Reg Christensen lives in the Midwest with his wife, Carol. They have seven children and seventeen grandchildren. Reg has fulfilled a variety of callings in the Church and he and Carol have been blessed with many service opportunities as Pathway missionaries and service volunteers at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, to mention a few. While living in Jerusalem, they served in the Bethlehem branch, Carol as the Relief Society president and Reg as the branch president. His happy times come from being with family and friends, reading, writing, woodworking, leathercrafting, exploring nature, and blessing lives with his handyman skills. He has published several books including, Unlocking Isaiah: Lessons and Insights that Draw Us to the Savior.

Enter Reg…

At age seventeen, I left my little town and the only home I had ever known and made my first-ever commercial airplane flight to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. After in-processing and orientation, my eighteenth birthday was my first official day of Army Basic Combat Training.

I experienced major culture shock, combined with the rigorous training. We learned to salute and say “Yes, Sir” and “No, Sir” to the commissioned officers and to say “Yes, Drill Sergeant” and “No, First Sergeant” to the non-commissioned officers. During one in-barracks inspection by First Sergeant Murphy, he politely asked one young soldier, Private Beller, where he was from. Beller casually replied, “Chicago.” (We should have all known by then that the correct response should have been, “Chicago, First Sergeant.”) Murphy reddened, got right in Beller’s face, and bellowed, “Chicago what, Beller?” Private Beller, quaking and trembling, replied, “Illinois.” He spent the rest of the day running laps around the company area. He was a good sport, and we all laughed together later.

We learned—some of us the hard way—that the cool hats worn by the drill sergeants were called “campaign” hats and not Smokey-the-Bear hats. We practiced dissembling and assembling our old M1 rifles in record time and kept them clean of even the smallest speck of sand. We hung our shirts and pants in perfect order in our wall lockers and rolled our socks to exact length, displayed on a white towel in the top of our footlockers. I wondered why and learned that “Ours was not to wonder why—ours was just to do or die.”

We had endless physical drills, scaled obstacles, fired our rifles, threw hand grenades, and learned to follow the orders of our drill instructors. The war in Vietnam was raging. I went home for college and a mission in fulfillment of a promise extracted from Uncle Sam by my parents before they would sign my under-age waiver.

Some of my friends went to Vietnam, and one, at my request, was called years later to serve as my counselor when I was called as a branch president at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo. I asked him about the sock thing. He said he only carried two pairs in the jungles and that he changed them every day—the ones from his feet went into the inside of his helmet and the ones from there went onto his feet. I also learned from him and others that the obedience training we had learned in basic training—although much different from real life in the war zone—was essential to success and survival. Although you would not roll and display your socks in the battle zone, when you were told to do something by those in command, you had better do it.

Basic Training was obedience training, plain and simple.

Basic Training

My counselor and I used our military experience as somewhat of a training model with our missionaries. We taught them that the MTC was their “basic training” for their mission. We were much more gentle, loving, and respectful of our elders and sisters than our Army drill instructors had been with us, but we taught them that obedience was an important law of heaven.

They were being asked to do some things in the MTC different than what they might do out in their assignments throughout the world, but learning and exercising the principle of obedience to gospel principles and to the counsel and direction of their leaders was essential to their physical and spiritual well-being and to the success of their work.

Gratitude is Foundational

Our MTC President, George Durrant, seemed to always have a clever way of responding to the missionaries who sometimes thought the rules to be a bit excessive. When an elder complained to him that the MTC seemed like a prison, President Durrant replied,

“Oh no, elder, you don’t understand. If you were in prison, we would allow you to have visitors.”

Upon the release of President Durrant at the end of his term of service, President Ed Pinegar took the reins. Early on, he began an intensive personal study and search of how we as the leadership team could better help the missionaries learn obedience. I recall the moment when he came on the center-wide public address system and excitedly announced to all the missionaries that he had discovered that the foundational key to obedience is gratitude!

Under his direction, we proceeded to teach gratitude and its foundational role in learning and practicing obedience to the Lord. President Thomas S. Monson affirms this pivotal place of gratitude:

“Someone has said that ‘gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.’(Cicero)”

Over the three-plus decades since my experience at the MTC, I have continued my contemplation and application of gratitude as the foundation of obedience. And I readily acknowledge that “obedience” carries negative connotations in much of our modern society. We are often too sophisticated and liberated to be told to “obey,” but I am talking about obedience to an all-knowing, all-wise, and all-loving Heavenly Father who only wants to bless us and knows how to do so.

We do not “blindly” obey.  Boyd K Packer taught,

“Those who talk of blind obedience may appear to know many things, but they do not understand the doctrines of the gospel. There is an obedience that comes from a knowledge of the truth that transcends any external form of control. We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see.”

The Sweet Doctrine of Obedience

I testify that obedience to God’s laws, with such obedience cradled in a perspective of expanded vision and gratitude for His many blessings for us, is sweet doctrine. For example, my efforts to keep the Sabbath day holy are motivated by gratitude for a day to rest from the cares of the world and focus on the power and potential of the great Atoning sacrifice of our Savior. As my wife and I sought to honor our parents by helping care for them in their later years, we acted from an appreciation of how they had lived their lives and from gratitude of how they served us for so long.

In preparation for this writing, I asked my wife, “Why do you ______?” (I voiced a few examples of the commandments.) Her ready answer was, “Because I desire the blessings from doing so—especially the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit and the power to love unconditionally.” She did not say, “Because I want to impress my friends,” or, “So I can check it off a list.” Her faithfulness is rooted in her gratitude.

Gratitude and Humanity

We live in confusing times when so many people seem so lost to truth and so selfish in grabbing whatever they can get without regard for the well-being and peace of others. I believe that the more completely we come to comprehend the wonderful doctrines of the restored gospel upon the earth, the more our humanity and our gratitude will increase. President Gordon B. Hinckley taught,

“Let us rejoice together now as we celebrate with appreciation the wondrous doctrines and practices which have come as a gift from the Lord in this most glorious time of His work. … Let us ever be grateful for these most precious gifts and privileges and act well our part as those who love the Lord.”

The more we fully humble ourselves to the will and desire of our Heavenly Parents, the more gratitude we will feel.

Elder James E. Talmage said,

“Gratitude is twin sister to humility; pride is a foe to both.”

Often those of most humble circumstances are the most naturally grateful, as illustrated by the true story of a picture that has hung on the wall of my office for many years. The picture is entitled Grace, by Eric Enstrom, proprietor of a photography studio in Bovey, Minnesota, in the year 1918.

This picture is of an elderly man, Charles Wilden, with a bowed head in thanksgiving of his meager meal. He came into the shop selling shoe scrapers and the photographer had an idea to create a photoshoot. He placed his family Bible, a loaf of bread, a knife, a pair of glasses and a bowl of gruel on a table and instructed the man to sit at the table and strike a praying pose. Enstrom explained that he “wanted to take a picture that would show people that even though they had to do without many things because of the war they still had much to be thankful for.”

As soon as Enstrom developed the photo, he sensed that he had something extraordinary. Even though this was a staged photo, Enstrom realized that Mr. Wilden was completely genuine and was amazed at how easily and naturally he struck the pose. Enstrom said of him, “This man doesn’t have much of earthly goods, but he has more than most people because he has a thankful heart.”

The Wealth of Eternity

Although this story is a good illustration of sincere humility and gratitude, one need not be poor to be humble or grateful. In the eternal scheme of things, our Heavenly Parents desire to give the wealth of eternity to all who will accept of Their invitation.

The Lord said,

“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.” Doctrine and Covenants 78:17-19

Transcendent Gratitude

We may each experience times of plenty and of scarcity. The key is to develop our gratitude so that it transcends our portfolio—no matter the lack or the extent thereof. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf helps us understand this eternal perspective of gratitude:

 “But some might say, “What do I have to be grateful for when my world is falling apart?”

Grateful in Our Circumstances

Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be. When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation. In grief, we can still lift up our hearts in praise. In pain, we can glory in Christ’s Atonement. In the cold of bitter sorrow, we can experience the closeness and warmth of heaven’s embrace. We sometimes think that being grateful is what we do after our problems are solved, but how terribly shortsighted that is. How much of life do we miss by waiting to see the rainbow before thanking God that there is rain?

I am grateful for many things—my family, our warm home, good food, safe transportation, pure water, etc. My sincere desire is that all our Heavenly Parents’ children could be so blessed. I am grateful for difficult things, even though I may not have always been so at the time. For example, I have been blessed throughout my life by the discipline and life-lessons learned in my Army basic training.

A Seedbed of Blessings

Although not always as appreciative as I should have been, now that I am older I try to be more grateful in my circumstances and strive to be obedient in my circumstances. A time of transition and trial is no excuse for disobedience to the direction of Heavenly Father in our lives. Obedience, especially in times of trial, is manifestation of our gratitude for divine guidance and is a seedbed of further blessings for our lives.

I am grateful for truth and for the eternal perspective that our Heavenly Parents will, in Their wisdom and judgment, put all things right and provide the goodness of life for all Their children.

It could happen now if everyone would seek humility, be grateful, and thus be motivated to obey the saving and exalting commandments given to us by They who desire to bless us all with the riches of eternity.

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