In difficult economic times, it might seem hard to make a Thanksgiving list of things we’re grateful for. However, no matter what our circumstances, there are always things to add to our list.
We are children of a loving Father in Heaven. That is the first item to place on any list. The second is that His Son, Jesus Christ, loved us enough to die for us. These two blessings can serve as the foundation for all other blessings on our list. Some things cannot be taken from us, no matter how little income we have or how few our possessions.
In the May 2000 Ensign, a talk given by Bonnie D. Parkin in the Mormon General Conference, talked about gratitude during even the hardest of times. (See Bonnie D. Parkin, “Gratitude: A Path to Happiness,” Ensign, May 2007, 34–36.) She suggested showing gratitude toward Heavenly Father for our blessings was one way to find happiness in our trials.
Sister Parkin said, “Let me share a sweet story with you. A family was going through a difficult time. It was hard for them not to focus on their challenges. The mother wrote: “Our world had completely crumpled, so we turned to Heavenly Father for guidance. Almost immediately we realized that we were surrounded by goodness and were being cheered on from every side. We began as a family to express our gratitude to each other as well as to the Lord daily. A close friend pointed out to me that our family’s ‘blessing basket’ was overflowing. From that conversation came a sort of game, which my children and I grew to love. Before family prayer each night we would talk about how our day had gone and then share with each other all of the many blessings that had been added to our ‘blessing basket.’ The more we expressed gratitude, the more there was to be grateful for. We felt the love of the Lord in a significant way as opportunities for growth presented themselves.”
What would a “blessing basket” add to your family?”
We often have no control over the trials we’re given. They come to us through our own choices or through the choices of others. Sometimes we can work to improve the situation, but other trials are outside our control. However, we can control how we view those trials and we can control where we focus our attention. Certainly, some trials require a great deal of our attention, but others must simply be gotten through. With either type of trial, we can focus exclusively on the negative portions of the trial, or we can give time as well to the good things going on in the background. Every day of our lives, something good is happening to us. When we pay attention to those good things and remember to take a few minutes to thank God for them, somehow the trials don’t seem as overwhelming. We’re able to see God’s presence in the worst of times, and to remember there will always be goodness during bad times.
“Gratitude requires awareness and effort, not only to feel it but to express it. Frequently we are oblivious to the Lord’s hand. We murmur, complain, resist, criticize; so often we are not grateful. In the Book of Mormon, we learn that those who murmur do not know “the dealings of that God who … created them.” The Lord counsels us not to murmur because it is then difficult for the Spirit to work with us.
Gratitude is a Spirit-filled principle. It opens our minds to a universe permeated with the richness of a living God. Through it, we become spiritually aware of the wonder of the smallest things, which gladden our hearts with their messages of God’s love. This grateful awareness heightens our sensitivity to divine direction. When we communicate gratitude, we can be filled with the Spirit and connected to those around us and the Lord. Gratitude inspires happiness and carries divine influence. “Live in thanksgiving daily,” said Amulek, “for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.”
Mercies and blessings come in different forms—sometimes as hard things. Yet the Lord said, “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” All things means just that: good things, difficult things—not just some things. He has commanded us to be grateful because He knows being grateful will make us happy. This is another evidence of His love.”
The Book of Mormon, a book of sacred text used by Mormons alongside the Bible, tells of a man named Nephi. He wrote that he had been blessed all the days of his life. This might seem to be an unimportant, generic sort of expression until you realize those days of his life had been filled with trials that would do in the average person. As a young teenager, he had to flee his home with his family due to persecution and leave for a strange new land. He was homeless for many years as he traveled through the wilderness. His two oldest brothers regularly abused him and even attempted to kill him numerous times. When his parents died, he, his family, and his supporters fled persecution and danger once again—this time escaping his oldest brothers.
And yet, despite a lifetime spent in a highly dysfunctional family and despite the constant danger, he felt all—every one—of his days had been blessed. While he faced homelessness, he was never alone. While he faced abuse and attempted murder, he was always saved by angels or God’s power, and he always had the portion of his family that believed in him behind him. He seems to have focused his attention on the blessings, rather than the trials of his life. Certainly, he couldn’t ignore the trials—it’s hard to overlook attempted murder—but they didn’t define his life in his own mind. Instead, he made a special point of noticing and expressing gratitude for the good parts.
Sister Parkin explained the blessings that come from a lifetime of choosing gratitude: “The kind of gratitude that receives even tribulations with thanksgiving requires a broken heart and a contrite spirit, humility to accept that which we cannot change, willingness to turn everything over to the Lord—even when we do not understand, thankfulness for hidden opportunities yet to be revealed. Then comes a sense of peace.”
Terrie Lynn Bittner is the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that have appeared in LDS magazines. She is married to Lincoln Bittner and is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to two girls. Terrie became a Mormon at the age of seventeen and has been sharing her faith online since 1992. She can also be found blogging about being an LDS woman at LatterdaySaintWoman.com.