There is a great deal of hardship in the world right now, and there will only continue to be so. Not just because of the long-term effects brought on by this global pandemic, but also because of the ceaseless local and personal trials that are forever bringing people to their absolute lowest points.
There are those that are becoming hopeless, and then doing desperate, tragic things because of it. Despair is one of the worst states to be in, one of the surest ways to crush a soul. As I consider how one combats such feelings of darkness, I believe it is essential to count one’s blessings.
I know that to anyone who is at the end of their rope such a recommendation might seem flippant, an attempt to just sweep real troubles under the rug. But that is not my intention at all. I genuinely believe that reflecting on the good in one’s life does a multitude of wonderful things for the soul, including refreshing and preserving it. I believe it is essential for the happiness of the afflicted, I believe it is essential for the continued happiness of the blessed.
Recently I had an opportunity to reflect on how very many blessings I have in my life right now, and I was quite moved by the tally. If I go back three short years I recall a time of life that was very dark, one where I was beset by all manner of adversity and addiction. It was at then that I finally decided to really lean into God, and the time since has been a rush of healing and growing.
There are so many things that I worried about back then that I just do not worry about now. And I can honestly say that it has nothing to do with great and impressive things that I did. Frankly the “things that I did” were the whole problem, and it took all these blessings from God to save me from them!
He has not only taken care of the essentials in my life, He has also sprinkled me with pure pleasures for no other reason than that He apparently loves to make me happy. How then can I ever be dissatisfied in life?
And yet I can. Because shortly after being in awe of my blessings, I had a couple days down in the dumps. And after having my nose tweaked a little bit all of my gratitude was immediately replaced with all sorts of indignant “this isn’t fair” and “woe is me” feelings. None of the blessings had been taken back, my life was still as bounteous as ever, but the lens I view the world in can tint even the brightest day with blackness.
Honestly just writing this post has helped my mood a great deal by how it has reminded me that those blessings are still there. And that is one of the benefits of counting one’s blessings, it allows us to cut past the murkiness that sits on top, and view the pure water that still lies beneath.
Alma 62:50, Psalm 77:11, 2 Peter 1:15
Yea, they did remember how great things the Lord had done for them, that he had delivered them from death, and from bonds, and from prisons, and from all manner of afflictions, and he had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies.
I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.
Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.
They did remember how great things the Lord had done for them, that he had delivered them
I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old
I will endeavour that ye may be able to have these things always in remembrance
There are many accounts of the virtue that is just remembering. Even aside from these three quotes there was also the time that Hilkiah discovered the book of the law in the temple, long since forgotten, which introduced a brief period of faithfulness among the Israelites. There was the time King Ahasuerus recalled that he still needed to give honor to faithful Mordecai. The entire turning point of the parable of the Prodigal Son is when the boy “comes to himself” and recalls how good things are in his father’s house. God had the Israelites bind the words of the scriptures to their arms and foreheads to keep those words ever in their periphery. When Jesus instituted the sacrament he instructed them that they “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).
There is a great power in remembering, because remembering is often the action that immediately precedes doing. If we do not remember our blessings, then we live as if they never occurred. When we forget what God has done for us, we lose one of our most powerful motivators to remain faithful. But even if His goodness is forgotten, it did still occur, and we are simply being remiss.
To forget, whether through the passage of time or by the crowding of present problems, is a natural effect of human life. But though it is a natural effect, it can be resisted and it must be. For those that forget become lost.
1 John 4:18-19
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
We love him, because he first loved us.
There is no fear in love; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love
It is impossible to properly love God when we are afraid. And the value of loving God is not only in rendering to Him what He is due, it is for our own benefit as well. For when people do not love God, they are not good to themselves or others. When people do not love God, and are instead afraid, they compromise their soul and make choices that they are ashamed of. Thus fear is not only unpleasant, it is one of the great destroyers of the self.
But perfect love casteth out fear
We love him, because he first loved us
Fear can be dispelled, but only by retaining a lively sense of love in our hearts. Where love is, fear cannot also be.
But how to obtain that perfect love that casteth out fear? It is not something that we have the ability to conjure up in ourselves. As we learn in the second verse from John, it is something that God gives to us first, and then we maintain it by loving Him back. Thus by regularly exchanging love with Him we keep our fears at bay and live as our best selves.
And inherent in that exchange of love is a remembering of that love. Every time we praise and give devotion to God, we signify that we recall what He has given to us.
Or, to work it backwards, those that regularly count their blessings are the ones in whom the cycle of perfect love is turning. They are constantly refreshing in their minds the reasons that they do not fear, the reasons that they know it is worthy to rely on the Lord. For He has already loved them once, and they remember it, and know that He will love them again.
Psalm 23:4, 3 Nephi 10:6
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me
The Psalmist knew a great secret when it came to overcoming the fear of the world, it was his understanding that “thou art with me.” Going through hard times is hard, but going through hard times alone is unbearable. If God is not with us, then we are left to fear every evil that lurks within the valley of the shadow of death. If God is with us, though, then we have a sure confidence from all else.
How oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will return unto me
But it isn’t simply a question of God being with us. God is ever with us…if we will allow Him to be. Many people are lost in despair not because there isn’t any healing available, but because they will not permit themselves to receive it.
Counting one’s blessings is not simply to reflect on what good things there have been in the past, it is reminding oneself of what assets are still available right this very moment…if we are just willing to make use of them.
Genesis 37:34-35; Job 3:1-4; John 11:33, 35
And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.
And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.
After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day.
And Job spake, and said,
Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.
Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it.
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,
And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted
Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it
He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, Jesus wept.
Thus far we have discussed why it is important for us to remember our blessings, even when journeying through difficult trials. And while this is all true, I do not mean to be callous and suggest that there is not a time for mourning when we have suffered a loss.
After Jacob lost his son Joseph he refused to be comforted, and wept for the good thing that had seemingly been taken away. Job, too, went through a long mourning process after he lost all that he held dear. Even Jesus paused to weep when he heard of the death of his friend Lazarus.
Thus, when we also suffer a tragic loss it is perfectly appropriate for us to be devastated. Perhaps it is momentarily too painful to count one’s blessings, as that might feel like trying to sweep the pain underneath a rug. God does not ask us to say that the hurt does not matter, when it very much does. It is okay to be broken for a time.
But it is important that it is “for a time” and not “forever.” Eventually Jacob did take comfort in the family which remained to him, particularly his new son Benjamin. Job eventually turned from his bitterness and reached for God once more. Jesus dried his eyes and got back to doing his work of miracles. And we too must eventually accept God’s comfort, remember the blessings which we still have, and permit Him to live in us once more.
Matthew 18:27-30, 32-33
Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
I forgave all that debt, shouldest not thou have had compassion, even as I had pity on thee?
Though the servant had been granted a great gift, the gratitude of it was not alive in his heart. At least not enough to share it with his neighbor. This illustrates one of the tragic results of getting lost in despair: how it sours our behavior towards those around us. One simply cannot lift another while they are themselves sinking.
Thus it is not enough to be blessed in life, one needs to feel that sense of being blessed as well. It is actually very easy to have all the good things in this world, and still feel empty inside and incapable of showing genuine love to another.
You cannot act as one that was found, if all you remember is what is was like to be lost. You cannot live as one that is saved, if you only recollect they way you were destroyed. Many times the act of remembering how we were saved before, is exactly what we need to save us again today.
Luke 1:46-49; Psalm 86:10, 12-13
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone.
I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore.
For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.
My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things
I will praise thee, Lord, for great is thy mercy: thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell
After Mary was given the calling to be the mother of God she took to praising Him for it. The Psalmist, too, was well versed in recalling the many blessings he had received, and giving God glory for them.
Of course Mary had prepared for her holy station by the way she lived a pure life, and the Psalmist had shown how brave he was, facing down giants in the name of the Lord. They had unquestionably done many good things, and arguably therefore deserved good thing. Even so, both of them acknowledged that what God had done for them had left them in awe. It wasn’t just good, it was incomprehensibly, abundantly good.
These two Saints remind us that you can be a good person, even a great person, and still acknowledge that God has made you what you are. You can accomplish wonderful things, wield powerful talents, and still hold on to your humility. For the great among us are the greatly blessed, and it behooves them to remember that fact.
When life has been good, when blessings have flowed richly, I have felt that temptation to say “look what I have done.” I have had the urge to praise myself, even when the gifts being given I had done literally nothing to obtain. At times like these I have had to remind myself that even my ability to breathe and continue in life should be considered a blessing. And everything beyond just breathing and living should be considered a blessings as well. In short, all things should be counted among my blessings.
This proved to be an excellent couple of weeks for me to study the notion of counting one’s blessings. This period has been full of many little rises and falls to my mood, as small things have continually come along both to aggravate and delight me. What I have learned from all this is just how fickle my sense of gratitude can be. When times turn even slightly up I praise God, when times turn even slightly down I have no interest in Him.
Feeling both sides of the coin, I have been able to consider why it is difficult to count my blessings at times. For me it is due to a sense of wounded pride, an indignation at sweeping away the hurt and saying all is well. But I have further discovered that that is not what counting one’s blessings is about at all. It is about dispelling a momentary fiction with the reality of truth.
Indeed, though at times it is difficult to lean into grateful retrospection, during these past two weeks I have felt markedly improved each time that I managed to do so. So let’s take a look at what it really means to count one’s blessings, and why it matters.
We Live in a State of Ever-Changing Fiction
When it rains it pours. Though our lives are usually mixed with elements that are both good and bad, we usually grab onto just one of those elements and shade all the rest by it. If we are struck most by something in our lives that is good, then we perceive every wrong thing as slight and forgettable. If we are struck most by something that is bad, then we perceive every good thing as hollow. We tally up only one side or the other at a time. Either I have seven things that make me feel so blessed right now, or else I have nine things that are leaving me down in the dumps.
One practice of meditation is to separate the different parts of one’s self and see each as being in its own unique state. Thus I might be feeling physically exhausted and emotionally depressed, but spiritually cared for. Absent this more granular awareness I might simply say that overall I feel “bad-ish,” which is not the greater truth.
It is understandable for us to live with a fickle mood, it is the common nature of us all. But if we are ever to live as dependable, steady beings, then we need to accept the fact that how we feel in the moment is probably not the truest expression of things as they really are.
James 1:8- A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
3 Nephi 13:24- No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.
We Might Be Fickle, but There Are Permanent Things
It is true that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, but in my experience He tends to do one of those more than the other. So many of the truly important blessings in life are the ones that are with us forever. Our very existence, for example, is a gift from God, and one that we are assured will continue forever. It may change its state through the grave and the resurrection, but still we remain an ongoing identity. This is a permanent thing, one that is left unaffected by whether I am having a “good day” today or a “bad one.”
Love is another eternal gift. Both the love that God ever holds to us, and the love that He means to help us cultivate in ourselves. Existence is already a wonderful blessing, but all the more so when it can be paired with eternal love. Even if the woes of the moment temporarily darken us from being able to perceive the love of God, yet it is sill there even so. It is only a matter of breaking through the mold before we can perceive that eternal stream once more.
And when we are learn how to never be darkened and always perceive that eternal love, then we also discover the gift of eternal happiness. For living in the love of God is always an experience of joy. It takes time, even a long time, even so long that we may not find it until the next life; but eventually we can find out this great secret of how to forever live, love, and be happy.
Jeremiah 31:3- The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
John 3:16-For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
A Brighter View of Life is Truer
In the end, there must be one permanent reality. On the one hand it could be that there forever remains a mixture of happiness and sorrow, the same as we perceive now, one side never fully overthrowing the other. On the other hand, it could be that one of these sides will eventually prevail over the other, either plunging the world into constant misery, or else reclaiming it to a state of constant joy. We have had it proclaimed to us that this mixed reality is only a transitory state, and that after it does come a totality: a sweeping victory for goodness and joy.
Those that believe this to be true are inherently optimistic, and hold to those undercurrents of eternal good: life, love, and joy. To hold this sort of optimism is not to blindly ignore the pain of today. It does not require us to turn a deaf ear to the hurts happening around us. It does not preclude us from mourning our temporary losses. It is only to recognize that after this time of very real sadness, there still comes an eternity of even realer joy.
I think where most of us go astray with counting our blessings is when we start listing out the transitory, worldly goods that we enjoy: a new car, a roof over heads, and not having lost one’s job. These are good things, we should be grateful for them, but the deeper, abiding peace will only come when we start counting the infinite goods as well.
Isaiah 54:10- For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
Matthew 24:35- Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Psalm 102:26-27- They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.