This month's Teaching for our Times (TFOT) lesson was a doozy. As always, I have mulled over the two conference talks by Jeffrey R. Holland and Russell M. Nelson for the past month. Each time I listened to the talks I'd hear something else that I'd feel inspired by and so a week or so ago I started collecting those feelings. We don't have to use both lessons but I often feel that we are given the two together because there are parts that support each other that we need to hear. This set of talks was no different.
I opened this lesson talking about the gifts we get. physical and gospel. I loved that the sisters really got in to thinking about the gifts we take a lot for granted. Some of my favorites were salt and vinegar potato chips, sneakers, someone's bed, family/spouses, etc. We talked about how it's the little things that we go to to make us feel comforted that we should remember in gratitude. The same was true for gospel gifts - the obvious scriptures, church meetings, buildings, prophet, programming and curriculum by the church, leadership and teachers. They are not gifts we regularly address in our prayers of gratitude, but without them we would feel lost.
We went to Elder Nelson's talk first -
How much better it would be if all could be more aware of God’s providence and love and express that gratitude to Him. Ammon taught, “Let us give thanks to [God], for he doth work righteousness forever.”2 Our degree of gratitude is a measure of our love for Him.
I related that the last sentence addressing our degree of gratitude as a measure for our love for Him was one that rang true for me. Since I work in quality assurance, measuring success of anything is done by the metrics of contributing factors - and I introduced the idea that our measure of gratitude could also show the measure or success of our spirituality.
Gratitude is a Spiritual Attitude.
We have tools in our arsenal so that we can achieve success!
We are part of His divine purpose: “My work and my glory,” He said, is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”8 In order to achieve those objectives, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”9 That act was a supernal manifestation of God’s love. “For [He] sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”10
The most precious gift of all was given to us by our Heavenly Father. Our Heavenly Father wants us to return to him so much that he has given us every way possible to achieve it.
I won't lie, hearing the name of Pres. Holland's talk, my initial thought was that it would be about missionary work - I mean after all, the lessons in RS for this past month have been focused on it and quite often the reference to laborer's in the vineyard goes the direction of missionary work - but this talk was based on the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. It's the story where the land owner hires some laborers to work the vineyard, and few hours later goes back and hires more, and again at noon, at 3 and then around 5, one last batch. at 6 when the day was over they all stood and received the full days wage - all of them. Some felt this was unfair, the last ones did not endure the heat and hardship of the day and so voiced thier upset.
Who hasn't had this upset? I shared my own struggle of being one of 7 siblings and having to live with the few of them that were born with a horseshoe installed - they just have all the luck. I've worked my tail off to acheve things and they seem just to get things without effort - "I" wanted some of that! My own envy has been a struggle - In truth - envy comes in to play when our spiritual attitude is struggling. We want more - it is the driving force and motivator for the natural man to achieve. Wanting more is okay, it is when we exchange a simple want to feeling poorly about another because they have got the thing we want!
Brothers and sisters, there are going to be times in our lives when someone else gets an unexpected blessing or receives some special recognition. May I plead with us not to be hurt—and certainly not to feel envious—when good fortune comes to another person? We are not diminished when someone else is added upon. We are not in a race against each other to see who is the wealthiest or the most talented or the most beautiful or even the most blessed. The race we are really in is the race against sin, and surely envy is one of the most universal of those.
Envy sucks out happiness and creates an environment conducive to back-biting, contention, and most of all it sucks the life out of our spiritual gifts. I know we didnt' address these earlier, but everyone's spiritual gifts are different. Spiritual gifts can only be had when we exhibit an outlook of happiness and love when ANYONE around us gains a success or achieves a goal.
Furthermore, envy is a mistake that just keeps on giving. Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is—downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment! To say nothing of the chagrin in the end, when we find that God really is both just and merciful, giving to all who stand with Him “all that he hath,”2 as the scripture says. So lesson number one from the Lord’s vineyard: coveting, pouting, or tearing others down does not elevate your standing, nor does demeaning someone else improve your self-image. So be kind, and be grateful that God is kind. It is a happy way to live.
Taking the temperature of our spiritual attitude can show symptoms of our levels of gratitude, our sincerity and humility in using our physical and gospel gifts, and the growth we achieve by keeping a balance.
Which leads me to my third and last point. This parable—like all parables—is not really about laborers or wages any more than the others are about sheep and goats. This is a story about God’s goodness, His patience and forgiveness, and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a story about generosity and compassion. It is a story about grace. It underscores the thought I heard many years ago that surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.
I do not know who in this vast audience today may need to hear the message of forgiveness inherent in this parable, but however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.
Keeping sight of our levels of gratitude and making a purposeful journey in discovering the many blessings our Heavenly Father gives to us, we are also responsible and more able to forgive the little things that don't really matter. It is my challenge for us to let go, give it up, and move forward strengthening ourselves by making a record of our gifts and using that spiritual attitude to raise our perspective so that we may always have sufficient for our needs.