Gratitude As a Saving Principle
December 1996

“Gratitude As a Saving Principle,” Ensign, Dec. 1996, 2

First Presidency Message

Gratitude As a Saving Principle

I desire to discuss gratitude as an expression of faith and as a saving principle. The Lord has said, “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments” (D&C 59:21). It is clear to me from this scripture that to “thank the Lord thy God in all things” (D&C 59:7) is more than a social courtesy; it is a binding commandment.

One of the advantages of having lived a long time is that you can often remember when you had it worse. I am grateful to have lived long enough to have known some of the blessings of adversity. My memory goes back to the Great Depression, when we had certain values burned into our souls. One of these values was gratitude for what we had because we had so little. We had to learn provident living in order to survive. Rather than create in us a spirit of envy or anger for what we did not have, it developed in many a spirit of gratitude for the meager, simple things with which we were blessed, like hot homemade bread and oatmeal cereal and many other things.

As another example, I remember my beloved grandmother, Mary Caroline Roper Finlinson, making homemade soap on the farm. Her recipe for homemade soap included rendered animal fat and wood ashes. The soap had a very pungent aroma and was almost as hard as a brick. There was no money to buy soft, sweet-smelling soap. On the farm there were many dusty, sweat-laden clothes to be washed and many bodies that desperately needed a Saturday night bath. If you had to bathe with that homemade soap, you could become wonderfully clean, but you smelled worse after bathing than before. Since I use soap more now than I did as a child, I have developed a daily appreciation for mild, sweet-scented soap.

One of the evils of our time is taking for granted so many of the things we enjoy. This was spoken of by the Lord: “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?” (D&C 88:33). The Apostle Paul described our day to Timothy when he wrote that in the last days “men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy” (2 Tim. 3:2). These sins are fellow travelers, and ingratitude makes one susceptible to all of them.

The story of the thankful Samaritan has great meaning. As the Savior went through Samaria and Galilee, “he entered into a certain village, [and] there met him ten men that were lepers” who “lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus told them to go show themselves unto the priest.

“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 … 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).

Leprosy was so loathsome a disease that those afflicted were not permitted under the law to come close to Jesus. Those suffering from this terrible disease were required to agonize together, sharing their common misery. (See Lev. 13:45–46.) Their forlorn cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” must have touched the Savior’s heart. When they were healed and had received priestly approval that they were clean and acceptable in society, they must have been overcome with joy and amazement. Having received so great a miracle, they seemed completely satisfied. But they forgot their benefactor. It is difficult to understand why they were so lacking in gratitude. Such ingratitude is self-centered. It is a form of pride. What is the significance of the fact that the one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan? As in the story of the good Samaritan, the point seems to be that those of lesser social or economic status often rise to a greater duty and nobility.

In addition to personal gratitude as a saving principle, I should like to express a feeling for the gratitude we ought to have for the many blessings we enjoy.

Those of you who have joined the Church in this generation have acquired fellowship with a people, many of whom have a heritage of great suffering and sacrifice. Such sacrifice becomes your heritage also, for it is the inheritance of a people who have faults and imperfections but also a great nobility of purpose. That purpose is to help all mankind come to a sweet, peaceful understanding about who they are and to foster a love for their fellowmen and a determination to keep the commandments of God. This is the gospel’s holy call. It is the essence of our worship.

Without question, we need to be informed of the happenings in the world. But modern communication brings into our homes a drowning cascade of the violence and misery of the worldwide human race. There comes a time when we need to find some peaceful spiritual renewal.

I acknowledge with great gratitude the peace and contentment we can find for ourselves in the spiritual cocoons of our homes, our sacrament meetings, and our holy temples. In these peaceful environments, our souls are rested. We have the feeling of having come home.

Some time ago, I was in the kingdom of Tonga. A family home evening, with music and spoken word, was arranged by Nuku‘alofa Tonga South Stake president Penisimani Muti in the stake center. The home evening was in honor of His Majesty King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV, the reigning monarch of Tonga. The king, his daughters, and granddaughters graciously attended, as did many of the nobles and diplomatic representatives in Tonga. Our members put on a superb program of song and verse. One of the king’s granddaughters sang a little solo entitled “How Much I Love My Grandfather.” Elder John Sonnenberg of the Seventy and I were invited to respond briefly, which we were pleased to do.

After the program was over, the king ignored the usual royal protocol and came over to graciously greet us and our wives as an expression of appreciation for the performance of his subjects who are members of the Church. Social protocol is observed in many places, but the expression of kindness is universally appropriate.

It seems as though there is a tug-of-war between opposing character traits that leaves no voids in our souls. As gratitude is absent or disappears, rebellion often enters and fills the vacuum. I do not speak of rebellion against civil oppression. I refer to rebellion against moral cleanliness, beauty, decency, honesty, reverence, and respect for parental authority. A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being.

But there is a truism associated with all types of human strength: “Use it or lose it.” When not used, muscles weaken, skills deteriorate, and faith disappears. President Thomas S. Monson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time, stated: “Think to thank. In these three words is the finest capsule course for a happy marriage, a formula for enduring friendship, and a pattern for personal happiness” (Pathways to Perfection [1973], 254). Said the Lord, “And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more” (D&C 78:19).

I am grateful for people on the earth who love and appreciate little children. A few years ago I found myself late at night on an airplane bulging with passengers going north from Mexico City to Culiacán. The seats in the plane were close together, and every seat was taken, mostly with the gracious people of Mexico. Everywhere inside the plane there were packages and carry-on luggage of all sizes. A young woman came down the aisle with four small children, the oldest of whom appeared to be about four and the youngest a newborn. She was also trying to manage a diaper bag and a stroller and some bags. The children were tired, crying, and fussing. As she found her seat in the airplane, the passengers around her, both men and women, literally sprang to her aid. Soon the children were being lovingly and tenderly comforted and cared for by the other passengers. They were passed from one passenger to another all over the airplane. The result was an airplane full of baby-sitters. The children settled down in the caring arms of those who cradled them and before long went to sleep. Most remarkable was that a few men who were obviously fathers and grandfathers tenderly cradled and caressed the newborn child. The mother was freed from the care of her children most of the flight. The only thing I felt bad about was that no one passed the baby to me! I relearned that appreciation for and thoughtfulness and kindness toward little children are an expression of the Savior’s love for them.

How can we pay our debt of gratitude for the heritage of faith demonstrated by pioneers in many lands across the earth who struggled and sacrificed so that the gospel might take root? How is thankfulness expressed for the intrepid handcart pioneers who, by their own brute strength, pulled their meager belongings in handcarts across the scorching plains and through the snows of high mountain passes to escape persecution and find peaceful worship in Utah’s valleys? How can the debt of gratitude possibly be paid by the descendants of the handcart companies for the faith of their forebears?

One of these intrepid souls was Emma Batchelor, a young English girl traveling without family. She started out with the Willie Handcart Company, but by the time they reached Fort Laramie, they were ordered to lighten their loads. Emma was directed to leave the copper kettle in which she carried her belongings. She refused to do this and set it by the side of the road and sat down on it, knowing that the Martin Company was only a few days behind. When the Martin Company caught up, she joined the Paul Gourley family. A young son wrote many years later: “Here we were joined by Sister Emma Batchelor. We were glad to have her because she was young and strong and meant more flour for our mess.” At this time, Sister Gourley gave birth to a child, and Emma acted as the midwife and for two days loaded the mother and the child into the cart, which Emma helped pull.

Those who died traveling with the Martin Company were mercifully relieved of suffering from frozen feet, ears, noses, or fingers, which maimed others for the rest of their lives. Emma, age 21, however, was a fortunate one—she came through the ordeal whole.

When a year later she met President Brigham Young, who was surprised that she was not maimed, she told him: “Brother Brigham I had no one to care for me or to look out for me, so I decided I must look out for myself. I was the one who called out when Brother Savage warned us [not to go]. I was at fault in that, but I tried to make up for it. I pulled my full share at the cart every day. When we came to a stream, I stopped and took off my shoes and stockings and outer skirt and put them on top of the cart. Then, after I got the cart across, I came back and carried little Paul over on my back. Then I sat down and scrubbed my feet hard with my woollen neckerchief and put on dry shoes and stockings.”

The descendants of these pioneers can partially settle the account by being true to the cause for which their ancestors suffered so much to be part of.

As with all commandments, gratitude is a description of a successful mode of living. The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us. President J. Reuben Clark, formerly a First Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “Hold fast to the blessings which God has provided for you. Yours is not the task to gain them, they are here; yours is the part of cherishing them” (Church News, 14 June 1969, 2). At this Christmas season, I hope that we may cultivate grateful hearts so that we may cherish the multitude of blessings that God has so graciously bestowed. May we openly express such gratitude to our Father in Heaven and our fellowmen.

Ideas for Home Teachers

Some Points of Emphasis

You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussions:

  1. One of the evils of our time is taking for granted so many of the things we enjoy.

  2. Ingratitude is self-centeredness and is a form of pride.

  3. A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness, an expression of humility, a foundation upon which are built such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, and love.

  4. Gratitude is a description of a successful mode of living and opens our eyes to the multitude of blessings that continually surround us.

Discussion Helps

  1. Relate your feelings about the power of gratitude.

  2. Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?

  3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the bishop or quorum leader?

Left: The Healing of the Leper, by Harold Copping; used by permission of the Providence Lithograph Company

Right: The Leper Who Said “Thank You,” by John Steel; used by permission of the Providence Lithograph Company

Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett