Love,  Peace

What Gratitude Does – A Walk in the Garden

One day in my early twenties I was having a really bad day. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of bad days, but this one was particularly rough. I delivered pizzas as a college student and while normally being in my car, listening to music, alone with the thoughts of my heart, was amazing, that day I found myself feeling anger about everything, and being in my car trying to navigate the snowy roads of Provo in rush hour traffic only made me angrier. I tried to pinpoint the source of the anger so I could deal with it, but I couldn’t seem to figure out why I was so angry. 

Then, a distinct thought, a prompting from somewhere else, told me to start listing the things I was grateful for. I was a little incensed by the rudeness of this thought, didn’t it know that I wasn’t in the mood? But, it came to me again, louder this time, and I started to mentally list the things that made me happy, the things I was grateful for. Without thinking, I began to say them out loud. I turned off the music and talked to myself, to the universe, to God, sharing all of the things I was glad to have in my life. 

I was grateful for my wonderful fiancé, Shiloh, for my car, for my family who I knew loved me, for my job, for my friends, for being only one semester away from graduating. I talked out loud like this for the entire time it takes to get from the pizza store in Orem to the delivery address in South Provo, and by the time I got there I was feeling much better. The anger dissipated, patience returned, and the rest of my night was pleasant. 

That wouldn’t be the last time I used spoken gratitude to cure my mood, my attitude, or even my feelings towards others. I leaned on gratitude to save me many times. But the older I got, the less effect this practice seemed to have. It would work in that moment every single time, but the resulting peace wouldn’t linger for as long as it had in the past. Sometimes I would even catch myself being grateful in comparison to others, like at least I wasn’t like so and so, or at least I had such and such that someone else didn’t have. This often robbed me of what little peace I had found. My sensitivity to gratitude seemed to be waning, or my life became more complex, but whatever it was, I needed something more. Something that would more permanently change my heart and mind. I was good at noticing when there was something I needed to do, but how do I be someone new?

After the house we live in now was built, we turned our attention to putting in the yard. We spent a lot of time and energy on the yard trying to figure out how to best make use of the space we had. We felt both grateful for the chance to try our hands at something new, and also completely overwhelmed. I watched gardening shows, visited nurseries, compared materials, and drew sketches. Every day was filled with research and planning. It took almost a year, but we finally got the yard in. And it wasn’t what I had imagined. 

I struggled with my expectations of what it was supposed to be, and often found myself complaining about one part or another. I would walk in the backyard and all I could see were things out of place, weeds that were coming up too soon, drip lines that weren’t working right, or worse, plants that were obviously dying and I didn’t know enough to be able to save them. For a while, I didn’t even go into the backyard. I was disappointed by it. And I was being a total downer every time I complained to Shiloh about something I didn’t like about the yard. 

Bless his soul, he called me out on it one day, and I was humbled sufficiently enough to know I needed an attitude adjustment. After all, I didn’t like hating our yard. So, I took a walk around the backyard and listed, out loud, everything I did like about it as I went. I knew that would work, but for how long? I kept walking, with a prayer in my heart that somehow I would find a way to permanently change my mind about the yard. During the first couple of laps, I would say what I liked but also often stop to fix a drip, adjust a border, or pick a weed. Clearly, the yard was still not measuring up. On the third and fourth laps, I got tired of the stopping, annoyed by how much work there was to do, and just let it be, continuing to point out the things I liked as part of my forced gratitude practice, still praying for something to shift more permanently. 

By the fifth lap, I had seemingly run out of things to be grateful for, but my heart hadn’t changed yet, and I’m just stubborn enough to keep going until it does. Facetiously at first, but then sincerely, I started saying I was grateful for the weeds because they helped me get exercise and fresh air. I was grateful for the imperfect borders which were actually doing their jobs perfectly and reminded me that our perceptions of perfection are often unjust. I was grateful for the misplaced drip lines, whose water brought life and reminded me that even the most barren looking soil has life in it if properly cared for. 

And on the beginning of the sixth lap, I was grateful for the dying plants which brought to my mind the words of the Savior when He said, “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?”

Even that dying plant was an invitation to remember that God is the God of all. That He’s aware of everything that happens here, and that He is sustaining all of it, not just as things grow, but also as they die. And that even though He doesn’t protect us from everything, He does sustain us in all things. He sustains me, in everything. 

Then I saw a bird land on one of the leafless branches of a struggling tree, and I remembered, “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” Why was I worried about so many things? By being careful and troubled about many things, was I missing something even more beautiful? Was there something better the Lord wanted to show me? How do I choose the better part?

And then the words of Alma, “The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”

I finished my sixth lap, no longer expressing vocally the gratitude I had, but letting it rest in my heart. Like Job, I felt I could say, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.” I walked slowly and silently, witnessing what felt like all of creation present in this one little corner of it. My mind had changed. I had repented. I had discovered gratitude as a gateway, an invitation to witness all that God has, all of what the Lord has created and declared good. And, as was shown to the apostle Peter, what God has declared good we cannot call otherwise. 

Sister Bonnie D Parkin said, “Gratitude is a Spirit-filled principle. It opens our minds to a universe permeated with the richness of a living God. Through it, we become spiritually aware of the wonder of the smallest things, which gladden our hearts with their messages of God’s love. This grateful awareness heightens our sensitivity to divine direction.”

I took one more lap around, and I picked the weeds and adjusted the borders. But this time it wasn’t out of unmet expectations, it was out of a great desire to be of use in God’s holy work. When we pass through the gate of gratitude we are invited to participate with the Savior in His work. We understand better the mysteries of the universe and our position in it, at once both beloved and invited to reach higher. We mourn with those that mourn and lift the burdens of others, not out of duty or obligation, but out of true love, called to be witnesses to the Lord’s tender mercies, in life and in death, and to participate with Him as saviors on Mount Zion. 

The Lord tells us, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” If we let it, everything proclaims of the goodness of God. And it is through the gate of gratitude that the Lord draws us to Himself and deep into His mysteries. It is gratitude which inspires us to become humble, teachable, and patient, which is what it is to be meek. Meekness opens our hearts to the wonders of this life, and this world in which we live, leaving us in awe of creation. And in awe of our Savior, who has redeemed it all for our good. For as soon as He claims it His He gives it to those who believe. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 

 

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