A couple of years ago I wrote a post called The Whole Personal Protective Equipment of God, which was a modern take on the Apostle Paul’s Whole Armour of God. Paul likened a soldier’s armor to our personal spiritual defenses, like the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and the sword of the spirit. In my post I suggested symbolic meanings for the various items in a doctor’s PPE, like the bouffant cap of virtue, goggles of judgment, etc.
This year the topic of PPE has bubbled up into the public consciousness due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it got me thinking about that old post. Aside from the artwork being kind of bad I think it was a pretty decent article. Reading it again reminded me that I actually had two different ideas for what the gloves could represent. I went with humility in the original post, but my kids didn’t like it. “It was kind of a stretch,” my daughter said. (“Gloves are stretchy — it’s okay to stretch them,” said my wife Marisa.)
Alright then, let me tell you my other idea.
Preaching to the Choir
A few years ago I was the choir director for my local church congregation. I loved this calling, because I love hymns. They are so full of doctrine and testimony that you can base entire sermons on them. My favorite part of being the choir director was “preaching to the choir,” which I made time to do at every practice.
One fall we were learning an arrangement of “Because I Have Been Given Much,” a beautiful hymn that I have loved since I was a child. “Why do you think I chose this hymn to sing in church this month?” I asked the choir.
My teenage son in the bass section said, “Because it’s a nice song, and because you like it?”
“That’s true,” I said, “but it’s more than that.” I looked at the other choir members. Several of them had thoughtful expressions, but nobody said anything. Finally I answered, “Because it’s Thanksgiving this month.”
My son had a puzzled expression. “What does this song have to do with Thanksgiving?”
“Listen to the third verse,” I said.
“Because I have been blessed by thy great love, dear Lord
I’ll share thy love again according to thy word
I shall give love to those in need
I’ll show that love by word and deed
Thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed.”
(words by Grace Noll Crowell, 1877–1969)
I looked up from the hymn book and said, “The true measure of our gratitude to God is how we serve and bless others.”
Hands and Gloves
Hands represent our power to act, to accomplish work in the world. What we choose to do with our hands reveals what is really important to us. Action is the embodiment of intention. Do we show by our actions that we are grateful? Are our thanks really thanks in deed?
Gloves represent protection. They enable us to do work which we could otherwise not do safely, like surgery, changing sterile bandages, and cleaning up infectious messes. Gratitude is like wearing gloves; it increases our power to help others and keeps us safe from the infectious pessimism and discontent in the world. Let’s consider a few examples.
Among the things which I am most grateful for is the gift of repentance and forgiveness. I know what it feels like to be guilty and unworthy. But I thank God for the gift of his Son, who sacrificed himself for me so that I could be clean again. If I am sincere in this gratitude, then it will translate into action — action which keeps me in the right way, staying far from temptation to sin, forgiving others freely, and strengthening the shield of my faith.
Also at the top of the list of things I am grateful for is my wonderful wife. So much happiness and peace in my life depends upon her goodness, and I thank the Lord for making our marriage possible. But if I am really sincere in this gratitude, then it should translate into action — action which lightens the load of her work, validates her worth, and frequently reaffirms my fidelity to our union.
We could run down the list of things we are grateful for, translating them into actions which indicate our sincerity: loving and spending time with family members, exercising our bodies and eating right, studying the scriptures and the words of living prophets, and so on. And because the devil finds work for idle hands to do, keeping ourselves busy by acting out our gratitude will keep us from staining our hands with the sins of the world.
Can we be Grateful in this Pandemic Year?
There is so much to be grateful for in 2020. Yes, a lot of bad things have happened: 250,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States as of mid-November with all indicators suggesting that the worst is yet to come, widespread economic pain with tens of millions of people receiving unemployment benefits, a generation of children and young adults missing out on important milestones in their education and social development, one of the most contentious presidential campaigns in living memory with an outcome that no partisan is really pleased with. And that’s just at the national level. In recent weeks I have personally been challenged by a prolonged illness (not COVID-19), two vehicles that were totaled in crashes, and another one which has a transmission that will no longer go in reverse.
We could look on the bright side of all of these problems: a COVID-19 vaccine is on the horizon within the next few months, the economy has recovered from its worst lows during the spring lockdowns, closing some opportunities has led to the creation of others and the development of creative new ways of approaching education and other social experiences, and divided government is about the best thing that can happen in a democratic republic with a deeply divided population. And my own illness has had a good recovery, none of my kids were seriously injured in either crash, and the Lord is providing vehicles to replace the ones that were totaled or mechanically unwell.
But our feeling of gratitude should not be a simple readout of the quantity of our blessings, or even a more complex reflection of the ratio between our blessings and challenges. Gratitude is an attitude, based on our core conviction that God is good. Yes, we can be grateful for our blessings during the good times. We can also be grateful in hard times because we know that someday “God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelation 21:4).
So grab yourself a pair of gratitude gloves and put them on your hands. Be grateful for your blessings, and let God’s goodness lead you to have a grateful disposition. And embody your gratitude in action — use your hands to show the sincerity of your thanks.
Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a practicing neurologist.