An ugly thread connects humankind. It’s the thread of suffering and pain. Not one of us escapes life without multiple challenges, grief, and dashed hopes. Yes, there is joy in Christ and in serving and loving those around us. But we all have hybrid lives filled with a sprinkling (sometimes much more than a sprinkle) of anguish.
I was sitting with a group of friends not long ago when someone mentioned that her life was not following Plan A; it was vastly different than what she had imagined it would be. Soon I noticed that every one of us was working on Plan B – or Plan Z!—adapting to unforeseen diseases, financial setbacks, betrayals, relationship concerns, faith tests, and more. Certainly the world today serves up trial after trial. A global pandemic. Deaths of loved ones. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Floods. Racism. Rioting. Even Killer Hornets.
And I thought of the scripture, “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:7). We see the same sentiment in Psalms 147:7, which says, “Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving” and in Alma 37:37 which says, “…let thy heart be full of thanks unto God…” But how can we possibly do this?
I have three suggestions:
Look at the big picture. Step back from your immediate concern and widen your view. We aren’t being told that we should be happy with the problems that arise. Nobody prays for trouble to befall them. But when we see our lives in an eternal perspective, we realize that our blessings will always outnumber our trials.
In fact, if all we do is meditate upon the enormous gift of Christ’s Atonement, the opportunity He gives us to return to our Father in Heaven, we come to see our sacrifices and difficulties as puny indeed, compared to the unspeakable suffering he endured for us. Drawing close to our Savior is truly a healing balm that can strengthen us for our tasks.
Not only that, but by focusing upon our blessings and upon all Christ has done for us, we keep from sinking into despair over the sorrows of mortality. We ignore Satan’s whisperings that would pull us into the abyss of misery. We turn Lucifer away and “keep an eye single to the glory of God.” (D & C 88:67)
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being ‘thankful for things’ we focus on being ‘thankful in our circumstances’ — whatever they may be.”
In the Doctrine and Covenants it says, “And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.” (D & C 78:19). The previous verse even tells us to be of good cheer. Wow. Look at that wording. We won’t just be comforted or relieved of our suffering. We will be made glorious. What an amazing promise.
A short story of mine was published last Christmas, about this very topic. A Little Christmas Prayer (Covenant Communications) is about a boy who changed an entire village simply by saying a prayer of gratitude.
Notice your trials shape you. Yes, if we give in to bitterness or resentment they can shape us for the worse. But if we learn from setbacks we come out ahead. We grow into better people. How many of your best traits were learned through adversity? I’m guessing most of them. Every time we hit a roadblock or a calamity, let’s try to stop and ask God what we’re to learn from this. What a shame it would be to stumble through life hitting one obstacle after another and not learn a single thing from it!
Find the hidden gift. I’ll explain. The 15th century poet Kabir wrote this short poem (translated by Daniel Ladinsky):
I had to seek the Physician because of the pain this world caused me.
I could not believe what happened when I got there—I found my Teacher.
Before I left, he said, “Up for a little homework, yet?”
“Okay,” I replied.
“Well then, try thanking all the people who have caused you pain. They helped you come to me.”
And there it is—the silver lining. Something that makes us turn to God is worth any cost. So often we’ve felt broken-hearted for a friend’s tragedy, but then watched with joy as it turned them to Christ. We see transformation and purification right before our eyes. And we can secure this path for ourselves as well, allowing the Holy Ghost to guide our decisions and inspire our choices during the hardest of times.
So many of us are struggling right now. And all around we see a world filled with fear, anger, confusion, and hopelessness. But we triumph over these emotions and even be a light for others to follow. We know the formula; we just have to summon the determination to follow it.
Elder James E. Faust once said, “A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being.”
Sounds to me like being grateful can help us be greatful as well.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.