gratitude

Day 2 : Moment #Advent #NPCAdvent2015

Today’s Prompt: Write about one ordinary moment that happened yesterday.

NPCADVENT2015TMS

I looked up from my computer when Elias came into the room.

“I found your other shoe,” he said.”It was in the shoe basket.”

“Makes sense.”

“I’ll put it here, with the other one by the front door, so you’ll have them in the morning.”

I can’t think of a more ordinary moment in my day, but I also can’t think of one that captures so much about me and about Elias.

I never know where my stuff is, and I don’t have a system for where to put anything. (Well, for some things I do have a system, but it’s hard for me to follow the system. That’s for another day.) I have lots of coping mechanisms for this weird trait: Papers that I actually need to hold on to get scanned –immediately — before they are lost forever. I write notes down, but then take pictures of the notes so I can throw them away. I sign up for paperless everything. It takes about 4 months into a friendship with me before my friends realize that I’ll be leaving something at their house every time I come to visit. Not a gift, mind you, just something I forgot.

I don’t even consider buying quality sunglasses. I just go to the dollar store a couple times a year and buy four or five pairs. I leave them scattered around friends’ houses and cars and various places around the country. If you find a pair, lucky you.

When Clayton was about 2 years old I said “Ok, time to go to the store!” and he started looking around the living room saying “Find the keys! Find the keys!” He knew, at just two years old, that after I said “Time to go!” the next thing would be “Find the keys!”

It must be the opposites attract thing, because the person I married has a system for all of his possessions and a very strict sense of order about where things belong. Just today he told me that he organized the leftovers in the refrigerator according to whether or not they were sweet or savory. (FYI, the sweet potato casserole was on the “sweet” shelf, along with pies and arroz con leche. I would have put it with the mashed potatoes and turkey, but hey… not my system.)

Elias gets super frustrated with my lack of order when it comes to possessions, and I don’t blame him. Sometimes he goes a little bonkers when cupboard doors are left open or there’s a random shoe under the covers of our bed. Even so, he’s starting to learn (after seven short years of marriage) that I’m not likely to change all that much. Sure, I’ll keep creating better coping mechanisms, but I think there’s something in my genetic code that makes me leave a trail of sunglasses and papers and keys behind me like breadcrumbs.

So  now, seven years in, instead of making a big deal out of every wayward thing, he mostly just keeps track of stuff. He finds my shoes and lovingly places them by the door so I’ll have them in the morning.

It’s not something I take for granted.

 

 

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Some Reflections on “It Could Be Worse…”

I often hear people who are suffering or struggling say some variation of “It could be worse.” We say it to ourselves:

  • I shouldn’t complain, at least I don’t have [some illness worse than the one we’re discussing] 
  • My problems are small compared to all of the suffering in the world. 
  • At least my child is not [the victim of some horrible fate] I shouldn’t talk about [whatever issue she is having] 

Even worse we say it (or some variation) to, or about other people:

  • Hey, at least you have your health, right? 
  • I can’t believe she’s all worked up about [whatever the person is worked up about]. Seriously. What’s the big deal? Some people have real problems. 

There are a few fundamental problems with this type of talk, in my opinion. For one, people are have different levels of sensitivity to pain in the world. What’s a big deal to one person isn’t challenging at all to another, and it’s impossible for us to know everything behind a person’s story of suffering. We hear someone getting riled up about something that seems like no big deal to us, but we don’t know the deeper trauma underneath it all. Often the real thing the person is upset about is something he or she isn’t willing to reveal to us. Human beings are infinitely more complex than the circumstances we hear about. When we tell someone that it “could be worse” (even if we don’t use those words) we’re not listening. We’re not showing compassion. It doesn’t matter if you’re a parent, pastor, teacher or friend, telling someone who needs your compassion that their problems could be worse is a quick way to get people to stop confiding in you. Saying “it could be worse” is a very quick way to shut down a conversation, and the best listeners and helpers always want to know more.

Another problem with “it could be worse” is that sometimes it does get worse. If we spend our lives saying “At least I didn’t suffer [unimaginably difficult fate]” and then that thing happens… then what? It’s not a competition. There are no suffering olympics, no grand prize for living through the most painful thing.

There’s an easy adjustment and course correction to “it could be worse” (and its many variations) and that course correction is simple: gratitude. 

When we are saying “It could be worse,” the value we’re trying to tap in to is gratitude. So instead of “At least I’m not suffering from x,y, or z” we can shift our focus to gratitude:

  • Even though I’m sick, I’m so thankful for the network of support I have. 
  • This tough time is teaching me something valuable, and I’m thankful for that.
  • I’m thankful for clean air to breathe and my warm house. 

If we’re listening to someone who says “It could be worse” about their own situation, we might consider doing two things:

  1. Validate both the sentiment that things could be worse, but also that their circumstances are valid “True, it could be worse, but it sounds like x is really affecting you. It’s ok to feel that way.”
  2. We might find ways to help bring gratitude in to the conversation.

Gratitude is one of the most powerful spiritual practices we can develop, it’s good for our physical health, our emotional health and our relationships. Rather than focusing on the negative “it could be worse,” make the subtle shift to the positive “I’m thankful because… ”  and see what you think.