Archives For Thanksgiving

Some years back, I had a particularly difficult parishioner.   Let’s call him Jack. Jack was gruff, opinionated, and sometimes caustic. I wasgrouchy transparent often afraid around him, and defensive. It didn’t take long to realize that he reminded me of another gruff, opinionated and sometimes caustic person in my life—my grandfather. Although small in stature—like this parishioner—my grandfather was a scary figure for me as a child. He was like the hard man in the parable of the talents who reaped where he did not sow. One of his famous sayings was, “You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about!” That threat was followed by the appearance of a belt. Not exactly comforting for a little kid. Needless to say, Jack never pulled out a belt, or threatened me, but I often felt small and young around him. Surprisingly, I found a way to be grateful for him.

At some point, I realized that I perceived Jack through an emotional filter of fear and defensiveness. Once it occurred to me that I was projecting my grandfather on to him I was able to get some emotional distance from him and put him into proper perspective. I was able to see and feel that I was no longer a child, that he did not intend to hurt me, and the fear that I was feeling was left over from childhood. It didn’t belong to this time and place.

I began to thank God for the difficulties he presented to me. This wasn’t easy. Or natural. But it did help. Click To Tweet

As I began to pray for him, I also cut myself some slack. I found I could approach him with greater confidence and openness. As our relationship shifted onto healthier terrain, I saw that some of his comments to me were helpful, and some of his insights were right on.

Then another insight surfaced.   Jack had been trying to communicate a whole slew of things to me that I missed entirely. I was so caught up in my own stuff that I didn’t realize he was putting out subtle cries for help. His marriage was on rocky ground, his health was deteriorating, and spiritually, he needed me to be available, not closed down.

Giving thanks for Jack allowed me to go from being defensive to present, from shut down to available.

When you come to a relationship with tainted attitudes—toward yourself or others—it’s hard to listen with an open heart or mind.   This won’t empower you as a leader. And it won’t empower your people to trust or follow you.

Who are you not present and available for? Give thanks for the difficult people in your life. Then, identify what’s in the way of being fully present. Take the time to resolve it, so that you can bring your full humanity, and your full spiritual powers, to bear.

In the meantime, please join me January 4 and 11 for my Mastering Conflict Online Workshop.



worried-faceTrue confessions:  I’m a recovering worrier.  I can worry at the drop of a hat.  I do some of my best work in the middle of the night.  When a problem gets resolved, my mind naturally searches for the next thing that could possibly go wrong so that I can get a head start.  Worry beads would be wasted on me.  I need boulders.

As bad as that may sound, I’m not as bad as I used to be.  I’ve made progress.  I’ve got more peace of mind, more calm and equanimity, a more positive outlook on life.  What’s made the difference?  Gratitude.

As a Christian, I used to be very suspicious of gratitude.  It seemed a frivolous luxury when there were still people in need, still problems to be solved, and messes still to be cleaned up.  Gratitude seemed better left for carefree atheists or Unitarians or some such people.   For me, a Jewish-Christian, worry equaled caring.

Gratitude has changed that for me.  Even so, I can still lapse into guilt at the holidays, what with its focus on thanksgiving and joy.  Is it really okay to feel grateful…even with people going to bed hungry, even with the globe warming, even with Trump soon to enter the Oval Office? If you’re like me, you may wonder:  What’s a worrier to do?

I thought this would be a good time to reveal the 3 secret reasons to be grateful.  Even if you’re not.  Especially if you’re not.

Gratitude grows faith.  In Philippians 4:4-7, the Apostle Paul famously addressed the worriers at Philippi.  “Rejoice!” he insists.  “Again I say rejoice!” Why the command to rejoice?  When we lace our prayers with gratitude, we create a protective shield against the corrosive power of fear.  Fear is the basis of worry.  While worry paralyzes, gratitude grows faith.

Is everything going right in the world?  Or in your church?  Sure doesn’t seem like it!  But worry and fear do nothing to change that.  Instead, maintaining a connection with the limitless flow of divine love protects us and empowers us.

Gratitude shifts perspective.  Worry and fear generate more worry and fear.  Gratitude opens up the door to new ways of thinking.  Sometimes I play the game of thanking God for things that I think are unjust, unfair, or just plain unwanted.  Like my dear neighbor getting cancer.  Or my insomnia, even when I go to bed at a decent hour.  Or the election of a president I voted against.

Fair warning:  It’s not easy expressing gratitude for things you don’t want.  I feel fake and self-conscious doing it.  But I do it anyway and my synapses get re-arranged.  Worry moves aside.  A new opening appears as I ask:  Could anything good come from this situation?

The answer is yes.  It’s always yes.

Now the yesses were there before I thanked God, but expressing gratitude for situations I didn’t want allows me to see them.  For instance, in the case of my neighbor with cancer, my prayer prompted me to have a different kind of conversation with her.  In the process, I discovered that she had reconciled with her brother, and adopted a stray cat. Who knew?  I wouldn’t have known that.  Likewise, sleepless nights prompt me to pray and mediate; things I don’t do enough of during the day.  Even Trump’s election has prompted all sorts of people to better make their voices be heard.

Here’s what it comes down to:   Pre-gratitude, all I can see is the bad.  Post-gratitude, I can see the good that is also transpiring.   It changes my perspective and expands my awareness.

Gratitude empowers.   Finally, gratitude jolts me out of resignation.  When I give thanks for the things I’m not thankful for, not only are my heart and mind protected from corrosive fear; not only can I see potential good in every situation; I am empowered to act in a way that brings even more goodness into the world.

At a recent church meeting, a group of leaders stopped to pray in the middle of a worrisome situation.  As a result, new ideas came to mind.  One of the women who had been very quiet, and very worried, began to smile tentatively, then more broadly.  “I know!” she said.  “Here’s what I think we could do.”  She surfaced an idea that got good support, and the group moved into action.  As a result, $12,000 was raised to support a family in need.

The world isn’t a perfect place.  Not everything goes the way we would like it to.  But that’s no reason to be immobilized by fear.  Take it from me, a recovering worrier.  Gratitude opens the way to faith, goodness, and action.  Try it this holiday season.  Even if you’re not grateful.  Especially if you’re not grateful.