Before President Russell M. Nelson’s challenge to turn social media into our own gratitude journals, there were dozens of lists online of things to be grateful for in the year 2020. Since his invitation, millions of ideas have been added by those using #GiveThanks. But there are a few spiritual things that I think we have become more grateful for this year, as we have either relied on them more or had to do without them. Everyone’s list will look a little different depending on personal circumstances, but here are a few things that I think many of us have come to appreciate more than ever this year (in no particular order).
1. A Living Prophet
For anyone who has watched President Nelson’s worldwide message from last week, this one may ring especially true. How powerful it was to hear our prophet pray and to join our faith virtually with his. When our vision of the future seems cloudy or uncertain, it is a blessing to have a living prophet with eternal vision who can help us put things into perspective. His wise counsel, patient reminders, loving requests, and sincere devotion to the Savior are a stable influence in our homes and lives, pushing us along the covenant path toward heaven with hope, faith, and happiness.
► You may also like: Insights from President Nelson to bring more gratitude and joy into your life
If there is one thing our Latter-day Saint pioneer predecessors mastered, it was adaptability—the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions. Whether it was being driven from their homes in the middle of winter, crossing the plains in untested handcarts, or being asked to settle a remote area of the new Salt Lake Valley, they were very familiar with being flexible and trusting the Lord. And this year has given us the opportunity to develop a similar skill as we have adjusted to multiple changes. While learning this skill has—by all accounts—been uncomfortable and difficult, it is something that the events of 2020 have helped us appreciate even more.
If we appreciated the advances in technology before, 2020 has grown that gratitude tenfold as communication and connection has moved from ward parties, family get-togethers, and neighborly visits to video calls, text messages, emails, and Marco Polos sent to ministering brothers and sisters. Even if it is not exactly the same as sitting in the room together, as the reality of a pandemic has tried to drive us apart, we have become more grateful for the ability to stay connected—even if it's primarily through technology.
If there is one thing a pandemic can’t stop, it’s service. Though the way and kind of service we can do might look a little different, many of us have appreciated the chance to look outside of ourselves and do some good in the lives of those around us. When it’s so easy to feel isolated and alone, we can still be thankful for this simple, powerful way to stay connected with others and become more like our Savior in the process.
Sometimes we don’t appreciate something until we experience life without it. Perhaps that is the case with temples this year. Whether you have lived close to a temple your entire life or not, there is something comforting about knowing that you can attend it. As those opportunities have been few and far between this year, I know they have caused me to reflect on the importance of my temple covenants, find new ways to connect to the temple, as well as reminded me why the temple is special to me. I can’t wait to go back.
6. God’s Creations
Perhaps as colder weather arrives for many of us, we appreciate the great outdoors even more as a place that offered a safe refuge during a time of uncertainty and the need for physical distance. The healing power of sunshine, fresh air, and the beautiful architecture God designed just for us is something we have certainly not taken for granted this year.
► You may also like: 10 things to be grateful for when everything seems to be going wrong
7. Church Meetings
While there were some sighs of relief when the length of our church meetings was reduced two years ago, I don’t think most of us realized how soon we would miss even those two hours spent gathering and worshiping together. Doing church at home has certainly been a blessing, but there is something special about gathering together to sing, listen, worship and to have a place where we and our children can learn the gospel together. This is one I have particularly taken for granted as I have been attending church every Sunday for as long as I can remember, and I will not soon forget what a blessing it is to worship together.
So many problems in the world are solved or eased with a bit of love, particularly God’s love. What a gift it is to be able to practice giving and receiving that love—to see others and ourselves through God’s eyes and with a desire to rise together. As we express gratitude for and make more room in our hearts for this charity-style love, perhaps we will see that even in a difficult and seemingly less-abundant year, love really is the only thing we need.
9. Earthly Angels
This is one item on the gratitude list that has definitely grown this year. From medical providers to family members, ward and neighborhood friends, leaders, and everyone in between, so many people have stepped up and made sacrifices of time, friendship, skills, comfort, and more to help those around them in big ways and small. How grateful I am to have witnessed so many angelic actions this year.
This year more than ever, I think a lot of us have become grateful for a little kindness—a positive comment, patience with others, service, someone reaching out to see how we are doing. All those little acts of kindness we see from others remind us that the world is not as bleak and harsh as it has been made out to be this year.
► You may also like: 10 things to be grateful for from Time Out for Women speakers
Change is probably among one of the top-used words of the year 2020. But change isn’t necessarily bad, in fact, change is one of the definitions of repentance. While so many regulations, recommendations, and guidelines have forced us to change our life patterns and plans, perhaps they have also given us an opportunity to change our spiritual patterns and goals. When we are forced to slow down, we can’t help but reevaluate, recommit, and repent of habits or mindsets that are hindering our progress or happiness. In fact, many people have already heeded a call by a prophet to repent this very week, changing a mindset of discouragement and pessimism to an outlook of gratitude.
12. Emergency Preparedness
No matter how well we have or have not built up our food storage, emergency kits, etc., this year has definitely upped our motivation to follow the counsel of prophets past and present to be prepared—physically and spiritually. For a great talk from President Nelson on this topic, check out “Embrace the Future with Faith” from the October 2020 general conference.
When things are uncertain, confusing, or discouraging, faith can become our greatest blessing. With faith and hope, we can believe that things will get better, that we still have our agency, and that a loving Father in Heaven is still listening to us and watching over us—and sometimes it is during our most difficult times that our faith and hope has the greatest opportunity to grow.
What a blessing it has been to already have practiced meeting the needs of others more flexibly through the new ministering program. This year has given us an even better opportunity to stretch our creative muscles and receive revelation on how to serve and take care of others even when we can’t necessarily visit them in their homes.
► You may also like: 5 Simple Ways to Develop an "Attitude of Gratitude"
15. Priesthood Authority
While the power of the priesthood can bless our lives at any time, it is often during the times of greatest trouble that we turn to it more often. Whether we have needed a blessing of healing, a blessing of comfort, a temple ordinance, a prayer, or the sacrament, we can be particularly grateful this year that the power of God has been given for our righteous use on earth.
Where Sunday dinners, birthday celebrations, and casual get-togethers were often expected or taken for granted in past years, 2020 has reminded us what a blessing family gatherings are. We may still be grateful for pictures and video calls and other ways we have found to stay connected with those we love, but I think it will be a long time before any of us take for granted the ability to physically gather together, laugh together, and hug each other safely.
17. Self-Reliance Programs
My husband and I saw some immediate benefits after taking the Church’s Personal Finance Self-Reliance class together shortly after we were married, but pandemic disruptions have made us even more grateful for the tools we had been given to manage finances—tight or plentiful. But even if you’ve never taken one of the self-reliance classes, thankfully, all the resources are available online for you to start using today!
Music often seems to be the child of emotion. Some of the most powerful music was written in times of greatest joy or greatest pain—both spiritual and temporal music. Because of this, music is something that we often connect with in our times of greatest emotion, such as when worshiping. I have missed singing the hymns at church for this reason. I have missed Primary singing time and singing with the ward choir. However, as my husband and I have continued to bring music to our home, whether through watching Music and the Spoken Word each week or singing Primary songs with our toddler, we have grown to better appreciate the connection between music and the Spirit.
19. The Sacrament
When church meetings were temporarily suspended due to the pandemic, it wasn’t just talks and Sunday School classes and Primary class interactions we lost. Though many were given permission to bless and pass the sacrament at home, not every home had a priesthood holder who could perform this ordinance each week, relying instead for a time on ministering brothers, neighbors, or family members to provide them with this sacred opportunity to renew their covenants a few times a month. Perhaps this experience has left us more grateful for the blessing of partaking of the sacrament and less likely to take it for granted each week.
A scripture from 2 Nephi has come to my mind many times this year:
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. . . . And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God (2 Nephi 2: 11, 13).
This past year has certainly brought more than its fair share of misery, frustration, and heartache, but in some ways, this can be something to be grateful for. It brings evidence that there is a God and makes our happy and peaceful moments stand out even more meaningfully. Sorrow this year has given us the contrast to happiness in years past and years to come.
We may not be grateful for it right away, but as we look back on the year 2020, write about it in our journals, or share the experiences we had during it with our posterity, perhaps we can remember with grateful hearts all the good—like the experiences we were able to share with our families, the greater desire we felt to increase the Spirit in our homes, and the time we had to re-center ourselves on the Savior—that came from the year 2020.