Its that time of year again. The one where we gather round a big long table, link hands and pause for a moment over the mountain of food we’re about to inhale. We take a few minutes to talk about what each of us is most thankful for. Family. Friends. Good health. And then, of course, the food.
This is America after all.
But sometimes, even in this feel-good season, with the food and the family and the friends, we don’t feel good. Sometimes we feel forgotten and forsaken. We can feel as though our entire world is tumbling to the ground and God’s can’t be bothered to do a thing about it. Not a dang thing! When we get down in the dumps, buried beneath our individual trials, troubles and circumstances, what do we do?
It all began when I was a not-so-young and still incredibly inexperienced missionary. Everything was going wrong. I felt like we were doing everything we could. Talking to all of the people. Knocking all of the doors. Asking for all of the referrals. And still we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. I was exhausted. I was impatient. And the one good thing that happened all day was when we got the mail. One handwritten letter for each of us. Success! My companion picked up a letter from her mother. And handed me a bill.
To be honest, we’d been having quite a bit of those. Everyday seemed like another opportunity to be sideswiped by tragedy.
And then at night I’d get on my knees to pray. And my mind would race and I would think over all of the things that I’d done that day and all of the things I could have done better. And all of the things that were going wrong. And all of the things I couldn’t seem to settle in my mind. And I’d ask God to please just give me something. And for all of my efforts, I felt like I was getting a busy signal.
So, one morning, I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t going to keep on like this anymore. I asked God and went to the words of our living prophets. And there I stumbled across President Uchtdorf’s talk, “Grateful in Any Circumstances“. I inhaled it. I needed more. Next “The Divine Gift of Gratitude“. Then “Forget Me Not“. And as I was studying, my mind caught hold on an experience that I’d had a few months earlier.
<< Flashback. It was Valentine’s Day. And I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I was creeping up on 24. By my age my mother was married with a kid. Now I know what you’re thinking. “That was a different time. They did things different back then.” Not so. I have loads of friends working on kid number two and three by now. And there I was. Barely six months into a mission. With no end in sight. Single as I’d ever been. And single as I’ll ever be … Hopefully.
And to make it worse, I wasn’t even supposed to be thinking about it. I was a missionary for crying out loud! We’re supposed to always be happy, and focused, and not the least bit concerned about dating. Even on Valentine’s Day.
So I did the only thing I could. I knelt down and said a prayer. I said, “I know this is stupid. I know I’m not supposed to care. But I do.” And I asked him to give me something. Anything to make me feel just the teeniest bit better about my current circumstance. Then I opened to Mormon 9. A couple columns in, I read this:
“And then cometh the time that he that is filthy shall be filthy still; and he that is righteous shall be righteous still; he that is happy shall be happy still; and he that is unhappy shall be unhappy still” (Mormon 9:14).
<< Flashback within a flashback. It was high school. Sophomore year. I was visiting the Randall home, like I often did in those days. And I found myself alone in the living room with Brother Randall. He was asking me about my plans for the future. What I wanted to do with my life. I told him everything. All my hopes. All my dreams. All of the things. And then, in conclusion, I said, “I’ll be happy when I get to college.”
Up until that point, he’d been pretty silent, nodding appropriately here and there. But when I said that, his face fell, “You’re wishing your life away.”
I looked at him. Speechless. (Which, if you know me at all, is pretty rare.)
He clarified, “If you can’t be happy now, what in the world makes you think you’ll be happy in college?”
That’s always stuck with me.
>> >> Back to the problem at hand.
I realized that I’d been focusing entirely too much on what I felt I lacked. Like Christ’s apostles, when he fed the four thousand (Matthew 15:33), I questioned, how can we fill so much need? And like those disciples, I too was gently rebuked, as He prayed, giving thanks for the loaves and fishes they did have. He showed us that what you focus on grows (Matthew 15:36-37).
When you focus on wants.
When you focus on disparities.
When you focus on challenges or trials or inequalities. They go from bumps in the road to insurmountable mountains.
Need I say more?
People assume that happiness is an absence of trial. That once your problems go away, you can really get a hold on it. That it comes from having what you want. That if you’ve got all of the things you can finally be happy. But in reality, happiness is a whole lot simpler. And a whole lot easier to get your hands on. Happiness isn’t a matter of circumstance. It’s a matter of choice. It’s a matter of choosing not to look at a perceived lack, but rather to see the abundant blessings God has already given you.
President Uchtdorf taught,
“The happiest people I know are not those who find their golden ticket; they are those who, while in pursuit of worthy goals, discover and treasure the beauty and sweetness of the everyday moments.”
And isn’t that what this blog is all about? Opening your eyes and looking for the good all around you. Taking in the good each day and letting yourself be happy. Because, really, why limit yourself? There is so much in this world to be thankful for. Family. Friends. That Thanksgiving feast waiting to be devoured. So this year, before you dig in, remember to pause and see the good. Remember that you’ve got a loving Heavenly Father who’s got your back. He’s got a plan for your life. And He’s put a world full of tender mercies at your feet if only you’ll open up your eyes and look at them.