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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Talk - Gratitude is the Currency of the Gospel

This talk was given by my friend at church recently. Thanks for sharing it Ethan!

I grew up in Whittier, CA and was raised by a single mom. My mother was a very hard worker and did everything she could to provide for my older sister and I. She is a very loving woman and she is also very proud and independent. Although she was able to provide for all of our needs, some of our wants had to be forgone as we rarely had the finances for luxuries. I remember in Jr. High School that the fashion trend at the time were these brightly colored patch-work board shorts that were worn by the popular skaters and surfers of the era. Unfortunately for me these shorts were very expensive and due to the fact that ordinary shorts could be purchased for a third of the cost, my mother told me that we just couldn’t afford them.

That’s why I was surprised on my 13th birthday, to open up a present and find a beautiful pair of board shorts inside. I had never seen any that were so cool. Being a 13 year old, I quickly looked at the label to see what brand they were (since branding is very important at that age). I was again confused to find that there were no labels in the shorts. My mom could read the puzzlement in my eyes and went on to explain that she had made them for me from scraps of material she purchased from a fabric store. To save on the cost of the pattern, she had disassembled one of my other pairs of shorts to use as a pattern. Afterwards, she then reassembled the shorts so that I could continue wearing those as well. I was so grateful to her for making me those shorts and immediately put them on and went out on my skateboard to show them off to my friends. I think I wore them 3 days straight before I could bear to take them off for cleaning.

A week later I was looking for the shorts in the clean laundry and they were nowhere to be found. I looked in my room and everywhere they could possibly be, but to no avail. I was so scared that I had lost them and couldn’t face my mother to ask her if she had seen them. Finally after a couple of days I had no choice. I approached my mom and very casually asked her if she had seen them? Instead of the questioning look I had expected, I saw a very knowing disappointed look in her eyes. It turns out that as many 13 year olds would do, I had taken the shorts off and threw them on the floor. After all of the time that my mom had put into making them, she couldn’t stand seeing them wadded up and thrown on the floor like ordinary clothes, so she confiscated them. To her it was the ultimate demonstration of ingratitude. I would have to perform extra chores and promise to take better care of them to get them back (which of course I did).

I learned then a very important lesson that has stayed with me through life… that gratitude has to be stated and demonstrated in order to be clearly interpreted by the recipient. In so many of the callings in our life; mother, child, father, friend, bishop, teacher, neighbor, advisor, president, councilor, etc… it is the only currency we have to reimburse to others the service that is performed on our behalf.

But should we need or expect gratitude in return for our service? The answer to that question is found in several instances in the scriptures.

In the book of Luke, chapter 17, we read of Jesus:
11.And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.
12. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
13. And they lifted up their voices and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
14. And when he saw them, he said unto them, go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
15. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,
16. And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
17. And Jesus answering said, were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?
18. There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
19. And he said unto him, Arise, go they way: they faith hath made thee whole.

In his talk entitled “The Divine Gift of Gratitude,” President Monson said of this experience: “Through divine intervention those who were lepers were spared from a cruel, lingering death and given a new lease on life. The expressed gratitude by one merited the Master’s blessing; the ingratitude shown by the nine, His disappointment.”

But Jesus did not only establish the principle of gratitude by his expectation of the 10 lepers… he also set an example of gratitude by his own expression. In Matthew 15 when he fed the 4,000 it reads:
36. And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
37. And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.

Alma instructed his son Helaman, giving him counsel that we should all teach our children: “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea when though liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when though risest in the morning let they heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 37:37).

And to make the matter perfectly clear to us, in a letter to the Thessalonians Paul wrote: “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thes. 5:18). Paul, by the way, is cited either giving thanks or instructing that we should give thanks 21 times throughout his epistles.

I think it is important for us to understand the significance of the expectation, example, and instruction that these scriptures reveal to us. Jesus, a perfect being, expected gratitude for the healing of the lepers and he also expressed gratitude to our Father in Heaven. Paul reveals the instruction that it is the will of God, who is also a perfect being, that we give thanks for everything. If perfect beings are appreciative of gratitude, then how much more important is it that we express our gratitude to our fellow beings?

I can’t remember the last time I’ve prayed or have heard a prayer that didn’t involve thanking our Heavenly Father for the blessings we have in our lives. I can however remember failing to thank someone for an act of kindness, a well-prepared lesson, or service in a calling that impacted me or my family. The irony of those two facts is that our Heavenly Father is all knowing and perceives the level of our gratitude without us having to verbalize it, but yet we nearly always do verbalize it. Those around us who render service in the church have no idea of our gratitude towards them unless we express it which I believe is done much less frequently.

We are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. It is a volunteer organization and millions of members render hours of service to keep our wards and stakes functioning. We give of our time and our talents to serve the members in our wards and stakes with no expectation of financial recompense or material gain. We know that we grow spiritually by serving in our callings and by being served by those around us. The only currency with which we can be rewarded is that of gratitude. Our teachers and advisors should know that we are thankful for the lessons that they prepare. Our auxiliary presidencies should know that we recognize the preparation that has been put into the leading of their organizations. Our bishopric should know that we appreciate the time they spend away from their families and the prayers that they render on our behalf. Our Aaronic priesthood should know that we are grateful for the quiet reverence with which they prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament.

A few months ago my oldest son received a card from a member in the ward. This member took the time to express her gratitude to Cameron for the dignity he showed while passing the sacrament. It turns out that her young toddler son was watching him that day and mimicking his movements and his folded hands as he reverently waited for the sacrament tray to be returned to him. She was grateful that good examples were being set for her son to follow as he grows to become a deacon and holder of the Priesthood. My son felt the significance of his calling that I don’t believe he had recognized up until that moment. I felt extremely grateful that someone would take the time to touch the life of a 13 year old boy in a way that I don’t think I ever could have.

President Monson goes on to say, “A grateful heart, then, comes through expressing gratitude to our Heavenly Father for his blessings and to those around us for all that they bring into our lives. This requires conscious effort- at least until we have truly learned and cultivated an attitude of gratitude. Often we feel grateful and intent to express our thanks but forget to do so or just don’t get around to it. Someone has said that “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

President Joseph F. Smith has instructed us that “the spirit of gratitude is always pleasant and satisfying because it carries with it a sense of helpfulness to others; it begets love and friendship, and engenders divine influence. Gratitude is said to be the memory of the heart” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 262).

I’d like to share a story that shows what strength gratitude can inspire. In the aftermath of WW II, the Soviet Union made a bold move. They blocked the Western Allies railway and road access to West Berlin. This action was taken so that they themselves could take practical control of the entire capitol and not just the eastern portion. In response, the Western Allies organized the Berlin Airlift to carry supplies to Berlin. They flew over 200,000 flights in one year, providing up to 4700 tons of daily necessities such as fuel and food to the Berliners. But one man stood out in this experience; Colonel Gail Halvorsen. Colonel Halvorsen was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and was a pilot of a supply plane during the Berlin Airlift.

On one stop in Berlin while delivering flour, he noticed a group of children at the end of the runway. He said, “They came right up to the barbed wire and spoke to me in English. These kids were giving me a lecture, telling me, "Don't give up on us. If we lose our freedom, we'll never get it back." American-style freedom was their dream. Hitler's past and Stalin's future was their nightmare. I just flipped. Got so interested, I forgot what time it was. I looked at my watch and said, "Holy cow, I gotta go! Goodbye. Don't worry." I took three steps. Then I realized—these kids had me stopped dead in my tracks for over an hour and not one of 30 had put out their hand. They were so grateful for the flour, and to be free, that they wouldn't be beggars for something extravagant. This was stronger than overt gratitude—this was silent gratitude. How can I reward these kids?”

Because of the gratitude that Colonel Halvorsen had for the blessings in his life and because of the gratitude that these children had shown, he vowed to return the next day with a treat for them. Because there were planes landing every 90 seconds the children didn’t know how they would recognize him. He told them that he would wiggle his wings. He went back to base that night and his fellow flight crews donated their candy rations of Hershey, Mounds, Baby Ruth, and Wrigley’s Gum for the cause. They tied the candy to 3 handkerchiefs to act as parachutes. He goes on to say,“The next day, I came in over the field, and there were those kids in that open space. I wiggled the wings, and they just blew up—I can still see their arms. The crew chief threw the rolled-up parachutes out the flare chute behind the pilot seat. Couldn't see what happened, of course. It took about 20 minutes to unload the flour, and I worried all the time where the candy went. As we taxied out to takeoff, there were the kids, lined up on the barbed-wire fence, three handkerchiefs waving through, their mouths going up and down like crazy. Three weeks we did it—three parachutes each time. The crowd got big.”

Colonel Halvorsen became know as Uncle Wiggle Wings to the Germans. Because of his actions, inspired by the gratitude of those children, he had a huge impact on boosting the morale of a war torn country. His operation was officially endorsed by the US Air Force and took on the name Operation Little Vittles. The effort was soon noticed by the press and gained widespread attention. A wave of public support led to donations which enabled Halvorsen and his crew to drop 850 pounds of candy. By the end of the airlift, around 25 plane crews had dropped 23 tons of chocolate, chewing gum, and other candies over various places in Berlin. In 1974 he was decorated with the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, one of Germany's highest Medals.

Gratitude is often the only paycheck we can expect for the service we render. If Heavenly Father expects us to give thanks, and Jesus isn’t above showing gratitude or expecting gratitude then we cannot assume that we don’t need to be grateful to those around us who serve us and our families. We are also not out of line to believe that our efforts should be recognized and appreciated by those to whom we render service.

I don’t suggest that that recognition should come in the form of public praise or global announcements over the pulpit, for in that we would have the wrong reward. Instead it should come in a quiet, private, heartfelt demonstration of thanksgiving that represents an awareness of the service and the impact it has had.

Sister Bonnie Parkin, a former Primary General President profoundly stated, “Gratitude is a Spirit-filled principle. It opens our minds to a universe permeated with the richness of a living God. Through it, we become spiritually aware of the wonder of the smallest things, which gladden our hearts with their messages of God’s love. This grateful awareness heightens our sensitivity to divine direction. When we communicate gratitude, we can be filled with the Spirit and connected to those around us and the Lord. Gratitude inspires happiness and carries divine influence.”

I pray that I can be more grateful in the blessings that I have received and of the relationships I have had the privilege to experience. Although I feel I am generally a grateful person, I do feel that I must repent for times I have let opportunities to express that gratitude escape me. I pray that as members of the church we can be more diligent in expressing gratitude to those around us who sacrifice so much to serve. In so doing we deliver a paycheck which is far more valuable than financial currency. It is a currency that enriches us for the eternities.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen

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