Here’s a talk I gave in my ward on Sunday, November 23. I share it here because it’s Thanksgiving week. Enjoy!
Gratitude Lightens Our Burdens
Thanksgiving is a time for celebration. A time for gathering. A time for feasting. A time for family. It’s also a time for quite reflection on the incredible blessings we’ve received. But what if your life isn’t going so well? What if you’ve lost money in the stock market or have to scramble to make your mortgage payment? What if your health is deteriorating or your children are choosing to go down dangerous paths? What if you struggle with addiction, transgression or depression? We all have burdens brothers and sisters, and my talk today will focus on how gratitude can lighten our burdens.
I remember vividly a night in Brazil when I was a young missionary nearly 15 years go. It had been one of those days where everything had gone wrong — the language was difficult, the insects were obnoxious, the weather was hot and humid, the people weren’t particularly receptive to our message, the Church was unorganized in that little beach town (no chapel, just a handful of new members), appointments were falling through, I hadn’t received a letter from home in weeks. In short, missionary life was not what I expected it to be. In that moment of despair along a dark rode on my bike, my Brazilian companion Elder Delvaux and I stopped and talked. We shed tears of frustration and then we prayed. Something amazing happened in that moment. While the Lord didn’t take away our burdens, he lightened them by helping us change our attitude from one of self pity to one of gratitude. We started looking for the positive. We began to view our experience in that area as a grand adventure. We saw ourselves as gospel pioneers, emissaries of Jesus Christ. Our work became much more enjoyable and was no longer drudgery.
This experience reminds me of a scripture in the Book of Mormon, in which the people of Alma had been brought into bondage by Amulon, a wicked priest of King Noah. Amulon had placed heavy burdens on the people of Alma’s backs and even denied them the right to pray vocally, which was a great affliction for them. In Mosiah, we read:
“And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and 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, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions. And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, 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.”
In this scripture, we learn that the people prayed for relief from their afflictions. And yet those afflictions were not immediately taken away. But their burdens were made light by the Lord. I testify that Lord has lightened my burdens on many occasions by helping me feel gratitude. When we focus on all the blessings we HAVE received from the Lord, our attitude changes and our outlook on life improves, our spirits and our bodies are invigorated.
I am a list maker and so I like to enumerate my blessings. And when things aren’t going well, that’s a great time to count our blessings, even the mundane things. When I was a boy, my father used to often thank Heavenly Father during our family prayers for hot and cold running water, which I always thought was kind of odd. Why would he specifically talk about hot and cold running water? It was just something I always took for granted; but he did not after having served a mission in Argentina and Bolivia. When I was called on a mission to Brazil, where clean, hot and cold running water were not always very accessible, I quickly came to understand his appreciation.
So what things am I grateful for besides the obvious ones like family, church membership, health, and home? I am grateful for:
Uplifting music that inspires and ennobles the soul
Loyal friends who accept us as we are, yet encourage us to become better
Seasons (winter wonderlands, spring blossoms, summer greenery, and brilliant fall colors)
A baby’s laugh
The smell of rain or a pine forest
The silence and peace of a winter snowfall
A good book
A beautifully performed play
An inspiring church talk
The companionship of an affectionate pet
A scented candle
A breathtaking sunset
The chirping of a bird
Ice cold lemonade on a hot summer day
New places to visit
A prayer in the celestial room of the temple
I am also extremely grateful for a good, long-suffering wife who puts up with me and is my help-meet and support. She’s a chauffer, a babysitter, a short-order cook, a therapist, a maid and a teacher. She’s also an extremely creative, talented and beautiful person with a wonderful personality. I am so lucky to have her in my life.
Here are a couple of quotes about gratitude that I would like to share with you.
“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” This quote reminds of the oft quoted story of the ten lepers whom Christ healed, and yet only one, a Samaritan, came and returned thanks to the Lord. How often are we like the nine lepers who received an incredible gift and yet neglected to return thanks to the giver of the gift? May we always remember to return thanks. As one writer put it: “Blessed are those that can give without remembering and receive without forgetting.”
So what is the difference between thankfulness and gratitude? Obviously they are similar, but President David O. McKay explained it well when he said: “Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” I love that thought. Our gratitude for our savior Jesus Christ is reflected in how we serve him. The adage says, actions speak louder than words. As the Savior taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
My dad’s mom, Granny Mary, used to tell a story of my aunt Linda who in a prayer once thanked Heavenly Father for all the things we have and for the things we don’t have. Her brothers laughed at that comment, by Granny Mary said that thought from her little daughter was profound. We can be grateful all things, including our trials and troubles and the things we don’t have. A wise person once said:
“Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?
Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.
Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.
Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.
Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.
Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.
Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.
It is easy to be thankful for the good things. A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks.
GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive. Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings.”
Isn’t that a great thought? I testify that gratitude is the key to mental health and spiritual peace. As I mentioned before, it lightens burdens and blesses our lives.
Best-selling author Melody Beattie said it best when she said: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Above all, I am grateful for the one who sees all of us as we could be, not necessarily as we are — the Lord Jesus Christ. As I have been involved recently in the “Savior of the World” theater production at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake, I have had some wonderful experiences. In the first act, I play Eli the Shepherd. I thrill each night as the angels come to us to announce the birth of the Savior. Then I am filled with a feeling of sacred awe as I worship the baby Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem. What gratitude those shepherds must have felt! What gratitude I feel every time I think of it!
In the second act, there is a scene where actors representing resurrected persons come forth out of tombs shortly after the Savior has risen from the grave. I stand on the colonnade (a part of the set that is 20 feet above the stage) and deliver the following line: ‘And many graves shall be opened and shall yield up their dead. And many saints shall appear.” In my mind’s eye, I imagine my father Kent, all dressed in white, appearing as a resurrected being on that stage and looking up at me with a smile. I look forward to the day when this pleasant thought will become a reality. I know without a doubt that, because of the Savior Jesus Christ, I will be reunited with my dear departed father and other beloved friends and family. And for this I am truly grateful.
I testify that the Savior can lighten all our burdens. He invites us to bring our burdens to him. In Matthew 11:28-29, he says: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Never forget that! His yoke is easy and his burden is light. Brothers and sisters, cast your burdens on the Lord. He will lighten them and give you strength to endure all things. Does this truth not give us cause to rejoice? May our hearts be filled with the spirit of gratitude at this time of year and always! In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.