I got a new job just before Thanksgiving. This employment was an answer to many moons of prayer, fasting, work, and heartache, and we are so incredibly grateful to Heavenly Father for the blessing. The job is downtown whereas I live in a suburb, so I have about a 35-45 minute drive with light traffic—the perfect environment for deep thinking and not just a little prayer.
I’ve been pondering and studying about gratitude for a long time now—months. It started with President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk from the April 2014 General Conference, titled “Grateful in Any Circumstances.” In it, he explains:
“True gratitude is an expression of hope and testimony. It comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life but trusting that one day we will.”
He talks about gratitude being a state of mind, a way of being, instead of just something we do when we receive blessings. In my family, we have been trying to foster this attitude through a daily gratitude journal and through trying to find the good in our days, even when they are challenging. More than once, statements such as, “I only threw up for a half an hour last night instead of the whole night,” were listed as things we were grateful for.
One of those moments for gratitude in trials came this month:
“I am grateful that the car didn’t actually light on fire and that it broke down on the off-ramp and not in the middle of the freeway.”
Yes, my car gave up the ghost (and all of its oil) on the way home from work. Our dire financial circumstances not having changed much (I hadn’t yet received a paycheck at the time of the breakdown and many, many bills were due), we were down to one vehicle—our lumbering hulk of a van, plagued with its own reliability (and gas-guzzling!) issues. My husband and children had to walk to and from school/work (about a mile each way), and they were then stuck at home with no way to Cub Scouts, Scouts, Mutual, or any other activities after I left for the night. The long commute meant more wear and tear on a vehicle that needs to not be worn nor torn upon, and half of my check eaten up in gasoline expenses. We needed a vehicle, and essentially had no way to purchase much of one, but were saving and finding money where we could toward that end.
Our good friends texted us and asked us to come over before I left for work, they had a Christmas present for us. My husband and I went over, hoping that they weren’t going to go overboard and give us money or something. (Yeah, I know. Pride.)
Imagine the shock and awe when our friend walked us to his garage and handed my husband a folder full of documents and a set of keys. He started talking about the title, registration, the tires are good, the oil just got changed, etc., as I tried to understand exactly what he was saying. When it sank in, the tears started—and didn’t stop until after I had driven this Christmas present to work and had some time at my desk to compose myself.
The whole way to work, I was thinking:
There is no way to thank our friends sufficiently for what they have done for us. We are “in the red”—so in debt to them for this gift, and there is no way we could ever repay them. Perhaps someday we will be in financial circumstances to be able to pay back the monetary value of the gift, but the emotional value, the rescue—there is no way to place a price on that. It was overwhelming to think of. It IS overwhelming to think of. Just writing this brings the tears back to my eyes.
As grateful as I was, and am, I also felt uncomfortable being in a position where we couldn’t “balance the books.” It is such a huge thing—this isn’t a couple hours of babysitting that we can pay back with a dinner or some brownies. It’s a blow to pride, if one is a prideful person, to be helped in such a substantial way.
All the same, my love for my friends grew. I feel their love for me. I feel more fully the love of my Heavenly Father, in providing these wonderful friends and their amazing selflessness.
I began to see parallels.
Didn’t my Heavenly Father provide another Friend to rescue me in such a deep and meaningful way that I could never, ever settle that account?
Jesus Christ, my Savior, gave a gift I can never repay. I am forever “in the red,” indebted to Him, with no way to even put a price on what He has done. How often have I felt completely incapable to even begin to make it up to Him? That’s because I absolutely am incapable of repaying that debt.
Like my friends, He doesn’t want me to “make it up”—He did it for love. He did it with no desire for honor, or glory, or reward.
“In the Red” has new meaning when I realize that I am truly saved in the red—the red blood that flowed from the pores of my Savior’s body as he agonized for me, and later as He died to pay the physical cost of the sins of all creation. We are all in the red.
I am reminded of King Benjamin’s sermon to his people in Mosiah 2:
20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—
21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.
23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?
25 And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.
There is no way to “settle the books” with our God. We are all “in the red.”
Back to President Uchtdorf’s talk about gratitude:
In any circumstance, our sense of gratitude is nourished by the many and sacred truths we do know: that our Father has given His children the great plan of happiness; that through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, we can live forever with our loved ones; that in the end, we will have glorious, perfect, and immortal bodies, unburdened by sickness or disability; and that our tears of sadness and loss will be replaced with an abundance of happiness and joy, “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.”
How blessed we are if we recognize God’s handiwork in the marvelous tapestry of life. Gratitude to our Father in Heaven broadens our perception and clears our vision. It inspires humility and fosters empathy toward our fellowmen and all of God’s creation. Gratitude is a catalyst to all Christlike attributes! A thankful heart is the parent of all virtues.
I think gratitude inspires humility exactly because we can’t repay—we can’t settle up. We have to acknowledge that this thing that has been done, whether it is someone meeting a physical need, or the ultimate gift of the Atonement, is something that cannot be repaid. The gift of our lives, our bodies, our families, our Earth with all its beauty, this great plan of happiness that we have been given—all of these things are beyond anything we can repay. That gratitude should underscore everything we do, everything we are! Understanding how powerless we are to ever repay is exactly what links our gratitude with our humility.
We are all, forever, in the red. That’s exactly how it was designed to be. To the extent that we remember that, we can turn our lives over to our Heavenly Father and with gratitude and humility in our hearts, take full advantage of our Savior’s Atonement and the plan of happiness.