During the Thanksgiving season, I presume it’s only natural that our thoughts should turn to our blessings. There comes to mind a passage in the Doctrine and Covenants, which I take as a text.
“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 don’t know that I’ve ever heard that passage quoted. It’s a glorious passage. In the 59th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, we have a very significant statement:
“Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.
“Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” (D&C 59:7–8.)
And then the Lord goes on to talk about the Sabbath day:
“And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day,” and so on. (D&C 59:9.)
Then as He concludes that statement on the Sabbath day, He adds:
“And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, …
“Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;
“Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;
“Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
“Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.
“And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.”
And then this warning: “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 59:15–21.)
The Prophet Joseph is reported to have said at one time that one of the greatest sins for which the Latter-day Saints would be guilty would be the sin of ingratitude. I presume most of us have not thought of that as a serious sin. There’s a great tendency for us in our prayers—in our pleadings with the Lord—to ask for additional blessings. Sometimes I feel we need to devote more of our prayers to expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving for blessings already received. Of course we need the daily blessings of the Lord. But if we sin in the matter of prayer, I think it is in our lack of the expressions of thanksgiving for daily blessings.
President Brigham Young uttered very much the same warning as the Prophet Joseph—that this would be one of our great sins as Latter-day Saints. I do not think this is because we’re less grateful than other people—but we have so much more to be grateful for. I remember this was driven home to me as a young man when I heard of a visit made to the home of my grandfather, who was then bishop of a little country ward at Whitney, Idaho. In those days it was not uncommon to have stake conferences run for three days. And it was not uncommon for the visiting authority to take advantage of the opportunities to visit in the homes, not only of the stake presidency, but of some of the bishops. The story is told that Elder Joseph F. Smith—I think he was not then president (he may have been a member of the Twelve)—was visiting the old Oneida Stake of Zion, and true to custom, he had arranged to honor my grandfather and to take a meal at his home. In telling the story, Grandfather said that they were seated in the living room/dining room combination of the farm home. The table was laden with good things to eat. The family was gathered around—I don’t know how many (there were 13 children in that wonderful family and I presume some of them were away on missions as they usually were).
Just before they were ready to start the meal, President Smith stretched his long arms over the table and turned to my grandfather and said, “Brother Benson, all this and the gospel too?” What did President Smith mean? All this and the gospel too? The food represented the good things of life—food, clothing, and all the rest—the material blessings of life. This family of children—home, family, loved ones—all that the world has and the gospel too. I think that’s what the Prophet Joseph had in mind.
We’re so inclined to take our blessings for granted. Most of us haven’t known anything else. I haven’t. I was born in the Church, under the covenant. I received the priesthood as a boy 12 years of age. It came so easy to me. I don’t believe I fully appreciated it. We live in this wonderful land where we’ve enjoyed freedom and a high standard of living. Most of us have never seen the suffering and the stress and the shortage of everything necessary for civilized living.
I am reminded of an experience I had with a fine old Christian gentleman—a great Constitutional lawyer—named John D. Miller during an evening he spent in our home in Washington, D.C. After an hour of visiting in the living room, Sister Benson and the daughters who had been preparing the dinner announced that it was ready. We went into the dining room, and the children started preparing chairs for family prayer. And so I said to Judge Miller, “Judge, it’s customary in our home to have family prayer, daily devotion, morning and evening. Would you care to join us?” He said, “Yes, I would.” Then he watched the children to see what they did, and then knelt at his chair. We called on our oldest daughter, who was then probably eight or nine years of age, to lead the prayer. She is now the mother of five children, the wife of a stake president. Barbara offered a sweet, lovely prayer, and then she added, “And Heavenly Father, bless Judge Miller that he will enjoy his visit with us and return safely to his hotel.” That was all.
We drove the judge down to his hotel. Nothing was said of the incident.
About six months later this man was host to some 25 or 30 industrial, business, labor, and agricultural leaders at his winter home in Florida. After the dinner they were seated in the large living room talking about problems facing the nation, and as often happens-more often I think than we realize—the subject turned to things of the spirit—to religion. And then John D. Miller, this fine Christian gentleman, not a member of the Church, told of this little incident that had happened in our home—this simple thing of family prayer. And he said, “Gentlemen, I went to my hotel that night feeling that I had not fully measured up as a father. We had never had devotion in our home with my children.” And then he went on to tell of the power he felt must be in the lives of children reared in a home where there is spirituality.
We take it for granted as Latter-day Saints. I presume we don’t think it’s anything particularly special.
Another incident—at the end of World War II, I was seated in my office in Salt Lake and received a telephone call from a man in New York, a multimillionaire who had made 30 million dollars by the time he was 30 years of age. He had a son in a military camp just outside Salt Lake City. This boy had expected to be shipped overseas, as many others had been. Then the war ended and so they were crowded into that camp, like sardines in a can. This boy was discouraged, and his father was worried about him. So he called and said, “Would you please call him on the telephone and see if you can cheer him up a bit?” I said, “Of course, I’d be happy to.” And I called him and said, “Would you like to come into the office for a little visit?” And he said, “I sure would.” He was a bit delayed in coming, and I was just ready to leave for home when he arrived.
I said, “Would you like to go out to the house with me and take potluck with the family? My wife doesn’t know you’re coming, but you’ll be welcome.” So he said, “I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do tonight than that.” So we went out, and we had our dinner, and we had our prayer. We gathered around the piano afterwards and enjoyed ourselves with some singing. Then after we visited for awhile, I drove him down to his bus. In a few days I got a letter from his father, and you know, you’d have thought I’d saved that boy’s life. The father quoted a letter from his son in which the son had said, “Father, I didn’t know there were any people in this world who lived like that.” Yes, we take it all for granted. Here was a man worth millions of dollars—could buy his son anything that dollars could buy and never miss the money—and yet this simple thing of prayer and devotion in the home had passed him by.
We need to be more grateful. I think there’s no true character without gratitude. It’s one of the marks of a real strong character, to have a feeling of thanksgiving and gratitude for blessings that are ours. We need more of that spirit in our homes, in our daily associations, in church, everywhere. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s so easy to cultivate the spirit of appreciation and gratitude. And it’s so easy, also, to be dissatisfied and to be envious of other people.
I remember I learned a lesson one evening in a little country ward in Idaho while I was traveling for the University of Idaho. I traveled that wonderful state for eight years. I’ve been to every town and hamlet in the state. It was not uncommon for me to be away for two weeks. Then I’d go home, and as a stake officer, I would take a bath, change clothes, and be gone again. My wife used to say, “Well, when you’re home you’re gone.” Once when this happened, one of my little girls came to the door, waved, and said, “Come again, Daddy.”
I used to miss my family, and this particular time I was in Pocatello, Idaho, on Sunday. I got thinking about my family, so far away, and I thought, “Well, I’ll just run down to Whitney and see if I can attend sacrament service and renew my acquaintance with some of the wonderful people there.” So I drove down and arrived just as the meeting was about ready to start and the bishop was going into the church.
He invited me in with him. He had the custom of going up on the stand and sitting there ten minutes before the meeting started so he could see the people come in. He’d have his counselors down at the door. And as I sat there, I watched these groups come in. There were family groups with father, mother, children, and I knew practically all of them. I knew all of the parents and could identify the children by association.
Well, the meeting got started, and the counselor was conducting. He called on me to say a few words. And while sitting there, I’d been thinking, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could be home every Sunday and go to church with your family? Just think what a joy it would be.” Well, as he introduced me, he said, “Brothers and sisters, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had a job like Brother Benson? He’s traveling this great state of Idaho all the time. He’s always on a trip.” I thought, “Yes, how true to life. Distant pastures usually look greener.”
I hope we can be happy where we are, be grateful for our blessings—now—here, accept the challenge that is ours and make the most of it, and don’t be envious of others.
God help us to be grateful. Someone has said that an ungrateful man is like a hog under a tree eating apples and never looking up to see where they come from. Do we look up to see where our blessings are coming from?
I well remember a young couple who started farming in Idaho years ago. They had modest means, but they paid a down payment on 40 acres of raw land. They were going into the raising of fruit—peaches particularly. They had leveled the land, brought out the laterals, planted the trees, and then weeded and irrigated and watched until the time had come when they’d have a harvest. This particular spring the orchard was a sea of blossoms, and it looked as though they were going to have a bounteous harvest. Then one night without warning, there came a frost that wiped out practically the entire crop overnight. Well, young John didn’t go to church the next Sunday, nor the next Sunday, nor the next Sunday. Finally his good old bishop came out to see what was wrong. He found John out in the field, and he said, “John, we haven’t seen you in church for several weeks. What’s the matter? Is anything wrong?” John said, “No, bishop, I’m not coming anymore. Do you think I can worship a God who would let this happen to me?” And then he explained to the bishop what had happened. Of course, the bishop felt sorrowful, too, and he expressed it to John. And as he looked down at the ground for a moment, he said, “John, I’m sure the Lord knows that you can’t produce the best peaches with frost. But I’m also sure he knows that you can’t produce the best men without frost, and the Lord is interested in producing men, not peaches.” Well, John went to church the next Sunday, and another year a harvest came. He later became a bishop in the Church.
We all have our reverses. Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth. It is in the depths where men and women learn the lessons that help to build strong men and women—not at the pinnacle of success. In the hour of a man’s success is his greatest danger. It sometimes takes reverses to make us appreciate our blessings and to develop us into strong, courageous characters.
I remember attending a meeting near Bancroft, Idaho, years ago. It was sponsored in part by the extension service of the University. We’d had a wonderful meeting, and after it was over, I was greeting some of the wonderful farmers who were there, and among them was a man by the name of Brother Yost, and I said, “Brother Yost, how are things out on the farm?” Brother Yost said, “Oh, things are fine, Brother Benson, but I’m about 20 thousand dollars worse off than I was three days ago.” I said, “What’s the matter—another frost?” He said, “Yes, it hit the wheat just in the dough stage, and you know what that means.” He said, “We’re starting the mowing machines in the morning, but everything’s all right. We’ve still got a little wheat in the bin, and we’ve got at least part of our year’s supply laid away. We’re not going to starve, and there’ll be another crop.” As we left him, I said to my wife, “What a wonderful spirit.”
We drove on down to Logan. We had our children with us, and we stopped on Main Street to go into a grocery store to pick up a few cookies for the kiddies. And who should I meet on the sidewalk but Brother Yost. I said, “Well, what are you doing way down here?” He said, “Brother Benson, it’s our day to go to the temple.” And I said, “Well, reverses don’t dampen your spirits any, do they?” Then he taught me a lesson. He said, “Brother Benson, when reverses come we need the temple all the more.”
When reverses come we need the Church and the gospel all the more. I’m satisfied that it’s possible for a man or woman who has a testimony of the divinity of this work to meet any possible reverse and still keep his spirit sweet and his faith strong. I saw members of this church in Europe right after World War II, the worst war so far as we know in the history of modern nations, when nations were flat on their backs economically. I saw members of this church, some of them the only remaining members of once happy and prosperous families—with their homes destroyed and every member of the family killed in the war—and they stood alone as the one remaining person. I saw them and I heard them as they stood on their feet and bore testimony to the divinity of this work and thanked God for his blessings—the blessings of the eternity of the marriage covenant, the conviction that the family continues beyond the veil, that there is life after death, that there will be a happy reunion for those who live worthy.
Yes, we can meet every reverse that can possibly come with the help of the Lord and the blessings of God. And every reverse can be turned to our benefit and blessing and will make us stronger, more courageous, more godlike. Many people have had reverses in this latter day.
I often think of the Prophet Joseph—to me the greatest prophet who has ever lived upon the face of the earth, save Jesus only, whom he represented and served. I think of his trials and tribulations. I thought of them as I stood in Liberty Jail for the first time and then the second time. Do you remember, he was in that filthy jail, surrounded by vile men, not for a period of days or weeks, but months. And finally, when it seemed as though he could stand it no longer, remember he cried out in these words:
“O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?
“How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?
“Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?
“Remember thy suffering saints, O our God; and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.” (D&C 121:1–3, 6.)
And then came the answer in revelation to the Prophet in these words:
“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment:
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.
“Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.” (D&C 121:7–9.)
See the promise. And then this mild chastisement. “Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job.” (D&C 121:10.)
And then this further promise: “And they who do charge thee with transgression, their hope shall be blasted, and their prospects shall melt away as the hoar frost melteth before the burning rays of the rising sun.” (D&C 121:11.)
And at another time, the Lord indicated to the Prophet that “the ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee;
“While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous, shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand.” (D&C 122:1–2.)
And then the Lord uttered this significant statement:
“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:7–8.)
God help us to be grateful for our blessings and never to be guilty of the sin of ingratitude.
“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.)