Last Saturday, I was sorting through Emma’s outgrown clothes when I heard a knock at the door. At 3 in the afternoon where I have no close friends and few aquaintances, I thought it had to be the UPS guy. But when I opened the door, it was my father’s round noggin’ that came into view. They had surprised me by coming up two days early to spend Thanksgiving week with us! That was just the first of several encounters that had my heart brimming with joy and gratitude last week.
Other moments came, all of them inspired by my parents’ generosity. All I had wanted was their company, but they gave us so much more. As they cared for and played with Emma, bought us more food than our kitchen has ever seen, replaced our old and broken cookware with new and sparkling pieces, and decked our halls with a beautiful Christmas tree, I was overcome. It was more than I had hoped for.
I have come to understand the pleasure of giving as a parent. There isn’t anything that I would want to withhold from Emma, if I had the choice. But as a child, I am continuously humbled by my parents’ generosity and love. It makes me reflect on if I show my Heavenly Father that same spirit of deep and poignant gratitude.
Thanksgiving came. But before the day was up, Black Friday had somehow commenced. How quickly we go from celebrating our ample possessions to focusing instead on all that we have not yet received and all that we want! The Black Friday mentality (and, I admit, the charge to speak in church) has had me reflecting on what we can do to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving throughout the Christmas season. Here are my thoughts.
- Focus on what we already have.
“We have all experienced times when our focus is on what we lack rather than on our blessings. Said the Greek Philosopher Epictetus, ‘He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.'” – Thomas S. Monson
Heavenly Father has commanded us to have gratitude, “lest [his] wrath be kindled against [us]”. But like all His commandments, this doesn’t benefit Him. He does not become more all-knowing, more perfect, more powerful as we offer thanks. Indeed, this commandment strictly and solely benefits us.
“When you walk with gratitude, you do not walk with arrogance and conceit and egotism, you walk with a spirit of thanksgiving that is becoming to you and will bless your life.” – Gordon B. Hinckley
A couple weeks ago, I was seriously lamenting the fact that Christmas presents didn’t seem to be in the picture for us this year. I love gift-giving. I have been spoiled in the past to always be able to give generously, but three moves and a baby in a one-year time span has left our saving accounts parched. In the midst of my woes, Mickayeen graciously turned the tide of my thoughts, encouraging me to see all that we already have. That feeling hit me again as I sat at our counter-height kitchen table, heavy with turkey and mashed potatoes and green-bean casserole, pumpkin bread, gravy and cranberry sauce. The thought hit me strongly: I have never gone hungry a day in my life. How many people can not say as much?
My practice has been imperfect but as I have shifted my thoughts I have seen miracles. We did find means by which to buy gifts for each other. Focusing on gratitude opened up room in my heart for Heavenly Father to further bless us – the same phenomenon I have seen as I keep all his commandments.
2. Focus on what money can’t buy.
Life’s greatest blessings are, more often than not, intangible. One of the best things about the holiday season is that we are blessed with time – time to spend with the people we love most. As we conscientiously acknowledge and take advantage of this blessing, our hearts are filled with gratitude for the people we are surrounded by.
However, when we try to split our time between loved ones and social media or other technologies, we fail to express that gratitude. I have had to correct my course when at times I am enraptured by my phone rather than by my daughter playing. We all would do well to eliminate the distractions that detract from feeling gratitude for our family and friends. We may very well end up regretting it later on when not all of our loved ones are present. I know I will miss my Grandfather playing Santa on Christmas morning this year.
3. Focus on the Gift-In-Common
Not all of us have the luxuries of a second or third car, of leftovers, of spare socks and no scrupples over our utility bills, but there is one gift – the Supreme gift – that we all have in common: the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the hustle and bustle of this season, it becomes at times difficult to remember the first gift of Christmas. After all, it wasn’t wrapped, except in swaddling clothes. There were no bows or bells attached. He laid in a manger, rather than under an ornamented fir tree. And yet he was and remains the most perfect gift ever given.
The small babe would grow grace by grace, walking flawlessly before man and God. He would shine as a perfect example for giving and receiving. He would willingly perform the single most excruciating and exalting act in all eternity – the act he performed for each of us.
By this great deed, we are blessed with the gift of life itself, the gifts of joy and hope, the gift of meaning and purpose in our lives. We have the gift of redemption, and the gifts of freedom from guilt and misery. We have been given the gift of repentance, the power to change ourselves. The gifts of understanding, comfort, power, peace, strength. Ultimately, we may receive the gifts of exaltation and eternal life. All of this we received by that perfect baby’s first breath.
“To the Lord Jesus, we owe an undying debt of gratitude for he bought us with a great price.” For us, he gained victory over death, and power over life.
We can express gratitude for this great gift as we make room for him in our hearts and minds, not just this Christmas season but always.
“‘No room in the inn’ was not a singular expression of rejection – just the first. Yet he invites you and me to host him. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door and I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.'”
I pray that we may all maintain our poignant feelings of gratitude by focusing on all we have, by cherishing what money can’t buy and by always remembering the most precious gift we have received – our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
“…to express gratitude is gracious and honorable. To enact gratitude is generous and noble. But to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch Heaven.”
May we all touch Heaven this holiday season.