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I had an “appropriate for Thanksgiving” epiphany this week. I was reading an article about a former dancer: rebuilding her life after three separate diseases made dancing impossible, she discovered the best formula. She started the practice of praying every day something like this: “Dear God, thank you for what is, what has been and what will be. I trust you with it all.”
Those words made a profound impression on me. Time and again I have revisited my need to make peace with my past, present, and future. So many times I wish things could be different, wish I could be different. The words of that prayer sank deep into my heart, teaching me the answer to “what lack I yet?” It is gratitude for everything. For decades I’ve pondered the principle of gratitude, practiced it, written about it. I’m great at gratitude for all the “good” things in my life. I’m not so good at gratitude for pain, loss, disappointment, broken dreams. Yet we are commanded in D&C 59:7, “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things” (emphasis mine). Is it even possible?
It’s especially hard to give thanks in all things when the world seems to be falling apart around us. But we can move in that direction if we remember that our eternal salvation is not determined by what happens “out there,” but by what goes on in our minds and hearts. President Benson said it this way, “Be warned that some of the greatest battles you will face will be fought within the silent chambers of your own soul.”1
Because Satan knows this, as long we draw breath he will never give up his quest to tempt us to ingratitude by whispering misery-producing lies and discouraging thoughts into our minds. We need to be forewarned and fore-armed.
The Higher Law: Confessing His Hand—in ALL Things
Just a few verses after we are commanding to “thank God in all things,” we read, “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments” (D&C 59:21 emphasis mine) And here’s the key: we can only thank God in all things when we confess His hand in all things. We can learn to be grateful for the past, present, and future no matter how pain-filled, because they are all part of His great plan to give us the chance to choose, including choosing how to react to the painful consequences of our mistakes, other people’s mistakes, and natural law that can bring storm, earthquake, and pestilence into our lives. We can learn to be grateful because we believe that “all things work together for good,” and that the Lord doeth nothing save it be for the benefit of man.
So, I’m thinking even deeper about my earlier conclusion that feeling gratitude for the things we label “good” in our lives is only preparatory to the higher law of gratitude—thanking God in all things. Doesn’t this follow the same pattern as tithing, which is the preparatory law to refine us so we can grow into the ability to live the higher law of consecration? I see this higher law of gratitude, however, as a commandment for today, challenging to live, but replete with spiritual blessings.
Things were not going well when the Lord gave this “thanksgiving” commandment to the early Saints; in fact, all hell was breaking loose. The Kirtland Safety Society had failed; most of the Saints, as well as the Prophet and his family, were in dire poverty. The attempt of Zion’s Camp to rescue the beleaguered Missouri Saints and restore them to their lands and homes had seemingly been for naught. Many key leaders had left the Church and were adding fuel to the fires of persecution. The Kirtland Saints experienced such severe persecution they had to leave comfortable homes and travel to Missouri in miserably cold and difficult conditions–and in Missouri they were anything but welcome. Agitated locals, chafing at the rumors of their land being chosen as the Mormon’s “Zion” were like a volcano about to explode. Nothing seemed to be going right for the Saints–yet it was at this time the Lord commanded them to “thank the Lord thy God in all things” (emphasis mine).
This situation is not without precedence. Elder Dallin Oaks, in the April, 2003 General Conference reminded us that the Book of Mormon peoples were “suffering all manner of afflictions” when the Lord commanded them to “give thanks in all things” (Mosiah 26: 38-39). His talk entitled “Giving Thanks in All Things” is full of wisdom.
Perhaps both of these examples stand as a type and shadow of our current crisis. We too are in a time of tribulation, with latter-day prophecies being fulfilled at an unprecedented rate. It’s a huge challenge to live this higher law as our personal adversities escalate. When everything is going well, gratitude is easy, but what about when we lose our job or our house, when our prodigal son doesn’t return but enters into a same-sex marriage, when we see the tsunamis of evil drowning dearly loved children? How can we feel one whit of gratitude for any of that? Yet the hardest, most painful, most challenging things must surely be defined as part of the “all” the Lord was referring to.
Who would have guessed even two decades ago that so many of us would be facing trials in regard to defending the basic foundational doctrine of marriage being a God-commanded union between a man and a woman? Who would have guessed that so many families would be tested to the max when a dearly loved son or daughter chooses an “alternate lifestyle”? Who would have guessed the importance of the Proclamation on the Family when it was given, or that it might become a major dividing point between the Saints and the world? And how can be we thankful for them?
Perhaps the things that break our hearts are the very things we will, in retrospect be most thankful for, because they are most likely to bring us to our knees in recognition of our need for Christ and His Atonement. And in our life journey of learning to thank the Lord in all things we need to always start by thanking Him for the Atonement. My gratitude includes the recognition that nothing I’ve done and nothing my loved ones have done or are doing is outside the bounds of His ability to forgive and make right.
God invites all to come to him. His mercy and forgiveness are infinite.
It is Satan’s very worst lie and deception that we can mess up more than the Savior can redeem. He robs us of our best hope when he tells us that the mercy and grace and forgiveness of the Savior are for everyone except us, or our loved ones who seem to have drifted into the mists of darkness. The Lord’s message is just the opposite: in 2 Nephi 26 we read, “Come unto me all ye ends of the earth . . . Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay. . . Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay . . .but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden. . . he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female.” And Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants assures us that Christ’s invitation extends to the spirit world—that even after death we can repent and come back. And we know that the atonement not only covers every sin and grief resulting from others’ bad choices but also every error in judgment, every weakness, and lack in ourselves.
Elder Boyd K. Packer said, Save for those few who defect to perdition after having known a fulness, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. . . Restoring what you cannot restore, healing the wound you cannot heal, fixing that which you broke and you cannot fix is the very purpose of the atonement of Christ.” 2
But what about broken homes and broken hearts?
Elder Bruce Hafen, in his book, The Broken Heart, said, “Sometimes we say that no other success can compensate for our failures in the home. And while it is true that no other success of ours can fully compensate, there is a success that compensates for all our failures, after all we can do in good faith. That success is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. By its power, we may arise from the ashes of life filled with incomprehensible beauty and joy.”3
We have succeeded in our homes any day we have succeeded in turning to Christ, repenting, having faith in Him, making Him our counselor and guide.
We can’t control the choices or values or actions of other family members in our earthly families. But we can control the choices that will draw us ever closer to the Savior. We can accept his Atonement in our behalf. That Atonement will leave us clean and forgiven. We can make the choices that open our hearts to His constant love and guidance, and that lead us on the straight path to being children of Christ. We can be sealed into the family of Christ by being born again as his sons and his daughters and making sure our own temple ordinances are complete. We can always have Him and Heavenly Father as righteous parent figures in our lives and we can have the assurance of fellowship with all others who eventually make those choices also, regardless of our marital status or the choices of our other family members. What gratitude we should have for all of that!
I’m Learning to Trust God No Matter What!
I now see that the only thing that makes it possible to thank God in all things is to Trust God No Matter What! That’s the title of my book that documents many spiritual lessons I’ve learned. I stand as a witness that the only course in life that makes sense is trusting God no matter what and thanking him in all things. There is no light on any other path. And once we’ve tasted the light, darkness is unbearable.
I know we can trust God no matter what because God cannot lie. His scriptural promises are sure. When He tells us that “all things work together for our good” (repeated three times in scripture) and that “all these things shall give [us] experience, and shall be for [our] good.”(D&C 122: 7)—even though we can’t imagine how it could be true, it IS true because God cannot lie. I’ve revisited those scriptures again this week and applied them to my past, present, and future, and come to deeper place of peace and gratitude.
I see now that gratitude is the very heart of faith, the very soul of trust in the Lord. I am lost without it, because without it I lose the Spirit. The Holy Ghost never participates in my whining, self-pity, negativity, or blindness to the Lord’s purposes. The Lord never motivates or inspires me to complain about my circumstances or the faults of others or to grovel in self-denigration. But whenever I am attending to the commandment to give thanks in all things the Spirit attends me and I feel joy—no matter how bad the circumstances might be. No wonder this commandment has been so often repeated.
As we move from Thanksgiving into the Christmas season my prayer for all of us is that we turn our thoughts and minds and hearts to thanking God for life, for His plan, for the blessing of learning through experience, and for the knowledge that all things can work together for our good. In short, that we thank God in all things. Gratitude for all things is the missing ingredient for peace, the grand solution.
Note: Visit Darla at her new web site: http://www.darlaisackson.com/index.php. Learn more about her and what motivated her new book Trust God No Matter What! Review the contents page, introduction, sample pages and reviews. Come visit today!
1 ” (Ezra Taft Benson, “In His Steps,” 1979 Devotional Speeches of the Year, 60).
2 Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 18, emphasis added.
3 Bruce C. Hafen, The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life’s Experiences, 1989, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 22.