Editor’s note: This article was originally published on LDSLiving.com in November 2018.
Since the official proclamation made by Abraham Lincoln on Oct. 3, 1863, the last Thursday in November has been accepted and observed in the United States as a time of thanksgiving. And many other nations and countries in the world have their designated days and seasons for such an observance as well (see abrahamlincolnonline.org for the full proclamation).
What is “thanks-giving”? What is gratitude? And, beyond them, what is rejoicing?
Rejoicing is a state of spirit, a state of being, more expansive than just a state of mind. In its purity it is the eternal in man reaching toward deity. And, as he approaches his Father, learns of him, and becomes like him, he experiences a state of rejoicing, or joy.
Psalms 37:4 encourages readers to “delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart." That is a rather compelling promise. In Deuteronomy, we are encouraged to “rejoice in every good thing” (Deuteronomy 26:11). By opening their hearts, people can notice and recognize the things of beauty and goodness around them that bring delight, that lift their hearts from pathways of discouragement and doubt.
It is easier to rejoice in times of happiness, security and prosperity. But as understanding deepens, as desires expand, rejoicing can become a means of hope, understanding and strength.
Our forebearers understood this and attempted to make it a reality in their lives. They had other choices—but this was the one that many selected, the one to which they gave their best efforts, their faith, their hearts.
This statement of Joseph Smith’s was repeated in similar words many times to the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“O brethren,” he encouraged, “let us be thankful that it is as well with us as it is, and we are yet alive and peradventure, God hath laid up in store great good for us in this generation, and may grant that we may yet glorify his name” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 35).
The key here is a lack of self-interest and self-absorption. “That we may yet glorify his name.” That we may go about doing good, thinking of others — lifting ourselves by giving, by believing, even when that giving seems very difficult to do.
Isaiah Moses Coombs, traveling to the Salt Lake Valley in the autumn of 1855, left the following account and it's shared inJourney to Zion: Voices from the Mormon Trail:
“One hot afternoon I was sitting in the tent humped up over my writing, suffering from a severe attack of cholera morbus. My suffering was excruciating.” Elder Daniel Spencer wished him to ride 12 miles to borrow some necessary money from Brother Snow. “I answered that I could not possibly — that I was racked with pain and had made up my mind to die that night.”
“Oh no,” replied Brother Spencer. “You shall not die — you will have a pleasant canter over the prairie and I promise you in the name of the Lord that you shall return feeling much better and that you will be sick no more till you get home.”
He rode painfully through the camp, reached the high point of the prairie, and urged his horse to a gallop.
“The first few jumps of my steed occasioned me great pain, but I had not gone far before all pain left me. On reaching a grove of timber I dismounted and on my knees returned thanks to God for this manifestation of his loving kindness to me. I there promised if he would forgive the lukewarm service I had hitherto rendered him, I would in future give him my whole heart."
In June of 1839, Mary Fielding Smith wrote a letter to her brother, Joseph Fielding, who was serving a mission in Great Britain. She had just arrived in the sanctuary of Nauvoo, and tells of her trials in Far West, Missouri:
“My husband was taken from me by an armed force, at a time when I needed … the kindest care and attention of such a friend. … In a few days after, my dear little Joseph F. was added to our number. Shortly after his birth I took a severe cold, which brought on chills and fever; this, together with the anxiety of mind I had to endure, threatened to bring me to the gates of death. I was at least four months entirely unable to take care of either myself or child. … After we arrived in Illinois, I began to mend. ... We are now living in Commerce, on the bank of the great Mississippi river. How long we may be permitted to enjoy it I know not; but the Lord knows what is best for us. I feel but little concerned about where I am, if I can keep my mind staid upon God; for, you know in this there is perfect peace. I believe the Lord is overruling all things for our good.” (In Their Own Words: Women and the Story of Nauvoo, by Carol Cornwall Madsen, pages 98-99).
Such experiences as these, in the lives of real men and women, are legion. Surely we, experiencing the prophecy, the love and direction of our vital prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, can gird up our loins—put all fears and obstacles behind us—and rejoice as we strive to fulfill the invitations and challenges he has given us.
He speaks for that God who is father of us all. As we reach toward him, as we open our hearts, Heavenly Father will open the eyes of our understanding, grant us the desires of our hearts, and empower us to fulfill the measure of our own individual creation. Knowing this of a surety, how can we fail to rejoice?