In the October 2014 General Women’s session of Conference, President Uchtdorf gave a talk titled “Living the Gospel Joyful”. He gave an analogy about blessings and umbrellas that everyone fell in love with:
“…we imagine that God has all of His blessings locked up in a huge cloud up in heaven, refusing to give them to us unless we comply with some strict, paternalistic requirements He has set up. But the commandments aren’t like that at all. In reality, Heavenly Father is constantly raining blessings upon us. It is our fear, doubt, and sin that, like an umbrella, block these blessings from reaching us.
“His commandments are the loving instructions and the divine help for us to close the umbrella so we can receive the shower of heavenly blessings.”
When I first heard those words I loved the message and imagery that came with that quote. At the time, however, I didn’t apply it to my life because I thought that my umbrella was already closed. I had faith in God, I followed His commandments, so of course I would notice any blessings that came my way. Almost two years after his talk, I learned that I needed to be more consistent in keeping my umbrella closed.
My husband and I recently purchased something that our family needed. The day after we brought it home, I realized that it was not the color I had wanted. My husband and I discussed trying to trade it in for the color I did want, but the hassle was not something either of us looked forward to. My husband was completely fine with what we had brought home, I was the only one with the problem. As we were trying to figure out what to do the thought entered my mind, “This fell into your lap. It is a HUGE blessing.” At the same time my husband asked me, “What are the positive aspects of what we currently have?” As I began to list everything I liked about our situation my umbrella was closed and my eyes were opened and I saw the blessings Heavenly Father had rained down upon my family. I told my husband what I was feeling, and the color stopped being an issue.
The reason I did not see this tremendous blessing at first was because I was focusing on one tiny aspect, rather than the big picture. To expound upon President Uchtdorf’s umbrella analogy: when we have our umbrellas open, we can only see and focus on what is directly in front of us, but when we close our umbrellas we are able to see everything that is around us. However, closing our umbrellas once does not guarantee that they will stay closed after that. We need to stay aware of our blessings as they come and acknowledge them to ourselves and to our Heavenly Father.
How can we become consistently aware of our many blessings? Symbolically, how can we keep our umbrellas closed? I would like to suggest three ways to do this.
One aspect of prayer that is first taught is to thank Heavenly Father for our blessings. In the nursery lesson on prayer, we teach our children to thank Heavenly Father for our family, our homes, food, etc. But how many of us become complacent in our prayers over time and say something like, “I’m grateful for all of my many blessings”? (I am so guilty of this!) When we say that in our prayers, do we actually know what our many blessings are? Something I have tried to start doing in my personal prayers is thank Heavenly Father for specific blessings that have happened to me that day. Like the hymn says,
“Count your many blessings; name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done. Count your blessings; Name them one by one. Count your blessings; See what God hath done.”
2. Notice the little blessings as well as the big.
Big blessings are generally easy to acknowledge. They are commonly viewed as things like getting a new car, a house, a new job, a baby, etc. Smaller blessings, however, generally escape our notice when we are not paying attention. In my personal life I tend to ignore smaller blessings when I am trying to be 100% in control of my life, but when I step back and take a broader view of my life I see that it is full of little blessings that the Lord has sent me. And it becomes evident that the Lord is the one in control:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.
And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.” (D&C 78:17-19)
3. Accept blessings without requirements and expectations.
Like mentioned above, God is in control; so we can’t be picky with the blessings He gives us. If we expect something too specific, our focus will be on that and we’ll miss the blessing God does send us. This can also happen if we expect our lives to become easy once we receive a blessing. Nephi and Laman and Lemuel, from The Book of Mormon, serve as a great comparison on two different ways to view blessings.
Their years in the wilderness in between leaving Jerusalem and landing in the Promised Land were not without hardship. Amongst all of the difficulties, Nephi was able to see the blessings that the Lord had sent his family:
“And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings.
And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness.” (1 Nephi 17:2-3)
Laman and Lemuel were unable to see such blessings, and in the same chapter say to Nephi:
“…we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.
Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.” (1 Nephi 17:20-21)
We should ask ourselves: which is the better point of view to have when looking at our own lives? Who, out of these two examples (in the words of President Uchtdorf) lived the gospel joyful? Nephi’s point of view is the one we should have. Nephi lived the gospel joyful. When we can close our umbrellas, notice specific and little blessings, and not require anything from God, we will find it easier to see the blessings that he is pouring down upon us. Acknowledging our blessings will not take away any future trials or hardships, but they will give us the strength to endure, they will make life happier, and then things like the colors of material things will not be as tragic.