Thoughts on Thanksgiving
In just a few days we will celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States. Early settlers from Europe brought with them harvest celebrations and added them to similar Native American traditions to create what we now call “Thanksgiving.” It is a holiday primarily celebrated in the United States and Canada (though on different days in each country), but it is also observed in the Netherlands, Liberia, Norfolk Island in Australia, and Puerto Rico. Although you might be familiar with the traditional Pilgrim origins of Thanksgiving, some scholars actually believe that Spanish explorers in Florida celebrated the first Thanksgiving in the “new world” in 1565.1
Although traditional meals and activities like football may be the first things people remember about this holiday, Thanksgiving and all its precursors were based on the principle of gratitude. Whether it was being grateful for a harvest, for the end of a war, for the relief of a city under siege, a safe journey, or for freedom, the underlying purpose was an expression of thankfulness.
I would like to share with you during the next few minutes a few thoughts on the principle of gratitude. Gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness, an attitude of appreciation, and a gift we choose to give not only to others but to ourselves. It is the habit of focusing on the blessings of life rather than on its misfortunes.
One of the most poignant stories regarding gratitude in the New Testament is found in the Book of Luke. Ten men who were lepers stood afar off and called to Jesus when he entered into their village. They had been shunned and cast away because of their disease. They could no longer mingle with family and friends, or pursue normal work or religious worship services with others. People avoided them and they were among the most marginalized members of society. They begged Jesus to “have mercy on us.”
Christ did have mercy and he healed them, telling them to go show themselves to the priests so that they could be officially pronounced clean and able to return to home, family, work, and church activity. Luke records, “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at [Jesus’] feet, giving him thanks, and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.” 2
The gratitude of the one is made more obvious in comparison to the ingratitude shown by the other nine. Note that this one grateful man, a Samaritan – and you all remember that the Jews of the New Testament looked down upon the Samaritans as being less worthy and faithful -- was the only one who returned to praise Jesus.
The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things…and in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things.” 3
President Monson said, “If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.”4
Alma taught that we should “live in thanksgiving daily.” 5
The early Saints were told that “he who receives all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious.” 6
I learned years ago that many times the Lord often asks us to do things that we easily see as being beneficial to others. We are commanded to pay tithing, and we can see how that blesses the Church. We are asked to teach Sunday School, and we can see that the students will be helped by our effort. We are asked to forgive, and we can see that forgiveness is a wonderful gift to those who have hurt or offended us. But I have also learned that blessings to others are secondary and small when compared to the blessings that come to us in following God’s counsel. We are blessed with the opening of the windows of heaven when we pay tithing; with an increased knowledge of the doctrines of salvation when we teach; and with freedom from the burden of constantly contemplating how we have been wronged and thinking about how unjust life is.
Being grateful blesses us even more than it blesses those who receive our thanks. President Hinckley said, “When you walk with gratitude, you do not walk with arrogance and conceit and egotism, you walk with a spirit of thanksgiving that is becoming to you and will bless your lives.”7
Elder Haight taught that “as gratitude is magnified and developed and expanded, it can bless our hearts and our minds and our souls to where we’d like to continue to carry on and do those things that we are asked to do.” 8
President Joseph F. Smith said that “The grateful man sees so much in the world to be thankful for, and with him the good outweighs the evil. Love overpowers jealousy, and light drives darkness out of his life.” 9
Brother Vaughn Worthen, who worked in the Counseling and Career Center at BYU, noted that “cultivating and practicing gratitude can reduce symptoms in cases of mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Practicing gratitude can also lead to increases in optimism, vitality, happiness, a sense of well-being, and a greater satisfaction with life.” He noted that “gratitude” interventions promote well-being and bring a more positive focus to troubled relationships. 10
Gratitude, then, is a great antidote for many of the struggles that we experience. It offers hope and allows us to escape many of the fears that bind us down. Cultivating and expressing gratitude can help us – regardless of our circumstances – feel closer to our Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Cultivating and expressing gratitude can lead to a happier and fuller life. President Monson said, “We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude.” 11
Louisa Mellor Clark came to Utah with the Martin Handcart Company. Her mother had become discouraged and finally told the others she could go no farther. As the company moved on, Louisa stayed with her mother. She went a few yards away and prayed that God would help them and protect them. As she walked back to where her mother was sitting on a boulder, she found a pie in the road. She wrote in her journal, “I picked it up and gave it to mother to eat. After resting awhile, we started on our journey, thanking God for the blessings. A few miles before we reached camp, we met my father coming out to meet us. Many times, after that mother felt like giving up and quitting, but then she would remember how wonderful the Lord had been to spare her so many times, and offered a prayer of gratitude instead. So, she went on her way rejoicing while walking the blood-stained path of snow.”12
Being thankful in all things13 often brings unanticipated benefits even in the worst of circumstances. Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were devout Christians who were sent to a concentration camp for hiding Jews in their home during World War II. Their story is found in a book called The Hiding Place. Upon arrival at Ravensbruck, the two sisters were assigned to Barracks 28. Corrie tells the story this way.
“Betsie and I followed a prisoner-guide through the door at the right. Because of the broken windows, the vast room was in semi-twilight. Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy: somewhere, plumbing had backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid.
“Then as our eyes adjusted to the gloom, we saw that there were no individual beds at all but great square tiers stacked three high, and wedged side by side and end to end with only an occasional narrow aisle slicing through.
“We followed our guide single file—the aisle was not wide enough for two—fighting back the claustrophobia of those platforms rising everywhere above us…At last she pointed to a second tier in the center of a large block.
“To reach it, we had to stand on the bottom level, haul ourselves up, and then crawl across three other straw-covered platforms to reach the one that we would share….
“The deck above us was too close to let us sit up. We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw…Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.
“’Fleas!’ I cried. ‘Betsie, the place in swarming with them! … how can we live in such a place?’
“’Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter-of-factly it took me a second to realize she was praying….
“’Corrie!’ she said excitedly, ‘He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’
“I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then I drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. In the feeble light I turned the pages, ‘Here it is: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.’”
“’Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’
“’Oh yes’ I said,” …Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’”
“’That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
“’Such as?’ I said.
“’Such as being assigned here together…. such as what you are holding in your hand…. for the very crowding in here. Since we are packed so close, then many more will hear the message [in the Bible].”
“’Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, for the fleas and for….’
“’The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie,’ I said, “there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’
“’Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.
“And so, we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”
Betsie and Corrie began to have worship services. Other women gathered with them to read the Bible and to pray. They even had to hold two worship services per evening to accommodate everyone who was interested. While the guards kept them under rigid surveillance in all their activities, including the center room of the barracks, there was no supervision in their bunk area. And one day Betsie learned why. Some prisoners were knitting socks and there was confusion about sizing and they asked a supervisor to come and settle the argument. She wouldn’t enter the room and neither would any of the guards because they said “the place was crawling with fleas.”
As Corrie wrote, “my mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”14
The expression of gratitude, even in miserable circumstances, was rewarded with the opportunity to bless many other women’s lives with faith and an understanding of God’s love.
Since gratitude has such miraculous power to bring light to our lives in any circumstance what can we do to cultivate this virtue in our lives?
First, we can look for things to be grateful for; remembering that gratitude is expression of our faith. Our lists would go first to eternal things – for the Plan of Salvation, for the Atoning Sacrifice of our Redeemer that rescues us from death and hell, for the restoration of the Gospel and priesthood keys, for the knowledge of our divine worth, for temples, for living prophets, for scriptures and for the opportunities we have to grow and learn. My list also includes the chance to serve a mission, to have Church callings that have helped me improve, parents who taught me and encouraged me, brothers and their wives who are now caring for our aging parents, wonderful neighbors, good friends, a home, the opportunity to get an education, and the blessing of being alive when glasses and titanium knees have been invented.
Stretch yourself when you count your blessings. Think deeply about even small things. Especially think about the blessings in your life that have come from adversity. I share just a small example. During the first semester of my master’s program I took a required course in research methods. I hoped to do my coursework and my thesis in one year because I had saved just enough money to attend school for a year.
One day the professor said that if we wanted to finish our thesis and graduate by the following August, we needed to have found our topic and a chair for our thesis within a few weeks. I made an appointment to ask for her counsel on my idea and was elated when she volunteered to serve as the chair.
I worked hard on my culminating project for the course and turned it in at the end of the quarter. A few days later, all papers and final exams under my belt, I stopped by her office to see if my project paper had been graded. It had – and I had received a failing grade. I was especially embarrassed because she had agreed to chair my thesis and now, I had failed her course. I asked what I could do and the professor said she would meet with me after the first of the year. Needless to say, a cloud hung over my Christmas holidays.
I went back to school early to meet with her. She counseled with me. She showed me what I had done incorrectly. She then gave me the opportunity to redeem myself by doing the paper again. I worked and worked and submitted the paper again. This time I passed with flying colors. But the important thing was that because of what I had learned in that experience, when it came time to write my thesis I had only one small revision to make on the first draft.
I am grateful for that experience. Things I learned from that experience helped me later in my doctoral program. And that experience made me a better teacher. It was a small thing – and at first a very hard thing --but it is something that has blessed me over and over again.
Like the words of one of our hymns, once we earnestly begin to count our blessings, we will be surprised at what the Lord has done.
Second, if we are struggling to feel grateful, we can pray for the blessing of a grateful spirit. Ask the Lord to help you recognize the many blessings He has given you. Practice being grateful. Practice saying thank you, even for little things. Practice seeing the silver lining in every experience. Some may feel they only need to be grateful for big things. But a professional counselor, Richard Nicastro, taught, “Small gratitudes are the antidote to taking life and others for granted.”15
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin suggested three things to help us feel more grateful. The first is to open our eyes to see the wonders and beauties of this world and to “enjoy every sight, every smell, every taste, every sound.” The second is to open our hearts and let go of the negative emotions that “drag us down and destroy the spirit” and to remember the cleansing power of the Atonement through repentance. And third is to open our arms to reach out to others.”16
Brother Worthen suggests several things that would make us more aware of tender mercies extended by the Lord or others, including a gratitude journal, making gratitude visits, creating a gratitude catalog, eliminating ungrateful thoughts, expressing prayers of gratitude, training ourselves to use gratitude language, and learning the art of being content with what we have.17
Learning to count our blessings and feel thanksgiving in our hearts meets only half of the conditions for having gratitude change our lives. The second half comes in actually expressing gratitude to God and to others. A renowned business leader once remarked that the two most important words in the English language were “thank you.”18
I know from personal experience how the simplest “thank you” can have a profound effect.” I taught 17-year-olds in Sunday School for four years. One Sunday I was particularly discouraged because I felt I wasn’t making any progress with the students no matter what I prepared. I was beginning to feel like a failure. Later in the week I ran into one of the students in the grocery store. He said, “thank you for the lesson on Sunday. I learned a lot.” That single expression of gratitude kept me going for months.
In King Benjamin’s powerful sermon, we learn that we should constantly thank our Heavenly King. King Benjamin taught that we can never get ahead of the Lord because whenever we are obedient, he pours out additional blessings upon us. I think this is the reason that whenever someone is taught to pray, following the Savior’s example, we begin with offering our gratitude before we make any new requests.19
Whether it is face-to-face, through a phone call, an e-mail, a note (most people still truly appreciate the handwritten note), a text message, or a Facebook posting, an expression of gratitude will make the difference in the lives of at least two people – yours and the one to whom you expressed your thanks. We read in the scriptures that rejoicing, celebrating (like our Thanksgiving on Thursday), singing, and even dancing were all expressions of gratitude for God’s blessings.20 David often wrote psalms of gratitude. Psalm 100 is one of my favorites.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.
While expressions of gratitude are necessary and important, if left alone our gratitude will be incomplete.
President David O. McKay said, “Gratitude is deeper than thanks. Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”21
An old American childhood poem tells of three children who told their mother that they loved her. One then forgot his work and chores and went out to play. Another teased and pouted until her mother was glad she went out to play. The third rocked the baby, swept the floor and was “as helpful and busy” as a child could be. The poem ends with this question, “Which one of them really loved her best?”22
The For the Strength of Youth pamphlet teaches that one of the best expressions of gratitude to the Lord is the way we live. Like faith and love, we show our gratitude through our works23
All of us benefit from the goodness of others. We enjoy the blessings of the Restored Gospel because pioneers made sacrifices to keep the faith strong and alive. Missionaries somewhere along the line made sacrifices that brought us or our families into the Church. The missionary who converted the first person in my family eventually left the Church after the Missouri persecutions. But my family has always revered his name because he is the one who brought the gospel to all of us through my great-great-great grandfather. Imagine my delight two years ago when, by chance, I happened to meet the great-great-great granddaughter of this missionary while we were working on a project together. I was able to finally share with her my family’s deep love and gratitude for the missionary who gave our family the gift of the gospel.
We also benefit in other ways from many we will never know. We owe a debt to servicemen and women and patriots who made the supreme sacrifice for the freedoms that everyone who lives in America enjoys. We owe a debt to pioneer educators who made great sacrifices to ensure that the Church’s schools – like LDS Business College-- were able to grow and thrive, even through very tough economic times. We owe a debt to those who invented marvelous things that help us communicate, and do family history, and travel, and learn.
Our gratitude for them is played out in the way we take advantage of the opportunities that have been given us. When you work hard and obtain a degree from LDS Business College you are expressing gratitude for an opportunity given you by many who have gone before – including the tithe payers of the Church, the many administrators of this school through its wonderful 125 year history, and to teachers and staff along the way who have worked so hard to build the school and to educate and prepare and serve the students.
We express our gratitude though acts of honesty, integrity, courtesy and kindness. But most of all we express gratitude through our obedience to God and keeping our covenants. Through our faithful actions we glorify God and let him know of our love and appreciation. We express appreciation for the gift of life and time in the choices we make about how we use our time. We express our appreciation for the scriptures when we read and study them. We show our gratitude for the temple by worshiping there regularly. We show our thankfulness for the Atonement of the Savior by repenting and serving others. We show that we are grateful for a living prophet by following his counsel. We show we are grateful for the truths of the gospel by serving others as Christ served us, as this poem by Janell R. Arrington suggests.24
With what coin shall I repay my eternal Father
For the gifts He hath bestowed upon me?
How shall my gratitude be made manifest and acceptable?
My payment shall not be in measure harsh and cold, the clink and chill of mineral,
But in warmth and kindness shall I honor my Creator,
In loving-kindness, as did the Son of Man, to all who stand in need of strength to heart and limb.
May I, as He, serve all who daily walk with heavy loads---
Those who hunger and thirst for warm words and small kindnesses.
So may my debt of mortal and immortal life be marked in columns paid,
To serve His children.
Thus, daily succor to them doth bring eternal praise to Him and peace of soul to me.24
Yes, my friends, thanksgiving is more than a holiday. It is a feeling from the heart that propels us to live a Christ-like life. May we be like the grateful Samaritan and numbered among those who always return to give thanks.
 Luke 17: 12-19
 Doctrine and Covenants 59:7, 21
 Thomas S. Monson, “An Attitude of Gratitude” April 1992 General Conference. http://lds.org/general-conference/print/1992/04/an-attitude-of-gratitude
 Alma 34:38
 Doctrine and Covenants 78:19
 Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (1997), p. 250.
 David B. Haight, “Were There Not Ten Cleansed?” October 2002 General Conference. http://lds.org/general-conference/print/2002/10/were-there-not-ten-cleansed
 Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th Edition (1939), p. 263.
 Vaughn E. Worthen, “The Value of Experiencing and Expressing Gratitude,” Ensign, March 2010. http://lds.org/ensign/print/2010/03/the-value-of-experiencing-and-expressing-gratitude.
 Thomas s. Monson, “The Divine Gift of Gratitude” October 2010 General Conference. http://lds.org/general-conference/print/2010/10/the-divine-gift-of-gratitude
 Kate B. Carter, Our Pioneer Heritage (1975), 17:305.
 1 Thessalonians 5:18
 Corrie ten Boom.http://www.broadcaster.org.uk/section2/transcript/hidingplace.html
 In Nancy Henderson, “Giving Thanks: The Benefits of Expressing Gratitude,” American Profile, November 20-16, 2011, pp. 8-9
 Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Live in Thanksgiving Daily,” Ensign, September 2001. http://lds.org/ensign/print/2001/09/live-in-thanksgiving-daily
 See Worthen
 In Thomas S. Monson, “The Profound Power of Gratitude,” Liahona, September 2005.
 Mosiah 2:18-24
 Doctrine and Covenants 136:28, Ezra 3:11, Leviticus7:12
 David O. McKay http://lds.org/friend/print/1975/11/gratitude-quotations
 Author Unknown “I Love You, Mother” http://startingfromscratchbooks.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/i-love-you-mother
 James 2:18
 Janell R. Arrington, “Psalm of Gratitude and Service” Ensign, April 1984.http://lds.org/ensign/1984/04/poetry/psalm-of-gratitude-and-service