In the stake religion class which I have the joy and blessing of teaching, we shared feelings and experiences this past Wednesday (our last class of this “semester”) about a phrase from Hymn # 131, “More Holiness Give Me.” We’ve been taking phrases from this beautiful, meaningful hymn and discussing things like more holiness, more purpose in prayer, more joy in His service, more meekness in trials and patience in suffering, and then: more gratitude. It was a wonderful discussion just a week before Thanksgiving (THANKS giving is the way we practiced saying it). Sometimes I have thought of it as “more AWARENESS give me,” because I am completely convinced that I am blessed MUCH more than I’m ever aware of. And so I pray to be much more AWARE of the blessings which surround me. I admit that I tend to lean towards spending more time thinking about what I DON’T HAVE than in being GRATEFUL for what I DO HAVE… I am consciously working on changing that. I recognize that when I’m focused on what I DON’T have, I tend to be grumpy and dissatisfied and discontent… not NEARLY grateful enough. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a long, LONG ways from being as grateful as I should be… I am woefully unaware of ALL that I’m blessed with (and have been my whole life).
I shared a story on Wednesday which I’ve shared many times through the years as I’ve had chances to speak, to share. It goes like this: Two little children were put early to bed on a winter’s night, for the fire had gone out, and the cold was pouring in at the many cracks of their frail shanty. The Mother strove to eke out the scantiness of the bed-covering by placing clean boards over the children. A pair of bright eyes shone out from under a board, and just before it was hushed in slumber, a sweet voice said, “Mother, how nice this is! How I pity the poor people who don’t have any boards to cover their children with this cold night.” I don’t remember where I first heard or found that sweet, powerful story, but it is an incredible reminder of my lack of gratitude (when I think of HER gratitude for clean boards….) She was looking at everything from the perspective of what she HAD, not what she DIDN’T have, wasn’t she. Oh my – she expressed concerns for those who didn’t have clean boards to cover their children with on that cold night! Her deep GRATITUDE was so obvious, and so sweet.
I admit that in my experiences serving in Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Nigeria, I have had MANY teachers who have been examples of the very same thing I found when I first heard the story of this little girl covered with clean boards…. I have found sweet, genuine GRATITUDE for so little (but that’s just MY perspective, and I hope you understand what I mean). Wonderful people (dear friends and neighbors) who were (and ARE) so GRATEFUL for their “clean boards.” One story which I shared in class came from my first mission in the Philippines. A sweet soul named Pilarica (we called her Rica) helped us in our home. She was a widow with 2 children and lived as a “squatter” near some railroad tracks. During her days of helping us she began to read some of the pamphlets and other materials, and she eventually asked to learn more and was baptized. Not long after that the Taal Volcano erupted, killing many and leaving so many homeless and hurting. Rica had heard this news and came to our place feeling that – as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – she (and all of us) should be doing something to help. She brought a pair of Johnny’s pants: “He has 2 pair, and he only needs one,” and a little bucket: “Someone could sit on it, or they could use it to haul water.” It struck me that this was a beautiful, important example of “the widow’s mite.” I found myself wondering if I had EVER (or WOULD ever) give the equivalent . . . . Probably not (but I have tried).
How is it that so many are so grateful and content with what I consider so LITTLE?? How is it that my dear friends and neighbors in Africa did so much singing and dancing, even in what I felt was their poverty and their lack . . . . I’m thinking as I’m writing this down that I was judging! Wow… I had/have never thought of it that way. In order that I not be TOO hard on myself, I will admit that while I wondered how they (and my dear ones in Asia) could be so HAPPY and so CONTENT with so little . . . I wanted to LEARN from their pure examples.
Another thing I’ll admit is that it wasn’t easy to teach about Tithing and the Law of the Fast (including fast offerings) … but how could I NOT do so, when I have known since I was a little child of the incredible BLESSING that are promised from keeping these commandments?? I’m weeping as I’m writing these things down… so many specific faces and memories are flooding my soul…. I wish I could more adequately share what I’m feeling on this Sabbath morning. Some of you may have read what I put on the Blog a few days ago about my experience in a REFUGEE CAMP in THAILAND (in 1981), and YES, it ties in to what I’m trying to share this morning.
Several years ago a friend told me that her stake president had invited members of the stake to find time in the coming days to have a thank-you prayer… to take time to count their many blessings, naming them one-by-one, and being SURPRISED by how generous Heavenly Father had been. Well, I decided to give it a try. It took me about an hour, and I don’t know that I’d ever taken time to name blessings one-by-one… but I WAS surprised! And amazed and deeply thankful. The stake president had also asked that AFTER this experience it would be interesting (I can’t think of a better word right now) to consider all the things they had FORGOTTEN, and try to imagine life without them. Oh my! One thing I forgot (which shocked me!) was WATER!! I hadn’t thanked Him for WATER! And it’s one of the things I’ve been most thankful for after each of my experiences. I’ve lived in places where we didn’t have running water (let alone CLEAN/SAFE water), and I forgot to thank Him for being able to just turn a handle and get clean, safe water… either cold or hot . . . . I didn’t need to imagine what my life would be without it . . . . But it was a powerful learning experience. I was reminded of something I’ve shared so often: You can never get enough of what you don’t need, because what you don’t need NEVER satisfies….
This morning I’m thinking about so many more specific experiences, but it’s time to finish and post this Blog. So I close by asking: What are YOU thankful for? Can you think of something you’ve not thanked Heavenly Father for in a long time (or ever)? We don’t have to wait for THANKSgiving each year to do that, do we? I hope not. I want to be thankful ALWAYS. I want to avoid letting thoughts of what I WANT crowd out thanks for what I HAVE. I want to be a grateful person. I want to live “in THANKS-giving” daily! I want to be increasingly satisfied and content. Increasingly aware. I want to want less – this is something I’ve shared in lots of talks, and I want it to be a reality for me personally: WANTING LESS is likely a better blessing than HAVING MORE. Again: What are you thankful for? (I’m asking myself that very question)