“‘And It Will Surprise You’: Some Thoughts on Counting Our Blessings,” Ensign, Feb. 1982, 59
When our children were young, they had a first-grade teacher who understood one of the distinct benefits of counting. She explained that when she shopped for clothes to wear to school, she always looked for dresses with buttons—down the front, on the sleeves, the pockets—and the more buttons the better. Then, when it was time to settle her class down each morning, she would ask the children to count the buttons on her dress while she called the roll.
Counting blessings doesn’t have much in common with counting buttons, but it does have the same function of requiring our focus. While we count, we concentrate our attention upon the encouraging, the positive, the happy. It gets our mind away from loneliness or pain.
We dined with friends recently, and among the guests was a man from a country in deep turmoil. While contrasting conditions in his homeland with those elsewhere, this good brother commented, “It is not likely to change, or even get better, but we have our family and the gospel and it is enough. We can be content with that.”
This brother could easily despair—many have. But he has given preference to the positive and, as he says, it is enough.
When my husband was in high school during the depression years, money was scarce. One day a man who was a boxer moved in next door to their home. Immediately my husband had visions of prize fights and money that would be the answer to his needs. He had had a few gym class bouts and he was big for his age, so he felt quite adequate to meet his newly imagined goals.
His first step was to go next door to become acquainted with the man, hoping to get a few pointers on boxing. The fighter was willing, so they put on the gloves. The man did warn him when he said, “Now, kid, I’m used to hitting hard, and when I swing I’m not thinking about how much it might hurt.”
They started, and probably about the second blow the boxer knocked my husband nearly unconscious.
As he struggled to his feet to try again, the boxer removed his gloves. To the boyish protest he merely shook his head and said, “It’s no use. You couldn’t become a boxer even if you learned to hook and jab. Your reflexes are too slow.”
Dejected, my husband went home to his mother’s room, where she lay ill and bedfast, to complain at the cosmic injustice of some people having faster reflexes than others. His mother had patience for very little of his complaining. “Bobby,” she said, “what you have is enough. Your gifts and talents are sufficient for you.” Although she was to live only a short while after that incident, those words have remained with him as a continuing source of confidence and challenge. What you have is enough if you recognize it and use it.
Whatever our problems, growing right along with them are many blessings—wheat among the tares, if you will. Wheat is both health-building and seed-giving; if we can learn to reap it we can have bread to nourish and sustain, and seed to plant and grow again.
The Relief Society has a great story of wheat. It, too, involves discounting difficulties. Brigham Young gave the sisters a call to save grain against the day of need, and history reveals that when they had no money to buy wheat the women went into the fields and gleaned it. Even the children helped. Sometimes they would follow the threshing machine with a team and wagon to gather in the wheat.
They saved their “Sunday eggs” and bartered or sold them in exchange for wheat. They made quilts, rag rugs, cheese, and other items that they traded or sold for wheat. Eventually, hundreds of thousands of bushels of grain were gleaned in aprons and bought with dimes and nickels of the faithful sisters.
This wheat was used to feed the hungry in San Francisco after the great earthquake, and in China during a time of famine. Two hundred thousand bushels were used to meet the United States food emergency caused by World War I. It was loaned to farmers for seed when crops failed. The interest on the wheat was used to provide for maternity and child care and general health care. You will note on the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City golden sheaves of wheat which symbolize among other things the work of these sisters who scorned difficulties and counted it a blessing to respond to a prophet’s call.
We all, at times, succumb to the tendency to discount what we have or fail to realize the value in what we have because of focusing so much on what we want. We lament, “I don’t have a thing to wear,” when we really have clothes in the closet; but somehow they don’t count. Or “I wish I had a friend,” when actually there are many who could be friends if we would realize it.
It takes maturity and sometimes perspective to be able to place the proper value on gifts and blessings—know what counts. I think of a girl who did not appreciate until later the price of a beautiful gift. In a college freshman English class she was required to write of her home town in an in-class theme. After a few moments of struggling with her thoughts, she finally went to the professor and told him that she was from Paragonah and that maybe he didn’t realize it but nothing ever happened in her small hometown. He said simply, “You go back and think.” She did, and at length wrote this account:
“My father had died and my mother was trying to continue on our farm alone. It wasn’t easy and we didn’t have much money. We were, in fact, poor. I did not realize how poor until I went to junior high school in the next town. I was the only girl who wore the same dress every day. It was hard for me to make friends in a new school, but one day a girl came over to me and said, ‘I’m going to have a party—a party with boys—and you’re invited.’ I had waited a long time to be included and was now filled with excitement and anticipation.
“When I got home from school that day I ran in to where my mother was making bread and told her about the party, then added, ‘and I have to have a new dress.’ My mother started to reply, ‘But, darling. …’ I knew she would say that we had no money, but I didn’t stay to hear her. I just ran to the haystack, where I could be alone, and I hoped. In the days that followed we didn’t talk about it, and on the night of the party I was ready for the dress. My mother was ready too.
“My mother had no money, but she had one nice dress—an oldish black silk. It was all she had. During the past several days while I was at school she had been making a dress for me from her black silk. And on that night she bore it hopefully, even excitedly, into my room where I was waiting. When I saw it so different from my hopes, I wept the tears of a thirteen-year-old, and I cried, ‘Oh mother! A made-over dress for a party with boys?’”
Only now, at eighteen and away from home, could she appreciate fully the love her mother had offered in giving all she had.
There are others who have overcome difficulties to find value in the things that count most in their lives, such as the single person who has learned to live abundantly in spite of loss or longing.
Aunt May is a widow. She has never been able to bear children of her own. Her “family,” her “children,” are nieces and nephews whom she has helped and encouraged and loved. One niece recently scheduled her wedding day especially when Aunt May could be there. The home of this aunt is a primary stop in the goings and comings of her “children.” Their babies are blessed events for her. She makes a significant contribution in her work, but she has been able to create other significance for her life as well.
The Lord’s blessings are sometimes not immediately obvious. Teaching at a private school on Long Island in New York was one of the delightful experiences of our graduate school days. My husband was attending school, and since we had not yet been blessed with children, I was teaching. Well-to-do people sent their children to private schools such as this to increase their chances for admission to ivy-league colleges. They were lovely children, but it was easy to see that we had more joy in our small sixth-floor, walk-up apartment in a run-down section of Manhattan than they with all their wealth. Money is no match for the gifts of the gospel.
We need to count our blessings because it causes us to look more closely and not miss those quiet blessings beyond price. “It will surprise you,” as the hymn says.
Even in our Church programs the blessings are sometimes not obvious. A meeting time that is cut from an hour and a half to fifty minutes doesn’t appear to be a blessing, until you think of the implications.
In Relief Society, for example, this new schedule can help us achieve greater potential for affecting lives. Instead of depending upon a teacher to present a lesson, each sister must take the initiative. She may need to study the material during the week—not just read it but study it—and teach it to someone or record it in her journal. She may even try to live it so that she actually knows what that lesson can mean in her life. Then in a thirty-five-minute Relief Society class, the teacher can present the lesson briefly and the sisters can discuss the implications of it in their lives.
We feel that this kind of learning takes us a giant step beyond where we were. It is a major move toward strengthening individuals and families.
It does “surprise you what the Lord can do” when you see how many things work together for our good. But the ultimate in counting blessings is to learn to count on the Lord.
When we can have this kind of faith, then the promises become blessings. We are a people with promises. The Lord often tests us, but his word is true. Lehi and his family might have wondered, when their boat was being tossed about, how they were going to make it to shore safely. But they must have continued in faith, because they did arrive at the promised land.
The Lord pledges that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord. (See Rom. 8:28.) It’s a powerful statement. The promise is all things—and the single qualification is that we love the Lord. If we do, the Lord can make all things work together for our good and become blessings. In light of these truths, we all have reason to be happy and optimistic.
People have made fun of a fictional character named Pollyanna, a young girl with an indomitable determination to be happy. Once, when she was bedfast, she requested her family to hang glass prisms in her window so that the sunlight would be refracted into patches of brilliant color. She was happy in her room full of rainbows—happy because she determined to be. She enjoyed the full spectrum of light.
In light of the revealed truth that is ours, we should have much more resolve than Pollyanna to be happy. In the Lord’s love for us, and in ours for him, we realize blessings beyond the counting. They are given to us in “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.” (Luke 6:38.) To this I bear witness and give humble thanks to a loving Father, who has promised us all things for our good.
After reading “And It Will Surprise You” individually or as a family, you may wish to discuss some of the following questions during a gospel study period:
1. Why should we take time to count our blessings?
2. The author tells Aunt May’s story. In what ways is this widow’s life a blessing, both to herself and others?
3. What are some of your own “quiet blessings beyond price”?
4. How can we learn to count on the Lord by counting our blessings?
5. The author states that “Money is no match for the gifts of the gospel.” Can money ever be a blessing, a complement to the gospel? In what ways, and under what conditions?