Jon Ryan Jensen: A father’s gratitude for freedom

Family prayer, dinnertime, in church meetings — all places where I heard my dad’s repeated and genuine gratitude for freedom

From my earliest memories of hearing my father pray, I remember him using the same phrase. It was a phrase he used when we prayed together as a family at the start or end of the day. It was a phrase he used when we prayed over a meal. It was a phrase he used in church meetings.

“We’re thankful for this country and the freedoms we enjoy here,” he would say.

As a young teenager, I openly questioned why he said the same thing in the same way every single time he prayed. It seemed like something he taught us not to do. He taught us not to be repetitive and to be intentional in the way we prayed. Yet, he never varied this phrase.

But his gratitude for freedom was 100% genuine. Having had his father serve in Korea, his father-in-law serve in Germany, his uncle serve and die in the Pacific, he was always clear with us as his children that his pride didn’t have anything to do with fighting. It had everything to do with freedom.

It was one of many ways he taught us to be grateful for agency — a gift we all fought for before our mortal existence (see Revelation 12:7-8).

When Elder Matthew S. Holland, a General Authority Seventy, spoke in Provo, Utah, on Sunday, June 30, at the 2024 Patriotic Service of America’s Freedom Festival, he referenced three characteristics needed to preserve freedom into the future. He said the Christlike attributes of charity, hope and faith help countries be blessed by God’s strength to save countries.

Early in the United States’ history as a country, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson faced each other in the 1800 presidential election. After Jefferson won, he made efforts to reunite his fractured friendship with Adams and within the country.

“His answer is civic charity: broadly shared ideas of Christian love, artfully refashioned into a guiding public principle for all,” Elder Holland said at Sunday’s event.

While my father prayed with gratitude, he also acted with this “civic charity.”

Forty years ago, when areas of northern Utah flooded due to the fast-melting snow in the abnormally warm spring, my dad joined throngs of others in filling sandbags to keep rushing waters away from homes. He was a surveyor by trade, so he knew where to place the sandbag walls. He knew where the water would flow. He knew how to read the slopes of the sidewalks and parking lots and roadways. He helped fill and deliver sandbags. He helped direct where the walls should go to keep water headed safely away from homes, schools and businesses.

A few years later when our family came upon some financial struggles, I watched him give a $20 bill to a friend my dad felt was in an even harder situation.

When opportunities came up to serve at Church canneries and farms and orchards, Dad was always eager to sign up.

When it came time for a blood drive at our church meetinghouse or at the elementary school, Dad would go to that, too.

As the garden’s spoils were picked each fall, I knew I wouldn’t get to enjoy all the carrots and peas and cucumbers. They were destined to be taken by Dad to a neighbor.

After a ward Christmas dinner or funeral or wedding reception, he was the last to leave after every chair and table was put away and the floor had been swept clean.

I’m not saying my dad was perfect. But he was a pretty good guy. And I knew he didn’t just pray random words or phrases that he heard anyone else say in their prayers. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said.

He prayed to Heavenly Father with reverence and respect. Was he thankful for the country he lived in and the freedoms he enjoyed here? Yes. Did I watch his example of using that freedom to help and bless others along the way? Also, yes.

Regardless of the country in which we live, I hope we never take for granted the agency Heavenly Father has blessed us with.

May we, as Elder Holland suggested in concluding his message, “be settled, fixed and determined to forge a future freedom … meeting each day and each difficulty with mighty faith, brightness of hope and charity for all.”

— Jon Ryan Jensen is editor of the Church News.

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