I was asked to teach the lesson in Relief Society this Sunday based on President Thomas S. Monson’s talk in the most recent General Conference entitled, “The Divine Gift of Gratitude.” I read and re-read this wonderful talk, highlighting appropriate quotes about gratitude:
- “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.”
- Quoting Gordon B. Hinckley, “When you walk with gratitude, you do not walk with arrogance and conceit and egotism, you walk with a spirit of thanksgiving that is becoming to you and will bless your lives.”
- “If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues. Someone has said that ‘gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.'”
Good stuff, and apropos for this time of year. However, what struck me most about the talk was the story at the end — a retelling of a story written by Gordon Green over 50 years ago. He recounts the life of a family who lived on a farm in Canada. They worked hard, had food stored for the winter, kept careful accounts, and were by all appearances comfortable and happy. They decided to get electricity to power an electric washing machine, and that was the last good thing that happened to them. Their crops failed, they had to sell off their livestock, and they lost everything. On Thanksgiving morning, they had a jackrabbit and turnips for dinner. And they were thankful.
Immediately another story came to my mind, that of Corrie Ten Boom. You may remember the account: She and her sister Bessie were Christians sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis because she and her family harbored Jews. They lived in deplorable conditions — barracks that were crowded, filthy, and swarming with fleas. They daily suffered the abuse of cruel prison guards. Somehow Corrie and Bessie managed to smuggle a Bible into the camp from which they studied and held devotionals with the other women in the camp. One night they read 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Corrie and Bessie were convinced that they needed to give thanks in all things, including the fleas. They later discovered that their lives were spared because the guards wouldn’t enter their barracks because of the flea infestation.
When we are in the midst of trials and struggles, it’s hard to feel gratitude. More often the way I feel is, “Why are you doing this to me?” and the last thing I want to hear is the perky hymn, “Count your blessings, name them one by one…” How can we find gratitude in all things? It’s not easy. Sometimes it takes getting through the trial to look back and see the blessings that you received in hindsight.
I have blogged in the past about my son and the blessings and struggles we have had in his short life. I don’t feel that I am at the point in my eternal progression where I can say that I am grateful for this particular trial. I would much rather have a normal, healthy 8-year-old son. I would much rather have planned a baptism than a funeral. I would much rather not have an understanding of the inner workings of an intrathecal Baclofen pump. But I do, and I did, and I am grateful.
Even though I can’t say that I am filled with gratitude that my son’s medical condition is as severe as it is, I AM grateful for what I have been blessed with as a result of his condition: Excellent doctors, nurses, therapists, and teachers who know, love, and care for my son. Doctors who are so familiar with Ethan’s case that they don’t have to look at his immense chart, and who when they walk into his hospital room, fill me with a sense of confidence and peace. Nurse practitioners who respond to prescription requests immediately, especially on Friday afternoon. A hospital at which we have spent so much time that it feels like a second home, so when I am there I am comforted rather than afraid.
In the ER, the triage nurses and doctors recognize him. When we reach the pediatric critical care unit, familiar faces welcome us. I am grateful for at-home nurses who care for my son as if he were their own child, who give me the assurance that if I leave the house, that all of his medical needs will be taken care of and that he will be loved and watched over. Therapists who massage and manipulate his stiff little body with soft and caring hands, who coo to him in soothing tones, and who have helped him to make real progress. A special education teacher who is receptive to his particular needs and adapts his education plan with his specific disabilities in mind. And although I would rather not know how to navigate my way through a labyrinthine medical system that I am convinced is designed by Satan himself, I am grateful that I have been able to be a resource to others who have children with special needs.
There are days when my heart is warm and full with gratitude for all of these blessings, and there are days when I sit in my closet and cry so that my children and the nurses can’t hear me. There are days when I pray for a stronger back because the burden is too heavy to bear. I witness God’s hand in my life on a daily basis. And I am grateful.
One of Thomas S. Monson’s final quotes is most apt: “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.”
Have you had an experience with being grateful in all things, especially your trials? Please share with us.