To be perfectly honest, when it comes to Thanksgiving, I’ve always thought more about how much turkey I can reasonably fit on my plate than about all the things I have to be grateful for.
Unfortunately, I would venture to guess that such is the case for many of us. Is Thanksgiving more about pie and gravy (preferably not together) than about counting our blessings? Are we placing importance on the right things?
I know that there have been many times in my life when I haven’t. So while this post certainly sports strains of the classic “be grateful” dialogue that we hear every November, it’s focused on something a little different: setting our priorities straight.
Thanksgiving: An Opportunity to Reflect On Our Priorities
Thanksgiving is, at least in my own life, the perfect example of misplaced priorities: I’ve been focused more on the food than on the people at times; more on the Black Friday sales than on the multitude of blessings I have, including — but certainly not limited to — the restored gospel. At a time when I should be assessing my commitment to Christ and thanking God for His Son’s Atonement, I’ve been hindered by the commercial aspects of the season and my own to-do list.
Thankfully, over the last few years, some of that has been stripped away for various reasons: living on a newlywed budget, struggling with chronic illness, being apart from family. Unfortunately, it seems that as we paddle our way through life’s sea of trials, we realize what’s important and what’s simply details.
The delicious meal, the shopping, the obligatory post-turkey nap… Those are all fun, but they’re details. And thankfully, I’m learning to prioritize what matters most.
President Dallin H. Oaks once taught:
“Our priorities determine what we seek in life. ‘Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness’ (JST, Matthew 6:38), Jesus taught his disciples. As we read in modern revelation: ‘Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich’ (D&C 6:7).”
Those words hit me hard when I read them. All my life, I’ve had a tendency to do what’s “fun” rather than what’s most meaningful, long-lasting, or important. I can think of so many instances when I’ve prioritized playing a game on my phone over reading the scriptures, or when I finished an episode (or five) of a favorite show instead of offering a heartfelt prayer at bedtime.
Is Seeking the Kingdom of God My Priority?
Truthfully, I haven’t necessarily sought for riches instead of the kingdom of God, but I’ve certainly sought for fleeting fun.
But the good news is that we can change — and I have, although I have so, so far to go. As I’ve imperfectly attempted to make God the center of my life, I’ve found my joy in all other activities has increased and that I am happier and more fulfilled.
“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims of our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.”
Over and over again, I’ve found this principle to be true. The more I make God my first priority, the better my life is. It doesn’t take away trials or make me immune to hardship — and believe me, no one is more disappointed by that than I am — but it has allowed me to find joy despite my circumstances and have peace when things are difficult.
Now is the Time
In October 2018, Elder Jack N. Gerard of the Seventy gave a thought-provoking talk about setting our priorities straight, and it conveys the importance of this topic better than I ever could. In his talk, he explained that years before, while he was preparing for a business trip, he began experiencing chest pain. His worried wife decided to accompany him, and on their first flight, the chest pain became so severe that as soon as they landed, they rushed to a hospital.
The hospital, after running several tests, said he was fine and sent him on his way back to the airport. He and his wife went on their next flight like normal — only when they landed, they were met at the airport with an ambulance. As it turns out, he had been misdiagnosed and had a blood clot in his lung that needed to be taken care of immediately. Many patients, his doctors told him, did not survive this condition — so if he had anything he needed to get in order, he needed to do so now.
Elder Gerard explained:
“I remember well how almost instantaneously in that anxious moment, my entire perspective changed. What seemed so important just moments earlier was now of little interest. My mind raced away from the comfort and cares of this life to an eternal perspective—thoughts of family, children, my wife, and ultimately an assessment of my own life.
How were we doing as a family and individually? Were we living our lives consistent with the covenants we had made and the Lord’s expectations, or had we perhaps unintentionally allowed the cares of the world to distract us from those things which matter most?
I would invite you to consider an important lesson learned from this experience: to step back from the world and assess your life. Or in the words of the doctor, if there is anything in your life you need to consider, now is the time.”
As I assessed my own life, I realized that the things that matter most should take up most of my time. Instead, there were important things that I was neglecting, and unimportant things that I was prioritizing. In my attempts to remedy that by placing God at the forefront of each day, I’ve seen my spirituality, love for others and self, and overall joy grow.
Today and each day, I’m doing my best to remember that actions speak louder than words — so while I’ll certainly be saying a prayer of gratitude this Thanksgiving, I plan to express my thankfulness to the Lord by putting Him and my loved ones first.
Amy Carpenter is the site manager and editor for LDSBlogs.com. She served a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denver, Colorado, where she learned to love mountains and despise snow. She has a passion for peanut butter, dancing badly, and most of all, the gospel.