I published this column in the Deseret News on Thanksgiving Day 2014:
Many years ago, a friend (now deceased) told me about a very high-ranking Church leader (also now deceased) who had been asked to address a group of local senior service missionaries and their wives at their annual Christmas dinner.
As the program proceeded, various stories were related to illustrate the great things that this group of devoted volunteers had accomplished during the year then nearing its end. Unfortunately, the Church leader, still waiting to offer his concluding remarks, was growing concerned at what struck him as the evening’s self-congratulatory tone.
Finally, his turn came to speak. He had been allotted roughly half an hour, but he jettisoned his prepared text. Instead, he simply opened his scriptures to Mosiah 2:20-21, and read it to his audience:
“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—
“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.”
He then bore a brief testimony of Christ and sat down. The rebuke was quiet but unmistakable, and my friend had remembered it for years by the time he told me about it.
Today is a day for giving thanks—uniquely and officially so in America, but appropriately so everywhere—for the remarkable blessings that we enjoy. We have far more to be grateful for than we can begin to recognize or enumerate, and it should leave us deeply humble.We enjoy food, nourished by soil and weather we didn’t create, that we neither planted nor harvested. It’s brought to us via roads and rails and ships constructed by people whose names we don’t know, and we prepare it with fuels and implements that we didn’t produce.
We communicate worldwide virtually for free. Films, computers, television, and radio put almost unlimited information at our fingertips, including remarkable ways of researching family history.
We benefit from a level of nutrition, health, and comfort that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, many of whom suffered throughout their lives from rotten teeth and incurable ailments. Only a few generations ago, even the simplest diseases stymied the best physicians. Dentists and surgeons did their work without sterilization or anesthesia. But, until fairly recently, there were no hip replacements or arthroscopic knee surgeries anyway, and, not very long before that, there were no aspirin tablets and no corrective lenses. If you had a headache, you simply endured it until it went away. If your eyes or knees went bad, you lived with it until you died.
Prior to a couple of centuries ago, all transportation was on foot, or on or behind an animal, or blown by the wind. Ramses II, Augustus Caesar, Queen Elizabeth I of England, and George Washington all traveled roughly the same way. Today, by contrast, we cruise along comfortably in climate-controlled bubbles at speeds they never knew, listening to the Beatles (including John Lennon and George Harrison, who’ve been dead for years) or to the Vienna Philharmonic.
We typically take this all for granted. We even complain about it. Several years ago, I found myself wedged between two strangers on a flight from Chicago to Salt Lake City. The flight attendant gave me only pretzels, and the flight dragged on for more than four hours! Suddenly though, I thought of the handcart pioneers. Only 150 years before, they had followed essentially the same route, thousands of feet below me, over rivers, through brush and rocks, under rain and sometimes snow, requiring several months to complete their journey. My whining might not have impressed them favorably.
And the Gospel is on earth again. In other words, to put it flippantly, we’ve won the cosmic lottery.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
A very happy Thanksgiving to everyone.
Posted from Chicago, Illinois