It has been just over three weeks since I returned with honor from serving a full-time mission in Bolivia. Serving the Lord as His full-time representative brings unmeasurable joy and strength. I echo Ammon’s proclamation: “I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever” (Alma 26:12). At the same time, I understand how difficult it is to be a “normal” disciple and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Upon arriving home, I was brought into an entirely different battlefield than that of being a full time missionary. As a missionary, I fought to help others overcome idleness, addiction, and family discordance. Now, I am fighting to keep myself away from such things. Distractions of technology, life-changing decisions, the need to work, and much more have caused me to walk farther from God at times. In my mission my focus was the welfare of others; now the focus is my own spiritual well-being. Just a few days ago I sat in the car with one of my best friends that started and finished the mission with me. We both expressed the sadness, frustration, and loneliness that welcomes a bright and zealous return missionary. But one inspired question changed my perspective of my past trials: “What God-given gifts — or talents — were magnified because I gave my all in my mission?” Or for each of us in this room: “What God-given gifts — or talents — are being magnified because we continue to give our all in our earthly mission?” It is my prayer that each of us may receive the light needed to see that our trials can be used to strengthen us in Christ as we constantly remember His blessings. As we see that “because (we) have been given much, (we) too must give (Hymns 219),” I promise that it will be shown to us that we are not alone in this fight against the adversary and that we are being strengthened by Christ daily (see 1 Nephi 1:20).
Remembering that God loves us and protects each day starts simply with morning and nightly prayer. As a missionary, I was taught that obedience starts at 6:30, the designated time to wake up. In the same sense, I testify that gratitude starts and finishes on bended knees, when we give thanks to God for another day to live, and another night to sleep. President Monson has taught, “A grateful heart, then, comes through expressing gratitude to our Heavenly Father for His blessings and to those around us for all that they bring into our lives. This requires conscious effort — at least until we have truly learned and cultivated an attitude of gratitude (“The Divine Gift of Gratitude” Ensign Nov. 2010).” When the 2014 year was about to begin, I decided to change one thing in my mission: I decided to be grateful. So, as young Elder Risueno, I used a calendar sent from home and created my own Tender Mercies journal. Every day of the year 2014 I looked back on my day and found something blessed. Just over a year ago, on July 23, 2014, I had my big toe nail removed in a painful surgery. But I managed to remember a Tender Mercy. I wrote the following, “Today’s tender mercy was the strength I received from the Savior as I went through my surgery to remove my big toenail. It was super difficult and painful, but I felt so close to the Lord the entire time.” You don’t need a Tender Mercy journal to start your road to becoming grateful, but I testify that it starts with thanking God constantly for what we are given. Once we see God’s hand in our own lives, I testify that light will come and we will want to share it with others.
Just about the same time I wrote that entry, I was given the assignment to challenge my group of 8 missionaries I trained to change something about their planning. I prayed and prayed to know what we could do better and didn’t find anything after a few days of study. But while I spoke to my Christ-loving group of elders and sisters, we felt that we could be more grateful while we planned. So from that day, I committed to share a Tender Mercy at the end of every night with my companion. Every day following that District Meeting, my companions and I joyed in the light of Christ as we found something good out of every day. Sometimes it was a person, sometimes it was a lesson. Whatever it was, it was something good in our lives. I testify that power comes to us as we ask ourselves and others, “What tender mercies have I seen in your life today?” President Monson has also taught, “Regardless of our circumstances, each of us has much for which to be grateful if we will but pause and contemplate our blessings.” I promise that each of us will receive greater love for those others as we regularly share God’s blessings in our lives.
Gratitude leads to understanding of who God is and the patience He has with us. As we live gratefully, we will see that God continuously loves and blesses us despite our many imperfections. We will see the gifts and talents He helps us magnify so that we can be followers of His son, Jesus Christ. And as we develop our own gifts and talents, we will be able to help others realize their potential. At the end of the 2014 year, when my Tender Mercies journal was almost filled, and as I continued to share my daily miracles with my companions, I was prepared to help others see what talents God had given them. At this time, I was a leader of 10 Elders who were valiantly magnifying their calling as representatives of the Savior. One day I was blessed to read an invitation and a promise from President Henry B. Eyring: “As you seek revelation to see gifts God sees in those you lead…you will be blessed to lift their sights to the service they can perform. With your guidance, those you lead will be able to see, want, and believe they can achieve their full potential for service in God’s kingdom (“Help Them Aim High” Ensign Nov. 2012).” Within the coming weeks leading up to Christmas, I chose a talk from the Priesthood Session of a recent General Conference that I felt would benefit each elder. And after choosing a talk, I humbly asked God to grant me the ability to see each Elder as He saw them. I wrote them a letter and shared with them the gifts and talents that I felt they had. This little Christmas project turned out to be a process that changed the way I viewed myself and others. While I wrote the letters to each elder, I felt an immense amount of love that God had for them. I felt that God was willing to grant me insight for them because they needed this blessing to strengthen their testimony of God’s love. “Wherefore…if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth (Moroni 7:46).” Gratitude is simply a way of showing God that we love Him and His children.
When I asked my good friend which God-given gifts and talents had been magnified in his mission because he had been such a faithful servant, I actively listened to his response, and prayed to know what God saw in Him. I shared what I felt, in gratitude for our friendship and his example. I felt God’s love for my friend at that moment. It also confirmed for me how much He also loves me. I knew that everything would be okay, despite the challenges we both face. Our Savior is the greatest example of love we know. He overcame persecution, temptation, suffering, and even death. And because of Him, everything will be alright. What is left for us to do is simply become like Him. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren (and sisters), pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become sons (and daughters) of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure (Moroni 7:48).”