Sunday, November 23, 2014

Talk on Prayer and Gratitude

This is the talk (sermon) I gave today in the Potomac Midsingles Ward. 

The Prophet Joseph Smith once said that one of the greatest sins of which the Latter-day Saints would be guilty is the sin of ingratitude.” I presume most of us have not thought of that as a great sin.

While a member of the Presiding Bishopric, then Bishop Henry Eyring said, “Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation and thankfulness for blessings or benefits we have received. As we cultivate a grateful attitude, we are more likely to be happy and spiritually strong. We should regularly express our gratitude to God for the blessings He gives us and to others for the kind acts they do for us.
“To find gratitude and generosity when you could reasonably find hurt and resentment will surprise you. It will be so surprising because you will see so much of the opposite: people who have much more than others yet who react with anger when one advantage is lost or with resentment when an added gift is denied.
“Whatever we get soon seems our natural right, not a gift. And we forget the giver. Then our gaze shifts from what we have been given to what we don’t have yet.”
In the book, “All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience” by Elder Neal A Maxwell, he states-
There is little doubt… that a goodly portion of our pride proceeds from some assumptions we make about ourselves and our lives- assumptions that are at first soothing but very wrong. We think, for instance, that we “own” ourselves. It is perfectly true that our individual identity is guaranteed, that we are agents for ourselves, and so forth- but this truth, when it is torn away from other realities, gives us a very lopsided view of things. Without the ransoming atonement of the Savior, we would be stranded souls, doomed to die with no hope of the resurrection of or individual immortality. We were literally purchased by Jesus. Quite true, we do not yet have to acknowledge that reality, though someday we will. Nor are we now even forced to follow the conditions that the Purchaser laid down. So in a sense, we are quite free to do as we please, just as if we were our own. But it is a terrible illusion, an illusion that will be shattered by His second coming and the judgment. Meanwhile, the illusion is kept alive because some want to believe it. CLOSE QUOTE
We have a natural resistance to feeling owned. To not want to give the Lord credit for our personal accomplishments. We want to believe that we are responsible for all that we have. We want the credit for our talents, time, and possessions.
“This illusion underwrites the false assumptions that we make about our time, our talents, and our possessions that each of us sees as “mine.” We may even feel noble when we give of our time and means, and we are apt to be somewhat grumpy if anyone, especially a prophet, reminds us that all that we have belongs to God anyway.”
And are we thankful? Do we properly express our gratitude for all that the Lord has given us?
We must give credit to the Lord through our obedience, and by thanking Him through prayer. The Lord does not ask us for monuments or gifts. He only asks us to pray and obey.
When you pray, do you picture a heavenly, mysterious being in a far off place? Or do you picture the person who has given you all that you have, sitting in the room beside, always with you, as He has promised to do? Do you picture the Father who’s name just a few minutes ago you covenanted to take upon you?
When I picture a loving Father, in the room beside me, who knows me better than I know myself, and I truly believe loves me, and wants me to be happy, I find it much easier to pray and share the true contents of my heart. And when I think of this loving Father in the room with me, there with His arms around me as I pray, as the person who has given me all that I have, it isn’t hard at all to thank Him and show my gratitude.
The greatest single piece of advice I was ever given came many years ago from a friend as I went through a difficult struggle. She challenged me to not kneel down and pray for help and guidance and for the long list of things I needed in my life. Instead, she challenged me to offer only a prayer of gratitude. I told her I didn’t have anything to be thankful for, things were too difficult. She said then to start with the simplest basics- to thank the Lord that I was alive, that I had shoes on my feet, clothes to wear, and that there was food in the cupboard. Her theory was that the more we focused on what we had to be grateful for, the smaller our problems would seem to be.
I have put her advice to the test many times in my life. During my darkest days after three years of unemployment, and discovering what ‘rock bottom’ really looks like, I would stop my prayers and pleas for help. And instead, I’d kneel down and pray a list of things I had to be grateful for. There were days the list was too short, but I could always find something.
President Monson said, “Our most significant opportunities will be found in times of greatest difficulty.”
Prayer and gratitude an intrinsically linked. You cannot truly express your gratitude without prayer.
In Mosiah chapter 4 we learn about prayer and repentance. In verses 11 and 12 it says that if we pray with a pure heart, “ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.”
When we pray, we are accompanied and filled with the Holy Ghost, who brings back memories of what God has taught and given us. One of the ways God teaches us is with his blessings. And so in a way, expressing our gratitude for our blessings, brings about more blessings.
President Monson expanded upon what the Prophet Joseph said. “If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.”
Elder Richard G. Scott said, “We live in a unique time in the world’s history. We are blessed with so very much. And yet it is sometimes difficult to view the problems and permissiveness around us and not become discouraged. I have found that, rather than dwelling on the negative, if we will take a step back and consider the blessings in our lives, including seemingly small, sometimes overlooked blessings, we can find greater happiness.”
I bear my testimony that I know these things are true. That obedience to the Lord's commandments, and showing our gratitude to Him will only lead to greater happiness. 
I have seen rock bottom. I know what it looks like, and I know how painful it can be. But I also know that in those darkest days, where nothing seems fair, or like it will ever end, that we can find happiness by focusing on those small and simple things that we can be grateful for. 
I know that sometimes dark days don't end. That there is no rainbow with a pot of gold at the end to congratulate you for making it through. The truth is that sometimes they don't end. Sometimes the challenges go on forever. But we can find happiness in those times by being grateful for what we do have. And one day you won't feel so dark. You find light and happiness amidst the troubles around you. I've been there. My dark days only ended a year ago. It's still very raw and painful in my mind. But I know that I only found my way out by focusing on what I did have to be grateful for. 
I know my Father in Heaven loves me. I know He wants us to be happy. I know that we do not go through dark days as a punishment. They are things that just have to happen. But we can find joy and we can go on if pray and show our gratitude. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book Review-- All the Finer Things by Stephanie Worlton

Dashing strangers, cute dogs, lovable babies, and horrid ex-husbands make up the basics of All the Finer Things by Stephanie Connelley Worlton.  What could have been a silly and predictable romance novel, is instead an enjoyable and thoughtful read.
All the Finer Things is the story of Megan, a young bride married to a wealthy surgeon. She has all the material possessions her heart could want and a darling baby boy. But as the story opens we discover that her abusive husband will stop at nothing short of breaking his spirited bride into a subservient trophy wife.
She endures one last beating at his hands, takes their baby, and leaves him. She drives away from the privileged life she knew and finds herself in a small ranching town miles from the big city. That’s where she meets Ammon, the rugged and handsome Scoutmaster next door. His lovable but troublesome dog does his best to make sure Meg and Ammon have plenty of chances to get to know each other better.
Worlton’s book could almost fall into the “sweet dog romance” genre, but thankfully (at least in my opinion) doesn’t. The “sweet dog romance” tends to be frilly fluff without much substance or adventure to the story. The story digs deeper and has too many interesting storylines to be shelved away under that simplistic category.
It’s not a straight-up romance novel, where you know from the very introduction of the characters who will fall in love, and who will get their come-uppance. In some respects it could be exactly that. But this is also the story of an abused woman who takes control of her life, and instead of expecting others to fix her problems, makes her own solutions. She works hard and does what it takes to take care of herself and her baby.
The almost predictable romance is harangued by the obvious and simple fact that Meg is married. She may be married to an abusive jerk, and deserving of the love and affection of a good man, but that doesn’t make her any less married. It’s not a predictable romance when the story features a good Mormon man and a married woman, but it’s still a satisfying romance.  
Stephanie Connelley Worlton lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains where she enjoys frequent opportunities to observe nature and feed her creative spirit. She has been blessed to be a stay at home mom to her four children, many of whom share her artistic tendencies.
All the Finer Things is available as an e-book and paperback from Amazon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reverence invites revelation

For about six months now I have been working weekly as a volunteer at the Washington, DC temple. Some nights are boring, some nights are fun, and some nights are traffic nightmares with beautiful endings. 
Our shifts technically begin at 7pm, but we have a 30 minute training each week that starts at 6:30. Typically we get updates on different issues, a short devotional, and maybe a short training video. A member of the temple presidency is usually present, and may or may not address us. (There are roughly 50 workers on my shift.) 
Just a few days ago the temple presidency was released and a new one put in place. The new temple president and matron are Pres and Sister Kent Colton. (I can't believe I just forgot Sis Colton's first name.) I've known Pres Colton for several years, as he used to be my stake president, and he knows my father and uncle. Pres and Sis Colton were also volunteers on my shift for several years before becoming called to be the president and matron. 
So it was extra special for us tonight to have him give a quick devotional. He's been an influence on my spiritual growth since I was 20 years old. And I continue to listen when he speaks and advises. 
Tonight he shared an interesting quote that really resonated with me. 
"Reverence invites revelation." 
I liked the quote so much that I went back to him to ask if those were his words or was he quoting someone else. (And to make sure I remembered it correctly.) He said he was quoting President Boyd K. Packer who said it in the new temple president training a few weeks ago. (So if anyone else is looking to quote it, attribute it to Pres Packer.) 
As temple workers it's important to remember to be reverent for the benefit of the patrons. But as an individual, the quote means so much more. How often do I pray for guidance, and then forget to be reverent and attentive to hear or witness the answer? 
Reverence is often confused with quiet. Quiet and reverence are not the same. Reverence is so much more than that. It's in the root of the word- revere. Reverence requires that we revere the Lord. Reverence includes profound respect and love. A reverent attitude toward God includes honoring Him, expressing gratitude, and obeying His commandments.
And I don't think you have to be quiet to do those things. In fact, I think singing may be the best way I personally can do most of those things!
But back to the quote- 
Reverence invites revelation. 
It's so simple, yet so easily forgotten. 

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