Disclaimer: This post is an adaptation of a talk I delivered in front of my congregation at church. As such, it contains many of my personal beliefs. While I would love to discuss these ideas and beliefs with you, please respect them and comment constructively on Twitter if you wish to do so. Thanks!
This last week I’ve spent way too much money. Amazon had too many deals and I couldn’t resist. And I love Black Friday for a few reasons. The deals are awesome. It may seem kind of weird, but I love fighting crowds sometimes. I can tell you plenty of stories about that sometime if you want. But my favorite thing about Black Friday is that it’s the first day I can listen to Christmas music with no shame.
Christmas is by far my favorite holiday. I love the movie Elf. I love Christmas music. I love Christmas lights. I love hot chocolate. I love the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert. Even though their ticket lottery never chooses me. Ever. 0 for 7 now.
Every year on Christmas morning my family goes around in a circle taking turns to open presents. One Christmas morning about fifteen years ago, we finished opening our presents. My little brother Danny, around 6 at the time, had a couple extra presents more than the rest of us. After unwrapping his final present, he looked at the small pile of gifts he had received. He looked up, and asked, “Is this all?” We make sure to tease him about that every Christmas.
Often when thinking about gratitude, we count the blessings we receive. We speak often in the Church about offering prayers of gratitude, in which we ask for nothing. Instead we stick to thanking the Lord for all the blessings we’ve received. We sing hymns like “Count Your Many Blessings,” “Because I Have Been Given Much,” and “I Stand All Amazed.” Hymns that focus on recognizing all that God has given us and thanking Him for that.
While recognizing our blessings is important, Dieter F. Uchtdorf recommended a different approach.
“Instead of being thankful for things, I’m suggesting we be thankful in our circumstances, whatever they may be.”
He then went on to tell the following story:
A waiter asks a customer whether he had enjoyed the meal. The guest replied that everything was fine, but it would have been better if they served more bread.
The next day when the man returned, the waiter doubled the amount of bread, giving him four slices instead of two. But still the man was not happy.
The next day the waiter doubled the bread again without success.
On the fourth day, the waiter was really determined to make the man happy. And so he took a nine-foot-long loaf of bread, cut it in half, and with a smile, served that to the customer. The waiter could scarcely wait for the man’s reaction.
After the meal, the man looked up and said, “Good, as always. But I see you’re back to giving only two slices of bread.””
You may laugh at the man’s reaction, but I can say that I relate to that story every time I eat at Texas Roadhouse.
Choose to be grateful
We have a choice. We can choose to limit our gratitude based on the blessings we feel we lack. On the gifts we didn’t receive. On the husband or wife promised in our patriarchal blessing who still hasn’t shown up. Or we can do as Thomas S. Monson suggested in 1992 and develop an “attitude of gratitude”.
The commandments remain the same no matter the circumstances. Likewise, gratitude should be a disposition that stands independent of our current situation. “The Lord does not expect us to be less thankful in times of trial than he does in times of abundance and ease.” By being grateful, we follow the example of the Savior when he said, “Not my will, but thine, be done”.
Obviously, this isn’t easy.
I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. The summers were hot, and the winters almost never dropped below 40 degrees. I can recall only three times growing up when temperatures were below freezing. We didn’t have to go to school on those days either. I was that super cool tough kid who wore my awesome cargo shorts no matter how cold it was outside. Then I came to Utah.
I had been around snow before, but never had to live in it. I’m a pretty happy person most of the time, but halfway through every winter here I’d get depressed. This is actually a pretty common thing called Seasonal Depression. Luckily it was pretty mild in my case.
I love being outdoors. During the summer I’m out every weekend camping, hiking, fly-fishing with my cousin, or exploring. In the winter, those things become much harder to do. I miss all the things I love, and get tired of bumming around indoors. I have a hard time being grateful when I’m stuck inside all the time.
A few years ago, I decided to learn to ski and snowboard. I signed up to take BYU’s skiing class every Tuesday and snowboarding every Thursday. I began spending every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday up at Sundance. My grades suffered that semester, but I enjoyed that winter more than any before. I was actually disappointed at the end of the season when I realized I’d have to wait 8 months before returning.
I’m definitely not the first to say this, but life is what we make it. Life is never perfect. When we are grateful for what we have and forget about what we don’t, it’s much easier to be happy and enjoy life.
I hurt my back about a year and a half ago, and it’s forced me to change my life a lot. I’ve had to quit doing many of the things I love.
I’m a huge fan of BYU Football, and last night we finished the season with the worst record since before I was born.
I ate Thanksgiving dinner this week with most of my extended family. With all my older cousins gone, I was the prime target for my aunts and uncles’ seasonal interrogation.
My life is far from perfect.
With that said, I have plenty to be grateful for. This past week, I’ve been down in Hurricane with my family. Before driving back to our respective homes yesterday, we knelt down to pray together as a family. As my mom said the prayer, I thought about many of the blessings I have.
I have a great job that I love. I’m learning more every day that I’m there, and they’re paying me to do it.
I have a wonderful family. I love them very much, and unless I’m reading them wrong, I’m pretty sure they love me too.
I’m blessed with the knowledge that I can live with my family for time and eternity.
I’m incredibly grateful for the sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Because of His Atonement, I know that we can all become just like our Heavenly Parents. Someday we will even be able to reach perfection as They have.
Whether or not our circumstances seem worthy of our gratitude, we need to be grateful. Bitterness gets us nowhere in life, but gratitude will take us toward the only destination worth seeking.