Grateful in Any Circumstance
Talk given by Kendel Christensen, April 27, 2014
Colonial First Ward. Crystal City, VA
I consider myself a collector. I collect epiphanies. I’m not talking about the epiphany that comes the millisecond after you lean too far back in a chair and YOU KNOW your life is over. Or the epiphany where you realize THE MOMENT you send an email that you spelled a name wrong. I collect life-changing epiphanies (which is why I love quotes). So I am very grateful to speak on President Uchtdorf’s talk entitled “Grateful in Any Circumstance” because it gave me a some important epiphanies about my life. I don’t live up to what I am about to say, but I am trying to live ‘in’ to it.
President Uchtdorf says:
I don’t believe the Lord expects us to be less thankful in times of trial than in times of abundance and ease…
…I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation[…that] we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be.
…It might sound contrary to the wisdom of the world to suggest that one who is burdened with sorrow should give thanks to God. But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding.
As disciples of Christ, we are commanded to “thank the Lord [our] God in all things,” to “sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving,” and to “let[our] heart be full of thanks unto God” (Alma 37:37).
In my oblivious perfectionism, I thought I believed that. I thought I lived that. It is really easy to say, “Oh yeah, I’m always grateful,” when your life is, well, pretty great.
But that was before I had loved ones pass away, promises abandoned, a dream job offer rescinded, and a heart broken. I really tried to look for a way to ‘give thanks for’ those things—to submit myself to my circumstances and try to focus on ‘the good that can come from a bad situation.’ But in all honesty, I just couldn’t be grateful for some of those things. And that made me feel even worse—Like the very fact that I was hurting and not able to use the gospel to make me feel happy all the time meant that there was something wrong with me. That I was unworthy, unlovable, or worse.
I am so glad that we have prophets and apostles to clarify what the truth actually is from the false notions we incorrectly interpret. And President Uchtdorf in his talk clears up this particular false doctrine that I naively believed for so long:
Being grateful in times of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances. It does mean that through the eyes of faith we look beyond our present-day challenges.
This is not a gratitude of the lips but of the soul. It is a gratitude that heals the heart and expands the mind.
Now, I’m the wrong person right now to speak about the type of gratitude that ‘heals hearts,’ but I can speak from that a majority of the pain and suffering I experience the trials of my life, comes from focusing and fixating and relentlessly narrowing in on what it is that I am not pleased about.
So how do we look beyond our challenges and experience gratitude in the way that President Uchtdorf is talking about? In a way that looks beyond the problem itself, and “expands our minds?” A way that becomes an attitude, a state of mind that is independent of any external circumtances?
Remaining in any state comes down to the choices we make. I believe there are two choices in particular that we need to make to experience this attitude. I believe the first choice is to let go of our preconceived notions of how things “should work,” and perhaps more importantly, of how we think things should work out.
Instead, we look for a broader, more nuanced, more Godlike view. A view that humbly recognizes that what “working out” looks like might not only be something you don’t expect, it could be something that you don’t even have the imagination or even the capacity to imagine.
Remember, that we are a living Church and we have not yet received many of the ordinances and doctrines of the Gospel. In the words of one prominent Buddhist monk:
“People suffer because they are caught in their views. As soon as we release those views, we are free and we don't suffer anymore.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Only once we are free of our preconceived notions can we develop the spirit of gratitude that allows us to be “grateful in all circumstances.” But it is even more than that. President Uchtdorf mentions in Alma 37:37 that the commandment is actually let our hearts be ‘full’ of thanks. And “letting go” is not quite the same as making at least my heart “full of thanks.”
So the second choice in the process is to actively seek out and use our agency to choose to look at life in a grateful way—to mentally explore our life and choose to experience gratitude ‘outside’ our sorrows. There are three ways I’ve found to do this.
1.Active Gratitude in the “negative” sense (“at least”)
2.Active Gratitude in the “neutral” sense (“enough”)
3.Active Gratitude in the “positive” sense (“wonderful”)
Active Gratitude in the ‘negative’ sense looks beyond our present circumstance and actively is grateful that our circumstance is, at least, not worse. And things, really, always could be worse.
At least you didn’t grow up with people yelling at you as you went to school that you are a monster and threatening to poison the food you eat (Ruby Bridges). At least you weren’t abused as a small child and then forced to marry that person responsible who was decades your senior (Nujood Ali). At least you don’t wake up every morning in an enemy containment cell wondering if today your food will be edible or not (Elias Feinzlberg).
If we actively chose to look at our sorrows with this lens, what would it do to our hearts?
Active gratitude in the “neutral” sense actively chooses to accept that what we have received is enough. It chooses to changethe standard of “adequacy” and gives up the desire for more.
Melody Beattie has said: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life…It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, [and] brings [the] peace [we need] for [that day]...”
Rather than demandingourdesires, we adjustthem. Instead of complaining that we are not eating elaborate recipes made in the halls of kings, we decide that enjoying the wide variety of simple fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains is itself quite a royal experience. Instead of looking to ‘walk on the moon,’ we are content to enjoy the flowers that blossom at our feet. If we chose to see that we can actually be completely happy with less, by definition, our hearts will be full.
But Gratitude in the positive sense looks beyond our current circumstance and sees and decides that things are actually more than enough—they’re actually wonderful. It is the gratitude that is conscious of the ever-present treasures that are not only abundant, but truly glorious. Things like:
· Experiencing conscious awe as you open your eyes and see an incredible array of colors.
· Gaping wonder that our brains are capable of interpreting not only light into a visual feast, but also the miracle of touch so we can experience that near-heavenly sensation of walking barefoot on new carpet.
· Profound thankfulness that, in addition to sight and touch, our body can interpret vibrations that allow us to experience sound and enjoy music (can you imagine life without music?)
· Simple joy in smelling (and tasting) fresh cookies.
· Living in a world that is alive with sensations of all types—from expressive daffodils that react to the weather, to animals that we can love and love us as deeply as family members.
· Conscious that, as Pte. Uchtdorf says, “through the Atonement of… Jesus Christ, we can live forever with our loved ones; that in the end, we will have glorious, perfect, and immortal bodies, unburdened by sickness or disability; and that our tears of sadness and loss willbereplaced with an abundance of happiness and joy.”
· Conscious that God and Christ not only did these things foryou, but they loveyou unconditionally. Unlike just about every other love (including our search for romantic love) God loves you—not because of who you are or the things you do—but because of who Heis.
As Elder Maxwell has commented,
“Sobered and humbled by the grandeur of the Restoration and all that it brings to us, there should be times when you and I leave tears on our pillows out of gratitude for what God has given us.” (“The Wondrous Restoration,” Ensign, Apr 2003, 30)
If we take that perspective, then our hearts will overflow with thanks. Can we live up to the principle of being grateful always? It is a process. Even if we can’t live up to our ideals now, I have a firm faith that, through the grace of God, we can live ‘in’ to them.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.