinner to do his job and make it to scouts on-time.

On Thursdays, both children have piano lessons, with Amy having the later session. If she has table-setting duty, she might not have time to complete her chores in time before dinner.

Disruptions to the schedule can provide opportunities for service. Amy could help out Bryan cleaning up the kitchen on Tuesday nights. Bryan could help out Amy by setting the table on Thursday nights.

However, sometimes these opportunities for service are not always met with a smile. The suggestion that one child might help out a sibling by doing the other's chore sometimes met with resistance. Often times we will hear something like: "It's not my turn!", or "It's his or her job" , and, "I did it last time!" as if there were a scoreboard keeping track of whose turn it is.

Sometimes a comparison of jobs will be made. Who's job is the hardest? And how often does one sibling have to fill in for the other. And this so unfair!

When all is said and done, the task is usually done, but not always with a smile.

The same situation happens to adults as well. Think of the workplace. Some tasks are more desirable than others. How many times do we roll our own eyes when asked to do an unpleasant task. How often to we complain, or hear complaints about how so-and-so always gets out of having to do the unpleasant tasks that we seem to always get stuck with. Do we hear or make complaints of how unfairly we are being treated? Are we keeping score too?

Each of us, whether as children or adults would be less prone to keeping score, if we were more humble, and more gracious.

The Savior's Example

Let's look to the life of the Savior. Did he keep score? After a long, tiring day, when the little children were brought before him to be blessed, did he tell them go away? No! He invited them to come unto him. He took them on his knee and be blessed them. His disciples had figured that he had already done enough for one day, but the Savior's response was to turn no one away. (See Mark 10:13-16)

When we call upon the Lord for his blessings, will he turn us away? Will he hang up a "closed" sign and tell us to come back some other time? No! He invites always to come unto him, at any time, and at any place.

When Jesus knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane, and as he Hung on the Cross, was he keeping score? Did he complain about how hard his task was, compared to what was required of the rest of Heavenly Father's children? No! He bent His will to that of the Father.

Then he took upon himself the sins of the world. Again, was he keeping score? No! For his was an infinite and eternal sacrifice, for which it was impossible to score.

Even though we can't comprehend what he went through, we know that he did accomplish the work of the Atonement. And we know that he did it for us, because he loved his Father enough to do his father's will, and because he loved us enough that he was willing to bear all of our sins and burdens as well.

If He could do all of that for us without complaint, without keeping score, how is it that we have such a hard time loving and serving one another ungrudgingly. When you think of what the Savior has done for us, it makes our whining and complaining and score keeping seem very small, indeed.

To Whom Do We Owe Our Gratitude?

As we begin to understand the power of gratitude in our lives, and the shield of protection that a grateful heart can bring to us, it would be wise to consider to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.

Some of those would include:

  • Our Parents and Family. -- The ones who have borne and raised us in this world.
  • Our Teachers, leaders, and those who have been good examples and an influence for good in our lives.
  • Our ancestors, as well those from whom we have inherited a legacy of the gospel -- Including the prophet Joseph Smith, and his successors. This is true whether we are a first generation member of the church, or if we have many generations of our family in the church.
  • The Founders of our Nation, and the soldiers who have protected and defended the freedoms we enjoy.
  • Of course we owe a debt of gratitude to our Heavenly Father, for his wondrous plan of salvation, and his willingness to share all that he has with us, including his only begotten son, Jesus Christ
  • Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, without whom the plan of the Father could never come have come to pass.
How Do We Show Our Gratitude and Appreciation?

The first way we can express our gratitude is by expressing it verbally. Express thanks to our parents, our families, and those who have taught us, or have been an influence for good in our lives. President Thomas S. Monson encourages us to "Think To Thank." Be sure to take a moment to express our thanks and appreciation to others. Drop someone a thank-you note. Let them know you are thankful for the impact they have had on your life.

Take this approach, even with casual acquaintances or other associates. You never know when your moment of thoughtfulness may be an answer to someone's prayer. Your acknowledgement of them may be just the thing that helps them get through a difficult moment in their lives.

How can we thank those who are no longer living among us: our ancestors, the forefathers of our nation, and the prophets and apostles in this and previous dispensations to whom we owe so much. We can't just call them up on the phone, or drop a note in the mail. Not even email or instant messaging can reach them! How can we show our love and gratitude for their sacrifices on our behalf?

I would propose that if we honor the legacy that they have left for us, by living honorable lives, that they would feel that their sacrifice was worthwhile.

With Heavenly Father and Jesus, we do have a way of communicating with them, through the power of prayer. We can take time on our knees, in earnest prayer to express our gratitude for the many blessings we have received. However, there is more that we can do beyond honoring them with our words.

We can honor them best, by honoring the covenants we have made. We honor them, and show gratitude by the way we live our lives. When we obey our Heavenly Father's commandments, we show our love for him. It was Jesus who said: "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (See John 14:15).

Even though we may express thanks to the Lord in words, if we do not strive to keep His commandments, we are, in effect, being ungrateful. In essence, if we do not honor Our Heavenly Father by keeping the covenants we have made with Him, then we are rejecting the gift of the atonement that was wrought by His Son.

Passing Along Our Gifts

Perhaps the best way we can show our gratitude for what the Lord has done for us, is for us, in-turn, to give the heavenly gifts we have received to others.

We can give our children the gift of a good home, filled with love, warmth and the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can see that they receive the blessings of the Priesthood, and the eternal blessings of the temple.

We can also reach out to those around us who may not as yet received the great gifts that are ours. We can reach out to those who may have lost their way, whether they be members of the church, or those who have yet to learn the message of the restored gospel.

How pleased and honored our Lord would be if we were to assist Him in His work of bringing souls unto Christ.

Conclusion

As we enter this holiday season, may we do so with grateful hearts, recognizing our dependence upon the Lord for all that we have, all that we are, and all that we ever hope to become.

As the gift-giving season approaches, may we remember that the greatest gift ever given was that of our Father In Heaven sending us his Only Begotten Son to be the Savior of the World. May we also reach out to our families and fellow-man, and give them the gifts of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which will last well beyond Christmas morning, but will last for a lifetime, and endure throughout all eternity.

1 comment:

Maren said...

Thanks for stopping by my site too. I enjoyed this post as well. I had never thought of ingratitude as a form of pride, but it makes perfect sense. I have been seeking ways to be humble and not always knowing *how* to do it. Gratitude has also become very important to me and it is comforting to think that being grateful is a form of humility.