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A Christmas Filled with Gratitude, by Sara Walmer

I have a difficult time with Christmas. I love the reason for the season, but I hate the expectations that I never seem to meet. When my kids were young, it was magical. I had enough money and time to make it special. Now I struggle to meet my own expectations; gift giving, cookie making, card writing—all of it. I know others have difficulty as well. Some miss loved ones and the season just doesn’t feel the same. Others struggle so much financially that they wonder what could they possibly give. Many are lonely. As I was wondering how I can be grateful during Christmas, during a time that is difficult for me, I tried to focus on Christ. Could having gratitude really help me have a happier Christmas? Of course it can, but how? Here are three things that have helped me foster a feeling a gratitude, even when it's difficult.

1. Be Thankful

Last year, I was hit with a pretty bad injury to my back. I thought, "Why now when it’s almost Christmas? There is so much to do! I need to clean my house, wrap presents, the dogs need baths, we have projects going on in the yard and house..." But suddenly I could hardly do anything for myself. "Great, now how do I have gratitude? I’m angry and impatient. I want this to go away by tomorrow. Not a week from now or month from now. What if it never goes away?"

So, I began making a list to count my blessings. "Well, I am grateful for a partner that makes me feel comfortable. I am grateful for my job and the ability to work from home right now. I’m grateful for the priesthood and the blessing my husband gave me. I’m grateful for ice, heating pads, and ibuprofen." Ok, my list was going pretty well, but I wondered, is gratitude just a list of things I am thankful for?

In a talk called "Grateful in Any Circumstances", Elder Uchtdorf said:

“Perhaps focusing on what we are grateful for is the wrong approach... It is easy to be grateful for things when life seems to be going our way. But what then of those times when what we wish for seems to be far out of reach? Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? We sometimes think that being grateful is what we do after our problems are solved, but how terribly shortsighted that is. Being grateful in times of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances. It does mean that through the eyes of faith we look beyond our present-day challenges. This is not a gratitude of the lips but of the soul. It is a gratitude that heals the heart and expands the mind.”

Recently my husband, Jim, was talking about a trial we are facing and said he is thankful that the Lord finds him worthy of going through such a trial. Maybe that means that the Lord finds us worthy of teaching us something, that He has such mercy for us that He knows we won’t learn what we need to without this so he doesn’t take it from us. But He is there with us through it. This really helps me feel like I want to learn something from my trials and be grateful for them.

2. Follow Good Examples

There are some amazing examples of gratitude in the scriptures: Nephi, even when his brothers had him bound and his wrists and ankles were sore. Job, even when he lost everything. The pioneers, even during their trek across the plains. And Joseph Smith, even in Liberty Jail. As I read about these people, I wondered, how did they do that? Each one of them at one point expressed the fact that they weren’t happy about their situations, they wished it could be different. Why didn’t Nephi’s rebellious brothers have a testimony like Nephi he wondered? Even Job’s friends saw how grieved he was. Joseph Smith asked why he was so persecuted and didn’t want to die in Liberty Jail. Even Christ asked that “this cup pass from me”. But also, each one of them pushed through those thoughts and fears and, with faith and gratitude, accepted God’s will and felt love from Him.

I can tell you that Jim and I face challenges that we weren’t expecting and that are difficult. But, I have learned that relying on Heavenly Father, turning to Him and truly being grateful for the Savior and His atonement and mercy helps me with trials. It helps me to see others in a different light and have compassion for them. It helps me to realize that I am loved and it will be ok. Even if it’s not ok today or next week or in six months or a year or more and I might even have to wait until the next life, it will be ok.

President Thomas S. Monson, gave a talk titled An Attitude of Gratitude, which said:

"While there are some things wrong in the world today, there are many things right, such as teachers who teach, ministers who minister, marriages that make it, parents who sacrifice, and friends who help. We can lift ourselves, and others as well, when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.”

3. Help Each Other

I don’t know about you, but I get more excited about the gifts that I give to people and than I do about gifts I get. When my kids help each other, are nice to each other, talk to each other, get advice from each other, and root for each other, that makes me happy and fills my heart with love for them beyond measure. I have a glimpse of how Christ feels when we are kind to each other, when we turn to each other for help, and when we give that help to others.

Matthew 25:35-40 says, "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

When you see kindnesses in the world, doesn’t that make your heart happy? Just think of how Christ and Heavenly Father feel when they see that among us.

Last year, President Nelson spoke about The Healing Power of Gratitude. As I anticipated his message, I had high expectations. When heard it was about gratitude, I thought "This is so normal. It’s November. Of course we get a talk about gratitude and thanksgiving." But Jim had a different experience. He felt the spirit during the message and felt emotion. I wanted to feel that too, so I pondered on the message more.

A friend of mine on social media said, "I don’t think President Nelson wants us to sugar coat a difficult year with a thin layer of gratitude. I think he sees gratitude as a powerful tool to soften our hearts and make us teachable and humble enough to reach out to God and to each other to begin to heal the wounds of our day.” I am so grateful for friends, honesty, and social media where I found this. I could hear the message the President Nelson was trying to convey now. Gratitude can truly be healing. I need this in my life.

In closing, I want to go back to President Monson’s talk. He said “'No room in the inn' was not a singular expression of rejection—just the first. Yet He invites you and me to host Him. 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' (Rev. 3:20.) Let us follow Him. Let us emulate His example. Let us obey His word. By so doing, we give to Him the divine gift of gratitude.” I pray that we can all focus on this most important gift that we can give during this Christmas season, and that is to have gratitude and find ways to show it. And in so doing, we will be giving Christ a gift that He will treasure.

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