And ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with.
-Doctrine and Covenants 46:32
It had somehow escaped my attention that gratitude is a commandment. I knew that it's an important virtue. I knew that we could offend God with a lack of gratitude. But I'd never really pondered it as a commandment. But it's not a vindictive, self-aggrandizing kind of commandment.
"I worked hard to provide them, so you'll eat your beets, and you'll be grateful. Or else!"
It isn't like that; that kind of attitude behind the commandment would be inconsistent with the nature of God: God's love is so perfect that the scriptures tell us God is love, and we also read that love is not overly concerned with itself -- a loving God (or a loving person) seeketh not their own.
The commandments, being given from a place of love, are actually for our benefit -- much the same way that the rules that I impose on my kids (eat your vegetables, don't run in the street, you must learn to read) are designed to keep my kids happy and safe. God being our Father, His rules are like that, too: designed to keep us happy and safe. That's why Nephi, after he arranged for his people to be taught God's laws, described their lifestyle as living after the manner of happiness. Including the commandment to be grateful.
If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues. Someone has said that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
-President Thomas S. Monson (quoting Cicero), The Divine Gift of Gratitude
Gratitude then, if it really is the key to all the other virtues, is the small and simple thing, the tiny hinge on which our lives can turn, as we seek to obey the injunction to be like Christ.
I think that gratitude to Christ, Himself, is particularly important in our quest to be all He says we can be. A while back, I heard a story that illustrates how gratitude can be the key, not only to the development of our character, but to the ability to find joy in the dark places. The story comes out of the deep darkness of the Nazi concentration camps:
There is a book that I have always remembered since I first read it many years ago. I feel it illustrates the scripture found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which reads, “In every thing give thanks.” Many of you may be acquainted with Corrie ten Boom’s book entitled The Hiding Place. It is the true story of two Dutch women who were imprisoned during World War II for harboring Jewish refugees. Its message bears reminding.
Corrie and Betsie ten Boom lived by the precepts of Christ and found great comfort in reading the Bible. Their prison barracks were dimly lit, dirty, foul smelling, crowded, and constantly patrolled by guards. Corrie was put into a cell with her sister, which was a blessing for them both. Her constant worry was that the guards would see their Bible and take it away, since it was a great source of hope and comfort to them.
The place was so infested with fleas that the sisters could not move without instantly being covered with the bugs. They were very familiar with scriptures concerning gratitude and thankfulness in the Bible. Betsie told Corrie that they should thank God for the fleas. Corrie wasn’t sure she could do this, but she and Betsie bowed their heads and thanked God even for the fleas.
Weeks later Corrie was struck by the blessing that came from her obedience to thank God in all circumstances. Betsie had heard a supervisor say she wouldn’t step through the door of their cell because of all the fleas, and neither would the guards. It was because of the fleas that they were able to continue to keep their Bible without the guards finding it. They were also able to hold worship meetings and share Christ’s message with other prisoners. God asks us to give thanks even when there may seem to be little for which to be thankful.
-Sharon G. Samuelson, Gratitude -- A Commandment of God
This example, their gratitude for even fleas, and the eyes that it gave them to see the hand of the Lord in their lives, even in those terribly trying circumstances, has been a lesson that stayed with me. And when I remember to give thanks for my own "fleas" - whatever the current trial is - I find that the situation feels less overwhelming. I am more calm when I use gratitude to bolster my trust and faith in the Lord. I am less susceptible to discouragement and depression and fear. Looking for the bright side, the silver lining (no matter how small), and then remembering to give thanks for it, helps me to keep my balance when the load is heavy, the days are long, and there's no end to the trial in sight.
And that is something to be grateful for.