Through the Lens of Gratitude
K. Fred Skousen
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
February 26, 2002
My wife and I appreciate the opportunity to be on your beautiful campus today and to meet with you in your devotional assembly. I am impressed to see so many of you with your scriptures. I understand this is something President Bednar has instituted in your devotionals, and I commend you for following his counsel.
My topic today is looking at life "Through the Lens of Gratitude."
Many of us have had the experience of having our eyes tested. You look through a complicated machine that has multiple lenses. After various adjustments are made, the correct lens is selected that allows us to see most clearly. The main point of my message today is that we can see our life experiences most clearly by looking through the lens of gratitude.
Being grateful for who we are and what we have and for the many blessings we receive is so important to the perspective we have for our mortal lives and to the commitments we make to each other and to our Father in Heaven.
We read in Luke that as Jesus was journeying to Jerusalem, he passed through Samaria and Galilee:
And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them. Go shew yourselves into the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. 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 his 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. (Luke 17:12-19)
How important it is for us to be like the one who returned to thank Christ for being healed, and not like the other nine, who were also cleansed, but who did not return to thank Jesus for their special blessing.
President Hinckley's counsel to the youth in November of 2000 included Six Bs. The first was to Be Grateful. He said:
Walk with gratitude in your hearts. Be thankful for the wonderful blessings which are yours. Be grateful for the tremendous opportunities that you have. Be thankful to your parents who care so very much about you and who have worked so very hard to provide for you. Let them know that you are grateful. Say thank you to your mother and your father. Say thank you to your friends. Say thank you to your teachers. Express appreciation to everyone who does you a favor or assists you in any way. Thank the Lord for His goodness to you. (Ensign, January 2001)
As I peer through the lens of gratitude, I see many, many blessings, personally and for my family. As the popular Church hymn states:
Count your many blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings see what God hath done. (Church HYMNS:241)
Reflect with me, if you will, from an historical and scriptural perspective, on the many blessings we receive.
Let us begin our reflection with our pre-mortal life. How grateful we are for the marvelous Plan of Salvation. That we had the opportunity to live as spirit children of our Father in Heaven in a pre-mortal existence. That we were given our agency and allowed to choose between Satan's plan and God's plan.
Recall the words of Satan:
Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy Son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor. But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me--Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever. (Moses 4:1-2)
How grateful we are that we chose God's plan, as championed and made possible by our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ.
Having kept our First Estate, how grateful we are that God and His Son created this marvelous earth, and has allowed us an opportunity to gain a physical body, exercise our agency, and be tested during this earth life to see if we will keep his commandments.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were commanded not to partake of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were told that if they did eat of that tree, they would surely die. However, Adam and Eve were also commanded to be fruitful and to multiply and replenish the earth. How grateful we are that Adam and Eve chose to keep God's commandment to "multiply and replenish the earth." Without obedience to this commandment, even though it brought sin and death as consequences, we would not have had the opportunity for this life on earth.
Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh shall I see God. (Moses 5:10)
Eve also was glad, saying:
Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. (Moses 5:11)
This principle is made clear also in the Book of Mormon. Lehi explained to his son, Jacob.
And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the Garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they (Adam and Eve) would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. (2 Nephi 2:22-25)
Similarly, how grateful we are that Christ was willing to lay down His life so that we can all live again. That by Christ's sacrifice and resurrection, He being the firstfruits, we all can be resurrected. We read in Corinthians:
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)
Now, moving forward with our historical and scriptural perspective from the Creation and Adam and Eve to Lehi and his family about 600 years before Christ was born on Earth.
How grateful we are that Lehi was a "visionary man," and that he followed the Lord's direction, taking his family into the wilderness. How grateful we are that Nephi was faithful and believed "all the words of his father."
How grateful we are that Nephi had the courage and faith to declare
I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. (1 Nephi 3:7)
By trusting in the Lord and following His direction, Nephi was able to secure the Plates of Brass from Laban so that his people and the rest of us could have these precious scriptures.
How grateful we are that Nephi and the other prophets recorded the words of God on plates of gold, which were preserved for our time so that the prophet, Joseph Smith, could translate them by the power of God as our Book of Mormon.
How grateful we are that Lehi and his family were led by the Lord to this "land of promise." And that we now can live in this wonderful place, a land where we can be free to live our religion, to worship our God and His Son, and to rear our families in peace.
As we reflect on last September 11, we should be even more grateful for this great land of America, and the blessings we receive from the freedoms we enjoy.
Alan Jackson, a country and western singer, has captured some of the feelings many of us have felt since last September with the following words from a song he wrote:
Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day
Out in the yard with your wife and children
Or working on some stage in L.A.
Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke
Rising against that blue sky
Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry
Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones
And pray for the ones who don't know
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below
Did you burst out in pride for the red, white and blue
And the heroes who died just doin' what they do
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself and what really matters.
Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day
Teaching a class full of innocent children
Or driving down some cold interstate
Did you feel guilty cause you're a survivor
In a crowded room did you feel alone?
Did you call up your mother to tell her you love her
Did you dust off that bible at home
Did you open your eyes in hope it never happened
Close your eyes and not go to sleep
Did you notice the sunset for the first time in ages
Speak to some stranger on the street
Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow
Go out and buy you a gun
Did you turn off that violent home movie you're watchin
And turn on I Love Lucy reruns
Did you go to a church and hold hands with some stranger
Or stand in line and give your own blood
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
And thank god you had somebody to love.
I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus, and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young.
Faith, hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love. And the greatest is love.
Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day.
It is too bad that it takes such a terrible tragedy to cause us to reflect on the many blessings that come from living in this promised land, a land preserved and blessed by the Lord as a land of freedom if the inhabitants will live righteously and follow the Lord's teachings.
Continuing with our historical perspective of gratitude, how grateful we are that God heard and answered the prayer of a young boy, Joseph Smith, and that he hears and answers our prayers as well. Joseph read in the Bible:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)
How grateful we are that the Father and the Son personally appeared to the boy, Joseph, establishing the true nature of the Godhead.
How grateful we are that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth in its fulness, and that we can belong to Christ's true Church in these latter days, participating in the saving ordinances of the Gospel through the power of the Holy Priesthood of God.
How grateful we are that the prophet Joseph was allowed to translate the Book of Mormon, that we can read and study this wonderful book of scripture that testifies of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon helps establish the truth of the Bible, and with our other scriptures, helps us understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How grateful we are for the promise of the Book of Mormon as recorded in Moroni.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)
How grateful we are that the fulfillment of this promise has led to the strong testimonies and changed the lives of so many members of the Church, including our own.
How grateful we are that our pioneer ancestors had the faith and courage to establish Zion in the tops of the Rocky Mountains; that Brigham Young had the vision to establish LDS communities throughout the West; that he saw the need and benefit of an educational system, including Brigham Young University.
How grateful we are for a living prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, who continues to receive revelation and direction from the Lord to guide us. That President Hinckley has given us the direction and support for BYU-Idaho as a four-year institution. And that a great leader, President David Bednar, has been raised up to carefully work through the transition and give inspired direction for BYU-Idaho. What a blessing it is to have the quality of the faculty and staff who have stepped forward to assist this university reach its divine destiny for the benefit of you wonderful students.
How grateful we are for our families, for wonderful parents, for spouses, for those of us who are married, who bring out the best in us and put up with the worst in us, for brothers and sisters and extended families. What a wonderful blessing--the family unit.
How grateful we are for life itself. Isn't this life wonderful! Isn't it great to see the beauties of nature, to see a beautiful sunrise or sunset, to smell the sagebrush after a spring rain, to see beautiful Fall colors or the trees blanketed with new fallen white snow. Hopefully, we take time to see and appreciate these blessings.
Sometimes, some of us can't see or walk or run or speak our gratitude. We may have some physical limitations, such as being blind or deaf. Often, other blessings are given to these individuals, for which they are grateful.
Consider this example:
Robert Hunt has been totally blind since age 15, yet he refuses to let his blindness impede him from achieving his goals. Hunt, a senior from Pleasant Grove majoring in psychology, carries a 4.0 GPA and is the 2001-2002 recipient of Brigham Young University's annual Ford Motor Company/Golden Key International Honor Society Undergraduate Scholarship.
Michael Lambert, professor of psychology, said Hunt works for him as a research assistant on several projects. Lambert said Hunt helps him with editing, has co-authored a book chapter, and works on a research team studying the effects of psychotherapy.
Lambert goes on to say, "People complain of the amount of reading and workload, but then there is Robert who outperforms everyone. I don't know how he does it."
Robert says "I'm trying to do as much as I can with what I've got. Happiness doesn't depend on what we have, but on what we are grateful for."
And most of all, how grateful we are for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For His sacrifice, His love, His Atonement, and for His Gospel and doctrine.
In 2 Nephi, Chapter 31, we read of the Doctrine of Christ and the critical steps we must follow.
In verses 13 and 14, we are instructed that we must sincerely, with real intent, repent of our sins and witness unto the Father that we are willing to take upon us the name of Christ and follow His example by being baptized, first of water and then of fire and of the Holy Ghost.
In verses 15 and 16, we are told that we must then endure to the end to be saved.
The gateway to the straight and narrow path leading to eternal life is described in verses 17 and 18 as repentance, baptism, the remission of sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
And then in verses 19 and 20 we read:
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this straight and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:19-20)
Brothers and sisters, gratitude is more than good manners. Elder Marion G. Romney said this:
The Lord puts the commandment to be thankful along with other strong commandments. He said, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it. Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things' (D&C 59:5-7) (emphasis added). It is perfectly evident from this scripture that to thank the Lord in all things is not merely a courtesy. It is a commandment as binding upon us as any other commandment. (ACR (San Jose) 1977:12, emphasis added)
Thus, expressing and showing our gratitude to Heavenly Father and His Son is a deliberate choice we should make, similar to keeping His other commandments. It is also a positive choice we can make that will enrich our lives and those around us.
This is illustrated by a news commentary, the author of which is Michael Josephson. Mr. Josephson said:
Though I get special pleasure out of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for my large extended family, the real burden of the holiday falls on the lovely shoulders of my wife, Anne. She's the one who deals with tenting the yard and organizing the feast including three turkeys and a symphony of side dishes. And she does all this while juggling our four young children, a big dog and two new puppies. So you can understand if her enthusiasm for the holiday is more muted.
There was a time when I thought she was going to resign. It was a week after she planned and hosted a business reception at our home for nearly 100 people and she was weary. She told me how she had come to dread the pressure and work of Thanksgiving. Then, just as I was bracing myself to hear her renounce the job, she completely surprised me by changing direction. 'This year,' she said, 'I have a whole new feeling toward the holiday. I've been thinking about it a lot and I've decided to be grateful rather than resentful.' Then she told me how lucky we are to have such a large and close family and the space and resources to provide Thanksgivings that our children will always remember.
Can you see why I love her so much? She has taught me that gratitude is not always a spontaneous emotion; often, it's a matter of choice. It's a perspective of appreciation that doesn't necessarily make life easier, but it always makes it better.
Choosing to be grateful will lead to a stronger commitment, a desire to try harder to be a better person. This, in turn, can lead to more fully keeping God's commandments. And, as we have been promised, if we keep the commandments, we will receive even more blessings, until we receive "all that our Father has," even Eternal Life, the greatest of all gifts.
Elder Hugh B. Brown, in an address entitled, "Gratitude is a Spiritual Attribute," said the following:
How rich and radiant is the soul of a man who has a thankful heart. His gratitude increases with his unfolding awareness of himself, the universe and his Creator. Appreciation, like love, enriches both giver and receiver, and, when spontaneously expressed in word or deed, reveals a depth and delicacy of fine-grain character. True gratitude is motivated by a recognition of favors received. Its counterfeit is fawning anticipation of favors to come.
Serious consideration of the mystery of life, its vastness and incalculability, gives depth to appreciation for blessings gratuitously bestowed. They who have eyes to see, ears to hear, understanding hearts, will see the bounteous love of God everywhere manifest and will be inclined to reverently remove their shoes and exclaim: 'For the rock and for the river, The valley's fertile sod, For the strength of the hills we bless thee, Our God, our fathers' God.' ["For the Strength of the Hills," Church HYMNS:35] ("Gratitude Is a Spiritual Attribute," Instructor, November 1957, p. 332)
Brothers and sisters, I believe the lens of gratitude can give us a proper perspective on life. Being grateful is a choice we can and should make. It will lead to happiness, today and tomorrow, and into eternity.
I would like to conclude by publicly expressing my gratitude to a loving Father in Heaven and to His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, for my many blessings.
I am grateful for life, for the health and strength that I enjoy, for the day-to-day occurrences that bring me great joy--the opportunity to get on my horse and ride in the beautiful mountains surrounding our ranch in Wallsburg; the opportunity to hear the squeals of happiness from our grandchildren as they ride with me on the tractor or are pulled behind a 4-wheeler on a snow sled; the opportunity to shiver quietly with my sons as we see the dawn break and hear the majestic bugle of a bull elk.
I am grateful for my family, for a beautiful and very patient wife who supports me, for our six wonderful children and their spouses--all sealed in the House of the Lord, and our absolutely beautiful grandchildren (currently 17, soon to be 19--and we, like other proud grandparents, have pictures to show how really cute they are).
I am grateful to play a small part in the administration of Brigham Young University at Provo. It is a thrill and a privilege to associate with the wonderful young people of the Church in their educational pursuits. I firmly believe that Brigham Young University is an important part of the Lord's work in building His kingdom on the earth.
I am grateful for my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am privileged to hold the Priesthood of God and to have the opportunity to use my priesthood in blessing the lives of my family and friends.
I am grateful for a living prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, for the wonderful person he is, for the apostles and other leaders of the Church. Having living prophets to guide us is no small things; it is a great blessing.
I am grateful for my Savior, Jesus Christ. I testify that He is the Only Begotten of the Father, the Redeemer and Savior of the world. I am so grateful for His love, for His atonement for giving us the opportunity to live again with Father in Heaven and our families throughout eternity, if we will but follow His perfect example and keep His commandments.
I pray that each of us will take the time to count our many blessings, and give thanks to a loving Father in Heaven for all He gives us. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.