November 08, 2009

Sunday Inspiration: Gratitude

The Milkmaid by Jan Vermeer. 1658

Quotes by Brother David Steindl-Rast:

"Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy -- because we will always want to have something else or something more."

"As I express my gratitude, I become more deeply aware of it. And the greater my awareness of it, the greater my need to express it. What happens here is a spiraling ascent, a process of growth in ever expanding circles around a steady center."

"Love wholeheartedly, be surprised, give thanks and praise and then you will discover the fullness of your life." 

"A Good Day"
with Brother David Steindl-Rast

While listening to this soothing video, my heart was filled with gratitude for spiritual leaders gifting us with comforting words and HOPE that we will come to peace with the terrible things that happen---even to very good people. Terrible things we did not deserve, nor expect, nor earn as a direct result of our behavior. It's devastating to believe in principles of forgiveness, kindness, humility, meekness, and charity and live by those principles---despite the challenge of putting "principles above personalities." Or should I write, "Putting principles above personality disorders."

To add insult to injury, cherished values guiding and shaping our characters are called into question during a requisite self-examination process we call 'healing'. My essential nature as a caretaker was ridiculed, demeaned, and even pathologized in my search for answers as to Why a Good-Enough Woman Attracted Narcissists. Why a generous woman 'settled' for less than she deserved. I even questioned my own sanity (or delusion) to love people who were occasionally unloving---my willingness to remain supportive in the belief that people could become the person they wanted to be. It seems fairly normal for people whose good hearts have been bruised by an unloving narcissist, to demean our principles and values as the CAUSE of narcissistic abuse. No. Values that create healthy relationships are not the cause of an unhealthy relationship. The narcissist takes advantage of people by manipulating their 'sacred values' to serve him-or-herself in the guise that they share the same values as ourselves. Please pay attention to that last sentence: In The Guise (pretense) that they SHARE the same values as ourselves.

Unfortunately, too many of us blame our inherently good values and principles as the cause of abuse, rather than holding the narcissist accountable for trespassing, manipulating, and taking advantage of other people's sacred values with no intent (nor ability) to reciprocate. The issue is not that narcissists are incapable of reciprocating that which they demand from others--it's that they DECEIVE others by pretending to cherish similar values and principles.

I became cynical about my typically grateful nature. A nature that appreciated the smallest of things in life, things people in a culture like ours generally take for granted. Perhaps my gratefulness was the result of a childhood requiring hard work and cooperation to secure a satisfactory lifestyle for our family. Perhaps my naturally grateful attitude is genetic. A streak of optimism definitely runs through my Z-family history; and that optimistic outlook is both remarkable and annoying as helll to people watching us Get Back Up and Smile after being knocked down to our knees.

While we Z's are on our knees however, we are multi-tasking: supplicating God for support and checking for broken bones at the same time. If it ain't broke, there's no excuse for resting on our laurels. I'm sure my grandparents would say, "Be grateful your knees still function CZ. Be grateful you aren't alone 'cuz God is your faithful companion when your mortal companion, the one who thinks he's God, runs away with the gingerbread girl." Well, they'd counsel me with guidance somewhat close to that.

We Z's get back up with grateful hearts that we're still breathing because there's no allowance for giving up simply because life didn't turn out the way we planned it. We learned to be grateful for whatever was on the table, even if we were dining on fresh milk with bits of undigested alfalfa floating on to the surface and the last box of Saltine crackers in Mom's food storage. A grateful heart was modeled for me by religious relatives, protecting me from childish entitlement and consequential spite for not having gotten what I deserved. I am grateful today for those goodly people who never let a meal go by without offering thanks both to God and the person preparing the meal.
"Thank you, dear Lord, for all those who provided this food and prepared it for us. Please bless this food and the hands that prepared it. Amen."
One of the first things I intuitively did when falling to my knees in despair, was force myself to give thanks for ten blessings in my life when first waking up in the morning. The catch to this plan was that I could not repeat the same ten things each day otherwise my gratitude list would become as repetitive and meaningless as a memorized prayer over breakfast. What my 'Self' was inspiring me to do was keep my eyes open to blessings instead of focusing on losses--the things I had worked for, but didn't get. Like loving a spouse who needed extensive support and empathy but did not know how to love people or accept their willingness to help when he was vulnerable. It would be so easy to focus on my 'losses' after decades of compassionate understanding because ultimately, I was discarded by an ungrateful partner who only counted flaws and deprivation---not the blessings in his life. And there were many.

As life throws challenges our direction, even after we have grieved the narcissistic relationship, it is easy to ignore the smallest of gifts we take for granted. Like owning a blanket. Or sleeping in a bed with extra pillows. Having a refrigerator to preserve safe food for our children; or a washer and dryer, a car, or nice neighbors who respect our privacy as we do theirs. There were so many things to be grateful for once my eyes were looking for them, that I still haven't run out of blessings.

The amazing effect of a Ten Things I'm Grateful For list is that it kept me looking for blessings during the day because I held myself accountable for noticing ten new things following morning. This simple idea balanced the obvious and undeniable losses in my life. 

I did not lie to myself and say "I am so grateful to lose my HOME, my FAMILY, my HUSBAND, my IDENTITY and my sense of WORTH."

I said, "I AM MAD AS HELLL about losing my HOME, my FAMILY, my HUSBAND and I really hate feeling like I'm REPLACEABLE and WORTHLESS."

Then, I felt those losses all the way to my knees while mourning my despair. Nonetheless, true to my family name, I stood back up and named ten things for which I was grateful the first thing in the morning. Each new day, after enduring another round of sadness forcing me to accept a reality I didn't deserve, I was back on my knees. Once again, the gratitude list lifted my heart and opened my eyes to abundance and deprivation.

Denial is a seductive way to deny our real losses and forestall our grief by filling ourselves with 'positive feelings' and ignoring the negative. Denial is a temporary defense at best for without an honest appraisal and acceptance of our losses, self-inflated optimism will eventually succumb to reality. Reality always wins in the end. Unless you are really, really good at lying to yourself.

Healing the wounded self requires an intentional balance between facing unavoidable losses and counting unwarranted blessings. Eventually we recognize that we have more unearned blessings than unearned losses. As we balance the scales of justice, entitlement loses its narcissistic grip on the ego and unrecognized, unearned, and unmerited blessings free our souls.


Count Your Blessings
by Johnson Oatman, Jr. 1856-1922

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.
When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.


1 comment:

  1. CB:
    This was one of my Grandma's favorite hymns. If I am not mistaken we had it played at her funeral. She was quite a character - she's been gone many years. We know she's been organizing commitees and causing trouble in Heaven for 30 years now.
    Elisse Stuart


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