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This is the day when most of us count our blessings. Yes, there’s a traditional feast, maybe football games, and gatherings of loved ones. But the purpose is to thank God. Often we share this joy with others, listing the many good things God has given us.
So how can we expand that appreciation to live in harmony with the scriptures, “In every thing give thanks” (1 Thes. 5:18) and “give thanks in all things” (Mosiah 26:38-39)?
Sometimes our adversity mounts and we think, “Seriously? All things?” Apparently so. When the early Saints were suffering persecution prior to the trek West, The Lord said, “Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks; … and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good” (D&C 98:1, 3).
We think our difficulties are completely negative. But, ironically, if they make us turn to God, see life from an eternal perspective, and grow to conquer our own weaknesses, they become tools to refine us. They actually benefit us. Every one of us knows someone who experienced a horrific loss or trial that made their heart turn toward their Savior. Testimonies are born of the blessing it was to go through the sorrow, to know the sweetness of God’s Plan of Happiness.
President John Taylor spoke of adversities as “trials for the purpose of purifying the Saints of God that they may be, as the scriptures say, as gold that has been seven times purified by the fire” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 203)
Few would avoid the easy road, when it’s offered. But most of our hardships are not ones we can choose; they simply happen as part of mortality. And when we’re embroiled in trials, this is the moment to stop and pray—not for the trial to evaporate—but to ask what lesson we’re to learn.
A mother of five told me she felt her life was utterly shattered when her husband divorced her. But it forced her to re-examine her life and develop talents she didn’t realize she had. She became a community leader and a successful businesswoman who has blessed the lives of thousands.
Another woman endured physical abuse and then became a counselor for others trying to deal with the same agony. They appreciate her complete understanding. Today she feels it’s her mission, and sees the hand of God in her ability to move past the past, reaching out to others.
Missions are like proving grounds. They are filled with adversity and challenge, yet look what happens to those who persevere and find miracles. We can literally see the growth and sheen of the spirits of those who serve, who then tell us it was the greatest experience of their lives.
Often a trial can last for decades. A hurt or injury can stay in our hearts if we cannot forgive. How can we be grateful at such times? Again, knowing Christ has suffered for every anguish in our lives, we can lean upon Him for strength and inspiration. We can find pity for the perpetrator, and a genuine desire for them to repent. We can resolve not to let another’s actions poison our whole life. And we can remember the wise words of poet George Herbert who said, “He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.”
It’s not easy to do. Grief and pain are real. But when we travel that rocky terrain with our Savior, we can come through ennobled, even sanctified. We can see that God is making us into something wonderful that we never imagined. Just as Abraham’s command to sacrifice Isaac was a test for Abraham, and taught him what he was made of, sometimes our tests teach us that we are a bit more than we thought. We are humbled, we are stretched, we find faith. We become centered upon life’s real priorities, and often the dross falls away.
Finally, despite setbacks, when we feel genuine gratitude for the Savior, for the restoration, and for living prophets, we can count ourselves among the luckiest on earth.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, makes a great Christmas gift. It’s available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.